“Enough and to spare” as an indictment

On this Veterans Day it seems appropriate to reflect on a battle we’re all currently enlisted in, because we just lost a whole regiment today, so to speak. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) declared Africa’s western black rhino extinct today. Dialogue‘s recent issue focusing on the environment and Latter-day Saint thought (guest-edited by the beloved Steven Peck) got me thinking. Given our scriptures which declare that an important relationship exists between God, the earth, and humans, the loss of the black rhino should catch our attention.

We believe God created the heavens and the earth, and that male and female were created in God’s image. It’s in our scriptures and our rituals. I’ve been told there’s been a bit of debate on how all that creation stuff really shook out, but here I want to focus on the idea of God’s creation in terms of the fall of Eve and Adam, and all of their posterity, and our responsibilities to creation. 

To put it bluntly, enmity between us and the earth clearly exists. That enmity seems to have increased, especially since the advent of the internal combustible engine. We all rely on it to some extent to maintain our current quality of life, but we purchase that quality of life with the credit of the world around us. It makes no sense to worry about the future financial situation of our children if we bequeath to them a dying and polluted planet. One without cool rhinos. And bad effects of the engine are only a slice of our human-caused problems.

I’m aware of the debate (though it’s not really a debate, more of a clear consensus with a few crank objectors) regarding climate change and the extent to which we humans are responsible for it. It goes inaccurately like this: Either it’s our fault and we can make changes to save the planet, or it’s a natural earth cycle and we can’t do much to help. After all, God is in charge, and if the Lord is going to return and burn it all up anyway what’s the use in recycling?

Moreover, some Latter-day Saints have gone as far as using scripture to justify an outlook of fatalism, to distance us from our responsibility to the earth, our “stewardship.” Here’s a quote, one particular example: “Some people are of the mind that our consumer-driven society is rapidly depleting the earth’s natural resources. They argue for conservation…But why? Do they really think we’re going to run out?” He concludes, “Ladies and gents, we have nothing to worry about.” He bases  this on D&C 104:17:

For the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare;
yea, I prepared all things, and have given unto the children
of men to be agents unto themselves. (D&C 104: 17)

We can certainly interpret this verse in a “All is well in Zion” sort of way, although the Book of Mormon has some verses which warn against such an approach. There is enough and to spare? Reassurance? Try telling that to the black rhino. Or maybe we can just say, hey, there are other species of rhinos still around out there, so no biggie. (And is it just me, or is there some frequent correlation between people who dismiss the theory of evolution and also global warming and human impact on the environment?)

Or instead, this verse can be understood as God’s declaration of our responsibility, a setting of terms, and ultimately today, an indictment for our failure to take good enough care of the earth God creates. In other words: telling us there is “enough and to spare” is not a reassurance. It is a call to repentance. Having enough resources isn’t the same as having the wherewithal to prudently make use of said resources for the good of ourselves and others, including animals (though I recognize some difficulty in line-drawing. What about eating meat, what about microscopic organisms that we kill with medicine, etc.? Well, as for the rhino, it died off not to feed our starvation or to save us from illness, so those points aren’t exactly relevant here). God made us “agents,” and if there’s “enough and to spare” but we’re seeing extinctions like this, maybe it’s time to recognize that “the world [still] lieth in sin.” Elsewhere in Joseph Smith’s revelations we read that the earth was made for the use and enjoyment of man, yes. But we also learn about the earth fulfilling the measure of its creation, and we hear about all things finding joy therein.

And it pleaseth God that he hath given all these things unto man; for unto this end were they made to be used, with judgment, not to excess, neither by extortion. And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who dconfess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments. (D&C 59:20-21)

We wouldn’t be warned about excess and extortion if they weren’t real possibilities. We let you down, rhino.


  1. Are we seeing an example of God’s irony here? If we as Latter-day Saints are all working toward real discipleship, including becoming meek, then what we are abusing and squandering when we exploit the environment for riches or allow others to do so is our own inheritance: Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth

  2. I am sad to hear about the rhino. RIP. Good post, Blair.

  3. Chris Gordon says:

    I’m a crank objector (and argue that there’s more than a few), but find our responsibility of stewardship no less important. Say what you will about scouting and the church, I’m very appreciative of its conservationist roots and the time my leaders took to introduce we boys of the suburban jungle to the beauty of the earth around us. I believe in conservation and the non “-ism” aspects of environmentalism as goods unto themselves.

    And I feel wholly unprepared for the oncoming onslaught of Manbearpig in all his brutality.

  4. Yes. “All is well in Zion” and “eat, drink, and be merry” The “enough and to spare” scripture of course also comes into play when considering how our misuse of resources and political power in developed countries affects the ability of *people* in poorer countries to provide for themselves in the most basic ways. (So they burn down rainforests and poach rhinos just to say alive.) Because of D&C 104:17 we can’t just say, “Oh well, there wasn’t enough to feed everyone–Haitians should just stop having so many babies!” Also “enough and to spare” is often interpreted as “enough to meet everyone’s basic needs and provide a whole lot of luxuries as well.” But we have to be prepared for the possibility that it might actually mean “enough to meet everyone’s basic needs and some extra, but not a whole lot.”

  5. Great post, Blair. It’s pretty clear if you read the verses around that one, too, that this idea of the earth being full is tied directly with exalting the poor and debasing the rich. Stewardship of the earth and of the impoverished go hand in hand, and if we neglect the poor, we cannot expect God to fulfill his promise of abundance. Considering the amount of inequality on the Earth, not to mention in the U.S., boasting that the “Earth is full” without considering the responsibilities that go with it is naive.

  6. At a BYU alum conference a few years back I attended a lecture by a professor studying LDS attitudes toward environmentalism. Here are some of the main arguments he’d heard Mormons use against becoming involved in environmentalism, including the “enough and to spare” argument and the “Jesus will magically fix the Earth when he comes” argument, both of which you mentioned. He had refutations for all of them, of course, but I’ll just list the Mormon anti-environmentalist viewpoints:

    1. We believe that we are living in the “Last Days” and that at some point in the not-too-distant future the earth will be purged of the pollution (both spiritual and physical) that man has inflicted upon it, and resurrected into its perfect and eternal form. Therefore, we can focus on other, more “important” things since the earth is headed for its new life anyway. No use fighting prophecy.

    2. Environmentalists have historically been in favor of population control measures that conflict with Mormon doctrines regarding God’s intentions for human life on the planet.

    3. Our prophets have said little specifically over the pulpit about environmentalism. If it were really that important, they would say more, and say it more often.

    4. Mormons are largely Republican, and the Republican party has typically ignored or opposed the environmentalist movement, which has typically fallen under the banner of the Democratic party.

    5. The word “environmentalist” calls to mind too many extremist images that are not in keeping with the gospel’s message of wisdom and moderation.

    6. We believe that God gave Adam (and mankind, as his descendants) “dominion” over the earth, which means he wants us to use the earth and its resources.

    7. The scriptures say that in the earth there is “enough and to spare,” so to rein in our consumption is to deny God’s statement about the earth and its ability to provide amply.

  7. Thank goodness for BYU’s biology department, which seeks to disabuse LDS students of their notion that “enough and to spare” is somehow separated from our obligation of proper stewardship of the earth. Opening these students’ eyes one student at a time is really all that can be done if they are not getting proper insight into these issues from their parents in their homes. How we as a culture have failed so drastically on this point such that such large numbers of Latter-day Saints make such a strong political point about “enough and to spare” without an accompanying acknowledgement of our stewardship obligations (and accountability for such to God), I will never be able to guess. How could anyone come through the Spencer W. Kimball era and still prioritize corporate development inititives over conservation and environmental preservation?

  8. This news made me really sad. Great post, and great point about “enough and to spare.” I kind of see it as… There’s enough and to spare if you use it responsibly and take care of what you’re given. I think it’s obvious that we have not done that.

  9. Scott Christensen says:

    Great post and very prescient topic. Last year on Earth Day I was invited to sit on a panel as an LDS conservationist with a Zen Buddhist, Rabbi, and evangelical minister. The audience and my fellow panelists were surprised to hear the many quotes from LDS prophets and other church leaders about our stewardship responsibilities, as well as scriptural references from the LDS canon regarding the spiritual creation of trees, etc… Whether members accept it or not, our religion requires a stewardship relationship with the Earth and all of creation. When Christ comes back and asks where have all the desert tortoises gone, I hope I’m not the one that has to tell him, “Oh year, sorry about that. We needed a 37th golf course on the outskirts of St. George. Yes, you heard me right. We needed another golf course in the middle of the Mojave. ” I would encourage folks to read the recent article in National Geographic about the terrible suffering and devastation occurring in the Albertine Rift of Africa. There might be plenty to go around in some places of the world, but those places are becoming increasingly scarce.

  10. elder maxwell talked about the word “work” (in relation to moses 1:39) and said “even for God, this is work.” I would carry that over to the work that it took for him to organize and construct the world. A process so involved that it took 6 creative periods and a period whereupon he needed to rest from this effort. Creating something with such significance, grandeur, and love – and for us not to respect it seems incredibly offensive.

    I feel like all of the reasons not to respect the earth and God’s creation can be rebutted with dc 59:20

    20 And it pleaseth God that he hath given all these things unto man; for unto this end were they made to be used, with judgment, not to excess, neither by extortion.

    “Not to excess, neither by extortion” seems to sum up all of the divers ways in which people mistreat God’s handiwork.

  11. Wonderful post.

    I understand the drought issues in the Southwest right now, but I also understand the concept of over-grazing enough to see a balance that many simply won’t admit. We plunge recklesly on in many cases and deplete so many resources that, used wisely and judiciously, truly would be enough and to spare – and that overconsumption has grave consequences both domestically and internationally.

  12. Eleven comments in and no one has dismissed me as a liberal and evil part of the vast global conspiracy to rule the planet through a New World Order which seeks to force a certain type of light bulb on Americans? ;)

  13. Jeannine L. says:

    I hope I’m not stating the obvious, but that scripture (“enough and to spare”) was revealed a long time ago and a lot has happened since then.

  14. I just take “enough and to spare” as relative and not absolute. the fact that we’re killing off various species, or at least contributing to their extinction, tells me we’re not properly looking after our stewardship.

  15. Scott Christensen,

    I heard that same sentiment about the desert tortoise from Paul Cox, a biologist and writer who was at one point a dean at BYU. He referred to the desert tortoise as one of God’s paintings; I’m sure that sentiment could be applied to the black rhino too. When we drive an animal extinct, we destroy one of God’s unique creations before its time. I can’t imagine God being too pleased about that.

  16. I read this sitting in the Wilkinson center at BYU just after finishing my conservation biology test and I nearly started crying. Despite the mandatory biology class, the”enough and to spare so I don’t care” ideology is still very prevalent. Just last month in the daily universe this topic came up made me want to scream.

  17. I remember a great address by Robert Redford who supported an environmental stance purely by quoting Brigham Young. Hugh Nibley later did something very similar in some essays.

  18. “3. Our prophets have said little specifically over the pulpit about environmentalism. If it were really that important, they would say more, and say it more often.”

    A justification for ignoring a lot of social issues, unfortunately…

  19. Blair thanks for bringing this out. A tragic and heartbreaking event. There are also only six Northern White Rhinos left on the planet so things are looking dismal for this aspect of creation.

    Your post is a brilliant reminder that we have deep responsibilities to our planet and its resources.

    It’s amazing to me how often the scripture quote is taken out of its context. Let’s put it back:

    D&C 104
    16 But it must needs be done in mine own way; and behold this is the way that I, the Lord, have decreed to provide for my saints, that the poor shall be exalted, in that the rich are made low.

    17 For the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare; yea, I prepared all things, and have given unto the children of men to be agents unto themselves.

    18 Therefore, if any man shall take of the abundance which I have made, and impart not his portion, according to the law of my gospel, unto the poor and the needy, he shall, with the wicked, lift up his eyes in hell, being in torment.

    Had this to Doctrine and Covenants 49:20
    20 But it is not given that one man should possess that which is above another, wherefore the world lieth in sin.

    Poverty is one of the largest contributies to environmental problems in the world. The scripture is not about unlimited resources for scooping up by thoughtless exploiters, in order to live in the kind of extravagance we see in the first world and its wealth, it’s about there being enough, if we give up our riches and bring down the rich (how do you interpret ‘the rich will be made low?’) and rise the poor. It’s talking about resources in light of righteous behavior, in which the disparity of rich and poor has been minimized. This isn’t about paying your fast offering (which is important) it’s about working for removing inequalities. The resources are not unlimited in light of current economic practices and elimination of poverty. That’s clear by even the most cursory look at the distribution of resources in the world.

  20. I could never understand the fatalist mentality in the church toward the environment. As church members believe, we know not the day or year when the Lord will come, so how can we choose to let God take responsibility for something that he clearly gave to man? (As stated in the Pearl of Great Price and in Genesis.)

    Re #19, thank you SteveP for clearing up what the scripture is really referring to–not hoarding wealth but sharing all that we have with the poor and needy.

  21. Agree with everything above. It was also announced that the population of humans on the earth had reached 7 billion. with the likleyhood that the seven billionth person would be born into poverty in India or Africa.

    Poverty is obviously not a question that capitalism and greed will solve. Perhaps that is another reason that Mormons tend not to be sympathetic to the environment- their philosophy on life is determined as much by their political conservatism as it is by the gospel, when faced with a choice between the Gospel and Republicanism – the Gospel comes second.

    Sadly it also means you will not be an acceptable member-worthy of inclusion, let alone leadership, unless you support that choice.

  22. “Sadly it also means you will not be an acceptable member-worthy of inclusion, let alone leadership, unless you support that choice.”

    No it doesn’t.

    That’s all.

  23. “Poverty is obviously not a question that capitalism and greed will solve.”

    It sure will help though. Immensely. A recent study published by the Brookings Institute found that global poverty was halved nearly three years ago. The decrease in poverty is accelerating. See: http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/Files/rc/papers/2011/01_global_poverty_chandy/01_global_poverty_chandy.pdf

    In a separate article detailing the findings, the authors provide this explanation for the decrease:

    “These factors are manifestations of a set of broader trends – the rise of globalisation, the spread of capitalism and the improving quality of economic governance – which together have enabled the developing world to begin converging on advanced economy incomes after centuries of divergence. The poor countries that display the greatest success today are those that are engaging with the global economy, allowing market prices to balance supply and demand and to allocate scarce resources, and pursuing sensible and strategic economic policies to spur investment, trade and job creation. It’s this potent combination that sets the current period apart from a history of insipid growth and intractable poverty.”

    See: http://www.realclearworld.com/articles/2011/07/08/unnoticed_a_stunning_reduction_in_global_poverty_99583.html

    Capitalism has much more to do with cooperation than it does with greed in the typical use of the word.

  24. Left Field says:

    There’s no question that “enough and to spare” is an indictment, and that the scripture means the polar opposite of how it is often applied. It is a stinging rebuke against us who use more than our share of resources. It’s significant that the passage comes in the context of a revelation about the United Order. The Lord is telling us in this section to think globally and act locally. We are to care for those around us and responsibly use resources for the benefit of all. The words “steward” or “stewardship” are used 24 times in 84 verses. For not sharing our resources with those in need, we’re threatened with cursing, hell, torment, buffetings of Satan, being trodden down, wrath, and condemnation. And yet some can take a few words out of context and wrest the revelation into an excuse for indulgence and irresponsibility.

  25. Ray and Geoff-A–

    I do think that for some members of the church, Republicanism comes first. And personal politics can certainly have an impact on how other members see you. It might not make much of a difference in some places (for example, my last BYU ward had plenty of liberals, including many of the students in leadership positions, and my ward in Cincinnati had a few, including some in leadership positions). On the other hand, in other places it can make a big difference. I’m living in a place right now where I’m a bit hesitant to discuss my political affiliations. It’s a town with a very high percentage of Mormons, and almost all of them are Republican. There’s definitely a feeling among a lot of the members here that you can’t be a good Mormon and a Democrat. And I think some of that sentiment goes as high as stake presidency level.

  26. This was such a great post that it didn’t need the cutesy introductory reference to Veteran’s Day. Which I found offensive and trivializing.

  27. Well, I’m sorry you chose to be offended. ;)

  28. Damn straight I’m offended. Declaring us all “enlisted” trivializes the agonizing decision of those who decide to serve in uniform. Even those who were drafted, among those who are alive today, had options to seek a deferment or become a conscientious objector and serve in a non-combatant role (not that some of them didn’t take fire serving as medics). Keeping your ass safe.

    It was a compelling essay in its own right, and had zilch to do with Veteran’s Day.

  29. Thanks Naismith.

  30. I apologize for being hypersensitive. Intellectually, it was a perfectly acceptable metaphor; several hymns use military imagery and I even lectured on them when teaching Book of Mormon. But that wasn’t on Veteran’s Day.

    It’s nice to have a day for the nation to honor veterans, but for the vets themselves it can be a painful reminder of buddies who–well, a variety of outcomes.

  31. “I do think that for some members of the church, Republicanism comes first.”

    I think for many members of the church, politics come first (whatever the politics may be).

  32. Our prophets have said little specifically over the pulpit about environmentalism. If it were really that important, they would say more, and say it more often.

    He that has to be commanded in all things is slothful, though, right?

    Closer to some of us, look at the North American Buffalo. Once number in the millions, now much less. We’re also using horizontal gas shale fracturing, first pushed on us as being safe, and claimed to be needed for making America energy independent. Now, we find that the well casing cementing is critical for this to be safe, or there’s water pollution, as is being found the hard way. And, that natural gas that was supposed to help the US energy situation is being exported to China & elsewhere.

    Spin what’ ever is claimed, just to make a buck, never mind the environment?.

  33. It has upset me for years that some cannot see the obvious connection between the ‘dominion’ that was given to Adam and Eve and the real threat of this becoming an ‘unrighteous dominion’.

    Imagine if we took the same view of the stewardship over our own bodies? … oh, wait, some do.

    I think it is obscene to think that because Christ will undo any harm done to the earth that we can do any harm we like to the earth. That is not righteous dominion.

  34. MJ #33–That’s the exact thought I had, and that parallel between treatment of the telestial Earth and of our telestial bodies is especially striking when you consider that LDS scripture and modern prophetic teaching indicates that the Earth is not just the stage on which living things move and from which they obtain the building blocks of life, but is living itself, has a spirit, and moves through stages of glory as we do.

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