The pride cycle, the prosperity gospel, and grace.

Ah, the pride cycle: the idea that humility leads to righteousness, which leads to material prosperity, which itself leads to pride, which then leads to sin and to a loss of material prosperity, which leads back to humility. So it goes.

I have one major complaint against the pride cycle, at least with the way it is often interpreted. If we interpret the pride cycle to mean that material prosperity is the result of righteousness, we come dangerously close to teaching a form of the prosperity gospel, which Elder Oaks has recently denounced, saying this in April 2015: “Those who believe in what has been called the theology of prosperity are suffering from the deceitfulness of riches. The possession of wealth or significant income is not a mark of heavenly favor, and their absence is not evidence of heavenly disfavor.” (Elder Oaks’ reference to “the deceitfulness of riches” is a quotation of Jesus’ explanation of the parable of the sower in Mark 4.) And of course, scripture recognizes that, as we all know through our own experience, often “the wicked prospers,” and expressly teaches that God sends his blessings on both the just and the unjust.

This objection may not be fair to Mormon. Note that Mormon doesn’t ever actually say that righteousness always leads to material blessings. The pattern he portrays can lead readers to that conclusion, but he does not say it. He says that prosperity was the result of God’s blessings, but does not necessarily say that those blessings are always earned by righteousness or that they always follow from righteousness. To be sure, when the Nephites lose those blessings, Mormon doesn’t hesitate to attribute it to pride, but it is a logical fallacy to assume (from Mormon’s statements that loss of prosperity was the result of wickedness) that the inverse is true (that prosperity was a result of righteousness). Mormon is less concerned, I think, with teaching a version of the prosperity gospel than he is with emphasizing God’s goodness, and humanity’s fickleness–in fact, that’s the whole point of Helaman 12, which basically serves as a summary to the preceding 11 chapters. In service of that goal, it is not that Mormon teaches that goodness results in wealth, but rather that he takes an almost medieval view toward prosperity and penury, under which prosperity is attributable to God’s goodness, and penury is attributable to man’s badness. When the Nephites prosper, and have peace, he nearly always attributes that to blessings from God, rather than to naturalistic causes. And when the Nephites suffer losses in war, or famine, or disease, Mormon says plainly and unmistakably that the reason for the Nephites’ material losses was because of their pride, exceeding riches, and oppression of the poor.

And besides that, unlike the prosperity gospel, which basically promises an unending ladder of ever-increasing wealth to the faithful, the pride cycle portrayed in the Book of Mormon is, well, cyclical. It doesn’t just teach, like the prosperity gospel, that goodness leads to wealth, it teaches that wealth is simultaneously a blessing, insofar as it comes from God and benefits his children, and a curse, insofar as it instigates pride. The pride cycle takes a much more ambivalent view toward wealth than does the prosperity gospel.

In this post, I am interested in taking a closer look at the idea that wealth is a curse inasmuch as it leads from humility to pride. Specifically, I want to look closely at how wealth lead the Nephites from humility to pride, and to explore how the way we think about the role of grace might affect the link between blessings and pride.

How is prosperity linked to pride?

Mormon doesn’t elaborate much on the specific issue of how prosperity leads to pride, he seems to just take it for granted, since that’s the pattern he portrays. But Jacob, generations earlier, gave some clues about the how the Nephites’ prosperity in his time let to pride. He says this:

Because some of you have obtained more abundantly than that of your brethren, ye are lifted up in the pride of your hearts and wear stiff necks and high heads because of the costliness of your apparel, and persecute your brethren, because ye suppose that ye are better than they. (Jacob 2:13)

According to Jacob, the cause of the Nephites’ pride was that those who prospered more “suppose[d] that they were better than [those that prospered less],” because they had “obtained more abundantly than that of [their] brethren.” Jacob seems to be saying that the real issue is not the possession of riches themselves (to be sure, although Jacob says God condemns the Nephites for their pride, he also says that even seeking riches can be good if it comes after conversion and if it is with the intent to relieve the poverty of others). Jacob seems to mean rather that the problem is the assumption that having riches is the result of righteousness, and therefore proof of righteousness, and that greater riches are therefore proof of greater righteousness, comparatively speaking. Jacob, like Elder Oaks, is no fan of the prosperity gospel.[1]

But here’s the rub: when we discuss the pride cycle we often make the same basic assumption that the Nephites made, that material prosperity is the result of righteousness. When pressed, we might allow that there are exceptions to this rule, but speaking of riches and righteousness as a cycle where prosperity follows righteousness, we seem to assume that aside from a few exceptions, the regular rule is that righteousness leads to prosperity (which is often assumed, though it is not always stated, to mean material prosperity). If that is true, then if you are materially successful, it becomes easy to assume that such success must be the result of righteousness. So when we speak of the pride cycle as a cycle where riches always (or even just usually) follow righteousness, are we in danger of committing the same mistake that the Nephites committed?

How to break the link?

Perhaps it would be better to not believe that riches are the result of righteousness. Maybe it would be better to ascribe material prosperity to other, morally neutral causes.

There are other ways of thinking about the causes of prosperity and inequality. In the ancient and medieval world, there was the concept of the “wheel of fortune.” This meant that a person’s material state was largely the product of fate, and the idea of fate as a wheel meant that that sometimes the rich would be humbled, and sometimes the poor would be exalted, but that nobody should get too comfortable with their position, because the wheel will always turn. Fate always changes, and there’s very little you can do about it.

So here are the facts: sometimes people prosper, sometimes they suffer. One interpretation of those facts is the pride cycle: when they prosper, it is the result of righteousness, but also the foreunner of pride, which leads to humiliation, but humiliation ultimately leads to humility, and righteousness. Another interpretation is the wheel of fortune: bad stuff just happens to some people, and good stuff just happens to other people. It’s not the result of pride or humility, it’s just fate.

And honestly, the wheel of fortune kind of resonates with me. Like Jeremiah, I’ve seen too many good people suffer losses of all kinds, and too many proud and dishonest people prosper to believe that prosperity always follows righteousness or that penury and loss always follow pride. In my own experience, de-coupling righteousness from prosperity is a healthier way to approach our own successes than to believe that if we are successful it is because we are righteous.

But wheel of fortune thinking has its drawbacks. Taken to an extreme, it can easily descend into fatalism or nihilism. Why thank God for prosperity if prosperity is just dumb luck, rather than a blessing? If it’s just fate, then does that take God out of the picture? Ascribing prosperity and inequality to fate can be comforting because it relieves God of responsibility for the fact that the wicked prosper and that the righteous suffer, and thus preserves the idea that God is just. But it’s also a bit of a cop-out, because the problem is that God commands us to confess his hand in all things.

And there’s good reason to make sure that we recognize God as the source of prosperity. If riches don’t come from God, then maybe that means that they are just the result of hard work and smarts. If you take that view, it’s easier to fall into the Korihor/Ayn Rand trap, that every man prospers “according to the management of the creature.” In that case, wealth becomes proof of one’s superior “genius” and “strength” over others, which in the end, is a kind of pride that may not be all that different from the notion that one’s wealth is proof of greater righteousness.

Maybe this is why Jacob, for example, though he calls the Nephites to repentance for supposing that they are better than those that have not obtained riches, still recognizes the hand of God in their acquisition of riches in the first place. “The hand of providence hath smiled upon you,” he says.

Can we break the link without removing God from the picture?

But if the source of material prosperity is “the hand of providence,” then doesn’t that at least suggest, contrary to Elder Oaks’ warning that the possession of wealth is evidence of divine favor, that those who prosper do so because they have received divine favor, because the hand of providence has smiled upon them? How can we be faithful to God’s direction that we confess his hand in all things and at the same time avoid the trap of ascribing wealth to righteousness?

I suggest that the answer is grace.

I suggest that the best way to recognize that God is the source of our prosperity without falling into the trap of assuming that prosperity is proof of righteousness is to look to God as the source of our prosperity, but to de-couple God’s blessings in this respect from our righteousness, and to see that material prosperity is not a reward for our righteousness, but as an unearned gift, an act of pure grace. Something that God gives to us not because we are righteous, but simply because we are his, both the evil and the good, both the just and the unjust. [1]

Having a works-based gospel mindset works against you in this context. If you believe that nothing is free, that all blessings are earned by righteousness, and that prosperity is a blessing to be earned, then it is logical to assume that righteous people will be prosperous people and that wicked people will not be prosperous people. And from there, it’s not far to believing that a prosperous person is a righteous person. By contrast, if you believe that blessings are not earned by righteousness, but are gifts of grace, then it is easier to see your prosperity not as proof of your righteousness or other superiority, but as proof of God’s goodness.

The Book of Mormon teaches a grace-based mindset. As King Benjamin emphasizes, for example, we are all unprofitable servants, undeserving of anything, and our very breath is an act of grace. The Nephites in Jacob’s day, unlike Korihor, apparently did not boast in their own strength as the source of their wealth; they piously acknowledged God as the source of their wealth. But they assumed that the fact that they received God’s favor in this particular manner to a greater degree than others did meant that they were better (that is, more righteous, more deserving) than others. If the Nephites in Jacob’s day had treated their material prosperity as an act of undeserved grace, unconnected to their worthiness or unworthiness, rather than as a reward, they would not have seen it as proof of their being deserving of anything, and perhaps they would not have supposed that they were better than those whom God blessed in other ways.[2]

The grace debate is often presented as a question of soteriology only–that is, a question of how we are saved from death and sin. But the pride cycle shows us, I think, that the grace and works question has consequences to our relationships every day in mortality–our relationships with God and with our fellow-wanderers in this fallen world–consequences that are, if not more important, than at least as urgent as its consequences to our ultimate salvation. And ultimately, perhaps it is the same question, because the most reliable proof of our conversion (that, is, our salvation) lies in how we treat others, as the parable of the unforgiving debtor vividly emphasizes.

Now, don’t misunderstand me, I’m not suggesting because we should consider material prosperity as an unearned gift of grace, rather than a reward for righteous living, that we should just stop doing good works, or that we should stop trying to keep the commandments, or that obedience and doing good don’t matter, or that God does not bless those that seek him. As Paul said, and as President Uchtdorf has recently reminded us again, may “God forbid” that we use grace as self-justification for being lax in our discipleship. Of course we should do good works and of course we should keep the commandments. But at the end of the day, no amount of obedience or good works can balance the scales against the blessings God constantly gives us. So we don’t obey the commandments to earn blessings, we obey them out of gratitude, out of love, and because that is our calling: God has “saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace.” The new and everlasting covenant of the gospel is not a quid pro quo arrangement; it is not an arms-length business deal between equals where each party’s performance is contingent on the other’s promise to perform; it is, rather, an intimate, covenant-based relationship where God freely offers his whole infinite self and all that he has, and to accept his offer, we pledge our willingness to unconditionally give God our whole selves and all that we have.

So I suggest that perhaps the exit ramp off the pride cycle lies in recognizing God as the source of our prosperity, but understanding that when God gives us wealth, he does so “not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace.” [3] That way, we still recognize God as the source of all good gifts–including, but of course not limited to material prosperity–but we can avoid becoming self-congratulatory about the fact that we receive such gifts, because the fact that we have them is proof that God is good, not proof that we deserve them.

We can also recognize that “his own purpose” might include reasons that are not immediately apparent. The possession of wealth may be as much a test as it is a blessing, because our use or misuse of the resources God gives us, our willingness or our failure to consecrate our property to the poor, may be our salvation or our undoing. “His own purpose” might mean that he chooses to show his grace to his different children in different ways, so that the fact that one person does not receive material prosperity to the same degree as another, does not mean that that person does not receive his grace and blessings in other ways perhaps to an even greater degree.

Recognizing the role of grace in this manner reconciles Mormon’s and Jacob’s insistence that God is the source of prosperity with Elder Oaks’ important teaching that prosperity is not evidence of divine favor and lack of prosperity is not evidence of divine disfavor.

[1] See also President Uchtdorf in April 2016: “[W]hat must the sheep do to qualify for this divine help? Does the sheep need to know how to use a complicated sextant to calculate its coordinates? Does it need to be able to use a GPS to define its position? Does it have to have the expertise to create an app that will call for help? Does the sheep need endorsements by a sponsor before the Good Shepherd will come to the rescue? No. Certainly not! The sheep is worthy of divine rescue simply because it is loved by the Good Shepherd.”

[2] Now, an objection to my statement that the Book of Mormon teaches a grace-based mindset and does not teach the prosperity gospel might be the oft-repeated statement that keeping the commandments leads to prosperity. In fact, it may be that the Nephites’ adoption of a sort of prosperity gospel thinking was the result of the oft-repeated promise that “Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall  prosper in the land; but inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye shall be cut off from my presence.” That promise appears to play a huge role in the way that the Nephites thought about prosperity, God, and even their identity as Nephites. But “prosper” in this promise is not defined, and it is possible that it could mean something broader than just material prosperity. In fact, the way “ye shall prosper in this land” is set up in opposition to “ye shall be cut off from my presence” suggests that “prosper” here refers primarily to enjoying the Lord’s presence rather than to material wealth. This is also supported by the fact that when Mormon uses “prosperity” in the early chapters of Helaman, he refers to the fact that the church made lots of converts. In short, “prosper” often refers to spiritual blessings rather than material wealth, so I don’t think the promise that obedience to the commandments will lead to prosperity from God teaches the prosperity gospel.

[3] But what about section 130? The statement that “when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.” Does this disprove the idea that when God blesses us with wealth, it is because of unearned grace rather than because we earned it? I don’t think so.

Speaking from personal experience, I know that I do not completely and perfectly obey the law of the gospel. And while I try to obey the commandments, I do not always do so joyfully. Yet, despite the fact that I have never perfectly and completely obeyed the law, I have been and am constantly blessed. The question we need to ask ourselves is, whose “obedience to that law” is the obedience upon which all blessings are predicated? If it is our own obedience, then justice would require that none of us ever obtain any blessing, for the reasons King Benjamin explains so vividly. I suggest that this “law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world” is the law of grace, the law of the atonement, the law of the Father’s will, and I suggest that it is Jesus’s obedience to that law, his obedience to the Father’s will, that makes all blessings possible. After all, it is Jesus’ reconciliation between us and God that makes it possible for us to receive God. Thus, when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by Jesus’ obedience to this law. In fact, if we take seriously the Book of Mormon’s statements that Jesus created the earth and created man in his image, then the earth itself and our mortal existence is the result of Jesus’ obedience to the father’s will. Thus, the earth itself and even our bodies themselves are given as acts of grace.





  1. Michael S. says:

    Excellent. Work we must, but the lunch is free.

  2. Clark Goble says:

    I confess I’ve always been skeptical of Nibley’s formulation of grace as “work we must but the lunch is free” for various reasons. I think it distorts some important aspects of grace as well as makes assumptions about what gifts God gives. (don’t worry, I’ll not go too far down that tangent) I think what bothers me the most is the assumption there’s a great free lunch coming when often there isn’t. As JKC noted, if one isn’t careful one reads grace in light of a prosperity gospel or cheap grace.

    While I suspect the Nephite experience is very much colored by where they live (which in turn is a bit of a mystery although I’m personally convinced the Guatemala area is most likely). How prosperous they are tends to thus be colored by natural events (droughts, storms, pestilence, etc.) and war (typically the Lamanites) While it’s easy to attribute that to God (as Mormon notes) I suspect it practice it’s a tad more complex. Mormon is of course looking at things hundreds of years afterwards and perhaps imposing a structure on the history. (Very common in ancient writings and arguably a feature of history well into the end of the 19th century)

    My guess is that a lot of the feature of Nephite society in the pride cycle is tied to being a syncretic society. When they get rich and presumably are trading then those influences from other city states come into play. The traders take up the social aspects of these other cities (perhaps somewhat as a necessity for making trade deals). This then brings out those who want less Nephite culture.

    I think you’re completely right in terms of Mormon that wealth is a kind of curse. If we apply the Book of Mormon to our culture then that ought be a warning. The quasi-Calvinist view that wealth is rewards for being chosen is absolutely rejected. Instead it’s a trial we have to conquer.

    I’d add though that while the pride cycle is definitely Mormon’s perspective the narrative itself seems quite a bit more complex. Certainly the most interesting figures are the son of Alma and the sons of Mosiah that first fall prey to this cycle, arguably reject Christianity for a while and join in the indigenous culture, but then shift despite their riches to sharing with the Lamanites.

  3. pconnornc says:

    I get where you are going w/ the thoughts around wealth as a curse, but I think there is a slightly different take on prosperity that might also apply.

    I think that the BoM talks of prosperity in a whole life perspective. I would imagine that all of us know and admire people who are materially sparse, but prosper in their lives. I think one of the things that happens in the pride cycle is that people narrow their definition of prosperity to material things and it punishes both ways. Those on the ride up get caught up in the pitfalls of materialism, while those on the bottom can be soured by their lack, not appreciating the prospering the Lord has given them.

    I admire the people on both ends of the spectrum who are humble and grateful for their prosperity (in the broad definition) and am constantly seeking to follow their examples.

  4. I’ve been hoping someone smart would tackle this since I read Kate Bowler’s excellent book. Thanks, Jason. Very well thought out and accessible.

  5. Mormons, as a people, have prospered in many ways, certainly in population and in education, compared to the days of the early Church. Mormons, in general, do keep the commandments.We have surely prospered in the building of temples.

  6. Don’t miss Kristin Matthews’s Willes Book of Mormon Lecture about the “greed cycle” folks.

  7. I liked this a lot. I think I will base my next sacrament meeting talk on some of the ideas in this post.

  8. Clark Goble says:

    mez, while I think it safe to say that Mormons haven’t fallen prey to the problems that beset the Nephites in most of the chapters of Alma or Helaman, I wonder how well we’re keeping the commandments. I think we think of the commandments in terms of the “don’ts” but neglect far too much many of the “dos.” How well we take care of the poor and how well we focus on equality is something I think we neglect too much.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think even there many Mormons do quite well. I’m reminded of the times I’ve volunteered at soup kitchens and how long the waiting lists to volunteer were. Further, when I volunteered they often sent me home with food because they had more donations than they could give out. (Note – this was several years ago. I’ve no idea if that is still true. Further at the time they were very short in goods for children and babies.) Mormons appear to have been quick to send aid to Louisiana, a current disaster that surprisingly hasn’t had the media attention that Katrina got. But lest we get too comfortable and think all is well, there are lots of people with mental illness and other problems whose needs aren’t being met. And lots of problems around the world we could probably do much better with.

  9. My post last week directly dealt with this very issue:

    That said, here are the basic points where I disagree with both the prosperity gospel as well as OP’s proposed solution:

    “If we interpret the pride cycle to mean that material prosperity is the result of righteousness, we come dangerously close to teaching a form of the prosperity gospel”

    Not true. There is a world of difference between the modern belief that “the pursuit of private vices leads to the common good” and the premodern belief that “selfless virtue leads to collective prosperity” as promised in both the scriptures and latter-day calls for the united order.

    More importantly, neither one of these positions is committed to the (protestant work ethic) claim that wealth is a sign of grace and favor. Such a claim only makes sense within a Calvinist mindset of a) predetermination and b) the universal priesthood where “productive work” is one’s (priesthood) “calling” and success is a sign of God’s support, favor and grace in this calling. At least this is Weber’s reading. Mormon’s don’t believe in either of these claims, so the idea that personal accumulation has anything to do with righteousness is bogus from the word go.

    Indeed, I don’t see any scriptural support that “prosperity = righteousness” should ever be interpreted in an individualistic sense. Rather, such statements suggest that a righteous community – organized by moral values rather than the profit motive – will not waste time producing goods and service oriented to private vices or conspicuous consumption… and will thus flourish as a community.

    “material prosperity is not a reward for our righteousness, but as an unearned gift, an act of pure grace”

    I think this buys far too much into the protestant individualism that is the cause of the problem at hand. Grace is more about our inadequacies than it is about our earning or deserving anything. It is the idea that blessings and goodness come down from above rather than bubbles up from below through competition, calculation, etc. A community receives God’s grace by organizing production and distribution along the lines of His righteous dictates, not by seeking profit and success as a sign of individual favor.

    In other words, “prosperity” should never be conflated with “profitability” or “economic growth”. There are huge moral differences between the two.

  10. Jeff G, I tend to agree with you, and I fear that the prosperity gospel has become so ingrained in our LDS culture that it will be difficult for our capitalist oriented US church members to make the switch to what I believe will be a moral values driven millennium/Zion society, if it comes anytime soon.

  11. The Nephite had peculiar conditions which are not applicable to us. They had the miraculous power of God displayed out in the open. It was surrounding them day in and day out. Under such conditions anyone willingly rebelling against God’s commandments stood in jeopardy of becoming the son of perdition.
    So, I claim that indeed there existed a righteousness-equals-material-prosperity condition among the Nephites but such condition does not exist among the Gentile Mormons nowadays.

  12. Bro. B,

    You may be right, but this doesn’t mean that we should grant the individualistic premises that are fueling the misinterpretation in the first place.

    In other words, while I think that JKC and I largely agree on the diagnosis, I am basically accusing him of only treating the symptoms that lie causally downstream from the disease itself. Unless we attack the individualism that lies at the heart of the protestant work ethic for what it is, the symptoms he laments will simply manifest themselves in different ways.

  13. Clark Goble says:

    I’m not sure to the typical Nephite or Lamanite that the power of God was displayed in the open anymore than it is for us. There’s lots of miracles going on, but not in public. The examples in Alma or Helaman seem typically much easier to explain away for non-believers. Even Korihor.

    I’d also say that there’s lots of quasi-open miracles we can see regularly as well.

    Finally I’d note that the Book of Mormon was written for our time, so in some ways it must apply as a warning and parallel.

  14. Clark Goble says:

    Jeff that’s a good point about the community versus the individual although some verses suggest that breaks down. Jacob 2:13 seems to suggest that there are divisions of wealth within Jacob’s community. Amulek and others suggest personal wealth above others. (See Alma 10:4 among many others) So while I think the point you raise is important, the main issue for the Nephites appears to be divisions within the community.

  15. Clark Goble says:

    One last bit. While Weber obviously had an extremely influential theory of the protestant work ethic as essentially tied to Calvinist predestination and being chosen, I think the actual history is a bit more complex. I also suspect Weber had cultural vestiges of certain anti-catholic biases in his work. So Catholic scholars like Schumpeter note medieval forms of the work ethic in Catholic countries. Other economists tend to note the role of private property and rewards in developing work ethics. So countries with strong property rights tended to have better work ethic. More contemporary works point at other factors such as rates of education, especially literacy, rather than the influence of Calvinism or Lutheranism.

    Things Weber doesn’t explain well are things like Jewish productivity and intellectual attainment. Also obviously in the US there was a cultural work ethic for people who didn’t buy into Calvinism in the least.

    In my view I suspect Weber gets at a certain truth, but I think in practice (especially in the United States) it was much more complex. Interesting Weber quotes Ben Franklin and others. Admittedly Franklin in particular came out of a culture of Puritanism. But I think this highlights how people who reject Calvinism (and much of Christianity) retain ethical traces of the earlier work. So if the work ethic only makes sense in terms of Calvinism, one must address how the more deist and secular early Americans often had the same ethic. (I’ve not read Weber’s whole book, so perhaps he address this)

  16. Clark,

    A couple of points:

    1) Doing things for the collective good does not necessarily entail an equality of wealth. Some inequalities in wealth are obviously bad, but I don’t see much support for the claim that all such inequalities are bad.
    2) It’s not a sin to be wealthy, just to seek to be wealthy. The individualistic profit motive is the sin, not economic prosperity as such.

    With these two points in mind, I don’t find anything in those passages that pushes back against what I’m saying.

  17. “So if the work ethic only makes sense in terms of Calvinism, one must address how the more deist and secular early Americans often had the same ethic.”

    My comment was more aimed at the specific connection between grace and wealth. That, to me, is very Calvinist in spirit. To be sure, lot’s of people have always claimed that their wealth was a blessing from the Lord. This isn’t anything new. What was unique and new was the claim that *seeking* wealth was a calling from the Lord. This is utterly foreign to essentially all other religions and traditions.

    It is in this way that the original “if we are righteous, then we will prosper” gets reversed and individualized such that now “if I prosper, then I am righteous.”

  18. Musings (not fully developed):
    >I am sympathetic with moving pretty far in the grace direction. (I think that’s general approval for the OP.)
    >I want to give some attention to the following thought process: grace –> both good and bad –> good and bad and indeterminate (not mapped to works) –> Equals wheel of fortune? Equals non-interventionist God?
    >scriptures seem to distinguish group or societal wealth (usually an unalloyed good) and individual wealth (most often presented as a problem); I’d want to tease that out in a pride cycle discussion
    >on an individual level, my so far lifetime observation (not doctrine, not scripture) is that within a socio-economic group one sigma (plus and minus) on wealth looks like choices and effort (works?), and two sigma and greater (plus and minus) looks like luck (grace??)

  19. My own musings (also not fully developed)
    We would do better to err on the side of believing that God does not bless us temporally. We should obey his commandments because we love him. We should love his other children because we want to be like him. We should do this selflessly, without regard for what benefit this may bring us. I do not believe that Christ’s actions were motivated by a desire to receive blessings and glory from God. I believe his actions were motivated exclusively by love of god and love of his fellow man and woman. I think the idea that God will bless us with anything other than internal comfort or internal joy is a corruption of the gospel of love.

  20. Clark Goble says:

    Jeff, not all inequities are bad. Indeed I’d say give our different abilities, wants and needs that total equality is impossible. But I don’t think that’s the main issue. That said, I think that the notion of equity is often not analyzed well. While we pay attention to D&C 78:5-6 we miss the later 82:17 which I think clarifies that somewhat in a communitarian sense. Exactly what we are to do outside of that communitarian system seems more difficult to figure out. However typically the issue isn’t what some future utopia would be, but rather given current circumstance what would be better than what we have. Utopia is hard if not impossible to figure out. Seeing a better world than today seems much easier given there is no shortage of those in need who are not being served.

    This in turn I think has important implications for the wealthy if wealth is there to do good with yet people with wealth don’t use it to help the poor.

    Your distinction between seeking wealth and having wealth is well made though.

  21. pconnornc, I agree that prosperity should not be read as limited to material wealth or success. That was the point I tried to make in my second footnote.

  22. Clark, I really like your point about Alma and Mosiah’s sons as a counter example to the pride cycle. I hadn’t considered that specific point.

  23. J Stuart, thanks. I haven’t read Bowler’s book, but it looks fascinating.

  24. mez, and Clark, I think we as a whole see very good at keeping some commandments, and very bad at keeping others. I think it is good to recognize when God blesses us, but should also be careful that it doesn’t turn into “all is well in Zion, yea, Zion prospereth.”

  25. Jeff, you may be seeing a disagreement that isn’t there, or, if it is, is smaller than you seem to think. I’m not sure where you are getting your definition of the prosperity gospel as “the pursuit of private vices leads to the common good.” That sounds a lot more like capitalism than the prosperity gospel. The prosperity gospel, as I am using that term in this post, is the idea that Elder Oaks rejects: that material success is proof of divine favor. Teaching that righteousness always, or even just usually, leads to material wealth—whether on an individual level or a societal level—is not equivalent to that idea, but it comes dangerously close, in my opinion.

    Your point that the promise that obedience brings prosperity works only on the societal level is a good one, but I don’t think that’s a distinction that the Book of Mormon makes so cleanly. In addition to the examples that Clark noted, there’s also the example of Helaman himself, who Mormon describes as being so righteous that he “did prosper in the land.” Of course, that should not be understood, I think, as necessarily meaning material prosperity. Your point that prosperity should not be confused with profit is one that I completely agree with.

    I don’t understand what you’re are trying to say about grace. I agree that grace solves our inadequacies, but I don’t understand what you mean by saying that it is more about that than about us not deserving or earning blessings we receive. Honestly, I don’t understand at all how my statement that wealth, when we get it at all, should be seen as an act of pure grace rather than as a reward for righteousness, bus into protestant individualism.

  26. Christian, I think you raise some good points. A God that dispenses blessings indiscriminately can seem arbitrary. This pushes us closer to the inscrutable God of Job than the interventionist God of Nephi.

  27. Also, Christian, your observation that societal wealth is usually presented as good, while individual wealth is presented (usually) as problematic, is important.

  28. I think Dave Ramsey distills the essence of this OP pretty well, when he responds to the question of how is he doing with simple catch phrase, “Better than I deserve”.

    And then there’s Clint Eastwood’s character, Will Munny, in the movie Unforgiven that articulates pretty much the same thing King Benjamin said in this scene:

    The Schofield Kid: [after killing a man for the first time] It don’t seem real… how he ain’t gonna never breathe again, ever… how he’s dead. And the other one too. All on account of pulling a trigger.
    Will Munny: It’s a hell of a thing, killing a man. Take away all he’s got and all he’s ever gonna have.
    The Schofield Kid: Yeah, well, I guess they had it coming.
    Will Munny: We all got it coming, kid.

  29. JKC,

    There is some miscommunication between us, and I’m sure the fault if primarily mine.

    1) Following Weber, I was suggesting that capitalism, American liberalism and the deists that Clark mentions all lie historically downstream from the Calvinists’ cultural innovation, wherein individualistic profit is a sign of the Lord’s individualistic favor and thus should be sought with vocational zeal. The prosperity gospel, then, basically is non-secularized capitalism.

    2) I would not expect the premodern scriptures to draw a sharp distinction between private and public prosperity since such a distinction was largely invented by us moderns. (Scriptures were not privately owned things to be read in the individualistic privacy of one’s own home, but to be read aloud, within a group.) In other words, the connection between righteousness and prosperity ought to be given a collectivist interpretation unless the scriptures draw an explicit distinction – which, as you said, doesn’t happen very often – rather than the opposite that we modern liberals have been trained to do in our economics classes.

    Thus, the prosperity gospel makes two critical errors: 1) it commits the logical fallacy of affirming the consequent (If A then B does not imply if B then A), and 2) it applies an individualistic (Protestant) interpretation to collectivist promises. This is not to say that the promise of prosperity will never have exceptions (I don’t find Clark’s example persuasive at all, but they might be there all the same) It is to say, however, that there is a prosperity gospel worth believing in.

    3) As for grace, what I said earlier was admittedly very vague and not terribly to the point. Let’s see if I can’t do better…

    I think your appeal to grace is a good start, but it doesn’t go far enough. Grace is not “earned” because premodern societies were not structured around private “earnings”. WIthin such societies, each person provided for the group because 1) they were supposed to and 2) morally censured if they did not. The concepts of “exchange”, “earnings” and “rewards” simply didn’t make much sense. Within such a context, grace is not a “freely bestowed gift”, since this only makes sense in opposition to something that is earned.

    Instead, grace is simply a word for God holding up His end of a covenant relationship that is both hierarchical, hereditary and therefore collectivist – as opposed to contracts that are egalitarian, freely dissolved, and therefore individualistic. If we give God the proper faith, obedience and deference that is native to our lower, inadequate position, He will give us the proper grace, provision and justification that in native to His higher, position.

    One such covenant just is the promise of prosperity that you’re trying to replace with an appeal to grace: “If we, as a group, are righteous, He will give us, as a group, prosperity.” Within this, or any other covenant relationship, we do not “earn” prosperity, nor is it “freely given”, but is instead a *moral obligation* to which He is bound and which He is fulfilling.

  30. More simply put, “grace” is a paternalistic obligation, rather than an individualistic “free gift” or “earned reward”.

  31. That seems to me like a pretty unobjectionable concept of grace, but it doesn’t strike me as inconsistent with anything I’ve said.

  32. Nice, Carey F.

  33. Yeah, Jeff, I think I understand your positions more clearly now. I just don’t see how what your saying is inconsistent with what I said.

  34. No– I did not mean all is well in Zion. I believe the Lord blesses the Church because of those who are faithful. And faithful doesn’t equal perfect. There are very good people in my Ward who look for ways to serve others, but yes, I see them missing very obvious opportunities right in front of them which leads me to believe that I do it too.

  35. Don’t worry, mez, I didn’t think you did. My comment was not too contradict yours, but to build on it.

  36. Clark Goble says:

    Jeff (11:48) I confess I’m a big uncomfortable calling Grace a paternal obligation. Maybe a post over at your blog just on that? I think that to the degree God has ethical obligations driven by his encounters with other beings we can say he has obligations. I wonder how much of Grace is ethical in that sense. I’ll be the first to confess I don’t know.

    That said I also am uncomfortable with the receiver focus many give in which it’s totally undeserved or totally earned. The focus on the receiver seems misplaced in some key ways as well. Further somewhat like portraying God’s acts in terms of obligations it seems to distort things somewhat. After all if people in their state present obligations to others who encounter them, what’s going on.

    From an LDS conception I think Grace is so wrapped up in the plan of salvation and the idea of being in a probationary state for personal development that it’s hard to tease a lot of things out. We fall into the trap (IMO) of adopting views of Grace from traditional Christianity which really lacks anything like the development theodicy due to how they conceive of God’s power.

    Jeff (10:59) I’m not sure I like calling the prosperity gospel “non-secularized capitalism” either. Rereading a lot I’ve read I’m starting to feel like I’m just focusing too much on rhetoric rather than content. But I think that way of thinking of capitalism falls prey to seeing capitalism as all about wealth accumulation whereas I think that’s wrong. I’m here thinking of Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments. I kind of get what your saying, but I wish we could separate more capitalism from selfishness.

    Regarding premodern culture, I’m really surprised you think they don’t draw a distinction between public and private prosperity. First it seems like that was a common feature among premoderns. Lehi clearly has wealth and education that the typical person living in 6th century Jerusalem didn’t posses. Even later there seems to be a big difference between poor iterant day laborers versus people with valuable crops, merchants, traders, or bureaucrats. Why you think noticing such distinctions only arose with the Protestants just seems very odd.

    As I said I think there are plenty of scriptures that point out such distinctions. The common preachers of the Nehor tradition I mentioned seem the classic Book of Mormon example. If we buy into a mesoAmerican setting the wealth stratification was a constant problem. Indeed the way the Book of Mormon describes those subgroups that become wealthy seems to suggest a lot of Mayan practice. Even though most we know is of the later Mayan empire (roughly after the time of Mormon) there appears to be a lot of similarities in the earlier periods.

    Now I think it fair to point out that most of these distinctions of wealth are tied to social classes. (Which was fairly typically in all countries until recently) I think one way of reading Mosiah’s reforms and the constant rebellions is in terms of Mayan social classes. We just latch onto the wealth issues but those are likely secondary effects. So Mosiah sets up a flat class system while the groups that keep getting tied to Nehor by Alma/Mormon what traditional Mayan class divisions. There’s quite a bit of archaeological evidence for such classes.

    In the ANE there were of course huge class divisions with a large range in personal wealth.

  37. Clark Goble says:

    Just to note on that idea of individual wealth, the classic philosophers (Plato, Aristotle, the stoics) all wrote on that. So it seems odd to say it’s a modern invention. The whole utopia of Plato and later platonists effectively is a critique of wealth stratification and a focus on gaining wealth. Interesting they make a distinction we’re seeing in this thread between seeking wealth for its own sake versus more righteous uses. See for instance Plato’s The Laws Book 9. Especially 875b where seeking the private (wealth or related issues) over the common is criticized.

  38. JKC,

    I understood you to be wanting to drop the “righteousness -> prosperity” talk altogether and appealing to an individualistic notion of grace. If I’m reading you wrong, then we don’t disagree much at all.


    Perhaps a clearer way of saying it would have been grace is “covenant fulfillment” rather than “moral obligation” so long as one draws a sharp distinction between covenants and contracts.

    As for the equation with capitalism, I probably wasn’t clear enough. Capitalism is most definitely a secularization of the Protestant work ethic, where the prescriptive status of God’s grace is transformed into the classical liberal ideology of achievement and upward mobility. The question is how different the protestant work ethic is from the prosperity gospel – and whose definition of the latter are we using? While I insist that a Paternalistic and collectivist understanding of the prosperity gospel is perfectly kosher, I think that JKC is going after those who read the secular ideology of classical liberalism back into the prosperity gospel found within the scriptures as a way of feeling better about themselves and justifying the single minded pursuit of success/profit.

    Pre-modern prosperity was not that of a individualized investor, trader, businessman, or entrepreneur. There was no competitive market in which individualized firms would compete with each other. Thus, there simply was no individual to attribute prosperity to. Rather, the economy was divided up into “households” (the united order basically tried to create one, large household) that were geared toward the subsistence of that household rather than profit oriented trading. Weber’s book was an attempt to explain the transition from subsistence households (geared toward taking commodities produced for the household, selling any surplus for money in order to buy other commodities for the household) to profit-oriented firms (geared toward taking surplus money, in order to produce commodities for others in order to get more money for the firm). As opposed to the individual investor in a firm, the household prospered or failed together, and some households prospered better than others within some extended community.

    Thus, when one, highly educated head of the household is described as prospering within any pre-modern literature, I would take that with a huge grain of salt. These people represented and spoke for a rather large number of people (many of which were not blood relations) that fell within their “household”.

  39. Clark Goble says:

    Yeah, I can kind of see that although I think the problem with that is that many members of the household were more property/riches than autonomous agents in pre-modern times. So to me the distinction is more modernism led to more individual autonomy so more people could be positive agents socially. (And that’s a good thing)

  40. I don’t think that’s true at all. If anything, capitalism commodified people far more than the manorial economy At least in the paternalistic economy the head had to pretend to care for and tend to their household through broad minded virtue. The narrow minded, modern employer thinks that renting rather than owning people as property is all the moral obligation they have to them.

  41. Of course there are positive things to be said for the modern, money-market economy. The main point I was making is that at no point do the scriptures assume or prescribe such a trade-oriented, money market economy… and it’s very easy for us moderns (who simply aren’t familiar with any alternatives) to read our own values into their teachings.

    As a reference, I would strongly recommend Jerry Z. Muller’s “The Mind and the Market”. One of the best books I’ve read in quite a while.

  42. Clark Goble says:

    Hmm. Again while I understand what you’re getting at again I think it more a matter of degree. Many elements of markets were in the ancient world.

  43. Of course. Like I said above, there was a market in the manorial economy in which surplus goods were exchanged for money and other goods…. but this is radically different from what we do today. Consider this: what percentage of what your household consumes did you yourselves actually produce? I think the answer for most people would be about 5-10%, if that. (We don’t growth food, build cares, sew clothes, make electronics, drill for oil, build roads or even cook food a lot of the time.) The answer used to be much closer to 90-95%. With this monumental shift came an increasing reliance and emphasis upon on a division of labor and its necessary medium of exchange: money.

    In pre-modern society, commerce for the sake of profit (any profit) was a dirty and evil thing. Merchants sold things for a price higher than they had bought them for, and this just was a kind of usury (a punishable crime right up until the French Revolution). Thus, people who produced for the sake of trade rather than subsistence were seen in a very unfavorable light. Aristotle argued that such behavior was evil because money-making had no natural limits and thus no moderation to it. To produce with a conscious intent to trade just was to seek riches and thus made you narrow-minded and vulgar, characteristics that were in obvious conflict with the independence from economic want and broadminded virtue that was necessary for citizenship.

    Yes, there was an exchange market in pre-modern society – but it was a rather peripheral and morally ambiguous place.

  44. This paragraph:

    “In pre-modern society, commerce for the sake of profit (any profit) was a dirty and evil thing. Merchants sold things for a price higher than they had bought them for, and this just was a kind of usury (a punishable crime right up until the French Revolution). Thus, people who produced for the sake of trade rather than subsistence were seen in a very unfavorable light. Aristotle argued that such behavior was evil because money-making had no natural limits and thus no moderation to it. To produce with a conscious intent to trade just was to seek riches and thus made you narrow-minded and vulgar, characteristics that were in obvious conflict with the independence from economic want and broadminded virtue that was necessary for citizenship.”

    is just the longer modern-day version of this paragraph:

    “But the laborer in Zion shall labor for Zion; for if they labor for money they shall perish.”

    and I agree with them both.

  45. Nice pull, Jax.

    Next week I hope to put together a post where I construe the word of wisdom as a boycott of various goods available within the international trade-market rather (solely) abstaining from consuming them.

  46. Clark Goble says:

    Jeff I’d put that more as technology advancement and diversity makes more sophisticated markets more essential. And that with fewer specialties middlemen were looked at negatively. Frankly they still are despite many an economist tome justifying them. Our instincts are against them. At least today complexity provides some prima facie justification. In the ancient world physical labor was seen as valuable but not managing complexity and information. So you had priests, land holders, artisans/tradesmen, peasants and slaves. To the degree merchants were seen positively it was for daring the dangers of transportation in eras of robbers and dangerous seaways.

  47. Right. I don’t think we can drop the idea that righteousness leads to prosperity completely, but I do think we should construe prosperity broadly to include lots of kind of blessings in addition to material prosperity. Particularly with respect to material prosperity, I think we should be quicker to attribute that to grace than to righteousness, for the reasons I explained, but even there I don’t think of grace as particularly individualistic. I mean, we receive grace both on an individual basis and collectively. And when we prosper materially, whether collectively or individually, we should be quicker to see that as proof of God’s goodness—his grace—than as proof of our righteousness.

  48. I don’t have any issue with talking defining prosperity in terms of wealth as long as it is within the gospel framework and Zion-building. It can’t be individualistic because if: you are righteous = you have money, but in Zion there should be no rich or poor, then if you were righteous with that money you would be spreading it around and you’d be no better off than anybody else, except that your prosperity helps raise all boats. The groups therefore prospers, not just one person. And this is reinforced by the fact that the only justification for seeking for money ever given in the scriptures is for the purpose of giving it to help others (feed the hungry, clothe the naked – Jacob 2).

    As long as we are not seeking Zion though, then I think that prosperity has to be seen as more than just $$. In more modern speech it drives me nuts that saying that person X is very successful is universally understood to mean that they are wealthy. I would love prosperity/success to be equated with having a strong marriage, happy children, a peaceful lifestyle. Alas, being “successful” or “prospering” is axiomatic for having money almost like it is self apparent that the goal of life is to have a large bank account. You would think the LDS people would know better given our clear scriptures (BoM and D&C) and temple ceremony/covenants, but we are no different than our cultural peers in this, except that we decry it in church more regularly (only adding to our hypocrisy/condemnation?). There are exceptions among us, but there are exceptions among all people.

    So, does righteousness = prosperity. Yes, if prosperity means peace in your life/heart, a strong and healthy family life, and being guided by the Holy Ghost. If prosperity=money, then it can only be true that righteousness brings prosperity within a Zion atmosphere were that money helps the community prosper instead of the individual.

  49. Clark Goble says:

    JKC, one thing I think it’s worth asking is the economic question. Given the types of economies the Nephites were likely in (largely Inca/Mayan if we buy the mesoAmerican model) what would a flatter hierarchal system provide that would lead them to be more productive than surrounding city-states?

    It sounds like the Nephites didn’t have slaves although from references in the text they are aware of them. (That might be wrong, but it comes off that way) The main flattening by Mosiah seems to be removing the elite class so they are in the middle class. It’s hard to say what’s going on with peasants in the Nephite cities. It’s possible that the middle class / peasant class blurs as well.

  50. Jax,

    “And this is reinforced by the fact that the only justification for seeking for money ever given in the scriptures is for the purpose of giving it to help others (feed the hungry, clothe the naked – Jacob 2).”

    Looking at the language of the referenced verse:

    “after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good—to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted.”

    I don’t think it is fully accurate to boil down “clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted” to “giving it to help others”. Maybe a better phrase would be “doing good by using it to help the naked, hungry, captive, sick and afflicted”, which might include “giving the money”, but not necessarily solely.

  51. I’m not sure that “class” is the right way to carve up their social stratification – especially in terms of a “middle class”. Class implies a strong element of mobility, something which was greatly feared within a pre-modern society – along with “rash innovation” – since such things led to disorder and chaos. For this reason, they divided people up according to ascribed and inherited castes or estates rather than achieved classes.

  52. It should also be kept in mind that

    1) Other than Section 134, citizenship is not given any attention at all within the scriptures, neither within the civic community nor within the kingdom of God. While I’m sure the gospel is open to earthly republics, the kingdom of God is no such thing.

    2) Thus, people are described as being equal – even while remaining as slaves or bondsmen. For some reason, it seems that they did not see stratification in birth or ascribed status as entailing inequality in any morally objectionable sense (which just is what paternalism amounts to).

  53. Clark Goble says:

    Yes, although many use the class taxonomy even in societies with little or no mobility. (Think 19th century England – although one could argue the industrialists were that disrupting influence which was why there was often tension between industrialists and landholders) But that issue of mobility is important to keep in mind.

    Assuming Alma takes place at the end of the pre-classical Mayan era then you have a very fixed class system with little social mobility. The royal family of the King (ajaw) or High Priest was the upper class. This may account for why there were constant Nephite agitators against the flatter system after the Mosiah reforms. The almehenob or local magistrates were also largely determined by birth.

    It’s hard to tell much about social structure in Alma beyond it being much flatter. One assumes that many of the groups worked with – especially contra the Nehor groups – were the peasants. However the opening in Alma 11 regarding wealth is a bit odd. It suggests part of Nephite flattening was making government office a “per pay” type function where precious metal was given for work. Those who wished a more traditional system therefore had to ensure activities that’d justify their working under the Mosiah laws. (Alma 11:20 suggests this) I’d add that Alma 13 is interesting not just for a different conception of priesthood than we get with the Deuteronomists and Priestly sources in the post-exilic Jewish tradition but also to read as a contrast with more traditional mayan/olmec priesthoods.

    If one considers the noble, priestly and kingly classes as all various forms of free riding then obviously Nephite cities would be more efficient if only because more is being done. If food and other resources are more evenly dispersed then the peasant class can work more efficiently also helping the overall city. But while that explains the flatter system being more efficient, I’m curious as to whether there’s a natural reason why Nephite righteousness would be better.

    On one hand it seems like unrighteousness in the text is almost always associated with factiousness. If people are not unified then they work less efficiently. If they are fighting or spending time is disputations rather than working (he says as he wastes time writing on at blog rather than working) then efficiency goes down. If there’s violence you are dramatically affecting productivity and possibly destroying crops and other resources.

    While I don’t want to say that’s the only thing going on, I wonder how much of the wealth of righteousness is just due to avoiding disputes and infighting.

  54. Clark Goble says:

    Jeff, to your argument that there was heavy social stratification while still being equal I’m skeptical. Mosiah and Alma make a huge deal of working with their hands even as they are in leadership. While slaves are mentioned in the Book of Mormon I don’t know of any mention of Nephite slaves. The slaves are always Nephites to the Lamanites. (Again mayan practice) The Nephites in the Mosiah reform era are forbidden to have slaves (Alma 27:9)

    If there is a class hierarchy it seems what we’re left with is the artisanal class and the peasant class.

    Now it is worth noting that even after the flattening of the hierarchy the main players are still largely of certain birth lines. This does suggest a degree of class even if it is more flattened than their neighbors have. The judgeships largely follow lineage. The pseudo-democracy aspect seem not to be voting but just allowing the public to dispute an appointment that otherwise follows more traditional modes.

    What I’m most interested in are the peasant class. We read of them, especially among the Nephites. But we don’t really hear from them. Which may be a point in your favor. If this is right then the flattening is much more a matter of degree than of kind. Although perhaps still enough to significantly improve Nephite production over their neighbors.

  55. Clark Goble says:

    We probably should unpack what wealth even means for the Nephites. Again Alma 11 seems interesting here with its reference to metals. I’d assume though that wealth usually means having enough clothing, food and shelter.

  56. Clark,

    That point I was making is not about how much mobility there actually is within any society, but the moral evaluation that a society gives to mobility. 19th century Britain absolutely praised mobility – this is how the rich factory owner justified their own positions. Pre-modern societies condemned social mobility as a sign of prideful reaching beyond one’s ascribed place. This is the difference I was trying to draw between class and caste since these words entail very different allocations and justification for social stratification (achievement within competition vs ascription by birth/calling).

    Thus, I think any reading where caste-based inequalities are condemned is wrong, and any reading of class-based inequalities are anachronistic. Rather, it was 1) self-interested competition and 2) social climbing (mobility as such) that were the sins, not inequality in any sense that we understand it. There was a great chain of being, not a ladder, regardless of how long or short that chain was. Wealth as a means to upward mobility and social climbing (in other words, competition in general) is totally condemned, not wealth and prosperity as such.

    “We read of them, especially among the Nephites. But we don’t really hear from them.”

    I don’t think we read of peasants anymore than we read of women or anybody else whose life was largely confined to the household.

  57. It might be useful to frame things in Benjamin Constant’s terms:

    How “flat” a society was in the ancient world was basically a question between civic humanism (aristocracy) and traditional monarchism (the two positions that Machiavelli considered). These are basically the two options in terms of which we should read the BoM. The far more modern tension between socialism and liberalism is totally and completely different from that above.

    Constant went on to argue that after the enlightenment and the rise of capitalism, civic humanism and traditional monarchism (both very paternalistic forms of government) are simply no longer viable options. It is for this reason that we can’t help but read our modern understandings into the past: because those past associations as they actually were no longer seems plausible or even possible to our minds. We thus “fill in” those details that make them seem more plausible to our modern minds.

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