#5: Pioneer Day

Our friend Indian Bronson says that the Church of Jesus Christ, like the Taliban, is a state-within-a-state, commanding the loyalty of millions while “pursuing only the degree of sovereignty necessary”.

While the Church does have significant state capacity, & many brave young fedayeen on Twitter who are ready to die, any conversation about “Deseret Nationalism” (which I disavow) has to account for the fact that the Church’s $100 billion in assets & one million acres of land are all held subject to the US government’s good graces.

The assets are mostly financial instruments (in other words: fake, & trivially easy to seize). The lands are scattered all over the country - utterly indefensible, & anyway the Church has made no provision to defend them (as far as we know). Even if you don’t expect direct persecution of the Church, try to imagine a scenario in which USG fails, and all those assets don’t.

The Church doesn’t disclose its positions - ostensibly because they don’t want “uninformed” members trying to shadow their portfolio & losing their shirt (if you want a schizo-post, they may also be attempting to hide their hand from various State Actors) - but probably also because they don’t want uninformed members trying to read the post-apocalyptic tea leaves in their investment decisions, as I am obviously attempting to do.

To the extent that we can tell what kind of state capacity they’re building, it looks like they want food production (here, here, here, here), water rights (here, here, here, here), communications (here, here, here), education (here), and a handful of mixed-use spaces where they own everything (downtown Salt Lake, the north shore of Oahu, central Florida).

Beyond packaging, preserving, & distributing the food, there’s not much in the way of industry: no Deseret Timber, no Deseret Tractor, no Deseret Mines; certainly no Deseret Armory.

The last time the Church did any rock-&-roll mega-projects was in 1965 when they built the Granite Mountain Records Vault, intended to preserve “genealogical records” in the event of a nuclear war.

A common thread that runs through many of these enterprises is a skeleton crew of paid employees supervising a much larger army of volunteers. In conditions of mass unemployment one can imagine replacing the volunteers with employees, & paying them in cash or in kind. Deseret Industries, the Church’s network of thrift stores, is explicitly a jobs program for the disabled, elderly, low-skilled, etc. If you are unemployed & request Church welfare, help is sometimes made conditional on doing shifts at DI.

The overall picture, then, is that all of this physical capacity is basically what it purports to be: a welfare program. One can maybe imagine a world where the Church buys itself some political power by keeping people fed - but if things are that serious, you’d expect an imploding state with guns to just seize the food (& the political power). On a continuum from the DFW Airport Board to the Taliban, in terms of being Materially Prepared to Secede, we’re probably closer to the airport.

What we have had, at least in the past, is tribe:

Both of these sets are the de facto government of millions. Their adherents actually believe, not in abstract mythopoetic handwaved ideals as do so many conservatives seeking to ‘defend Western civilization’, but in concrete realities, eternal truths in which they have genuine faith—faith as much as you feel when you put an object down on a surface and know it won’t slip through.

Be the kind of Saint Indian Bronson thinks you are, of course - but to the extent that this is still true, it’s because we’re a culture that hasn’t fully confronted liberalism, not because we’ve come through on the other side.

We are a very polite people, & we like to be liked. We were fine with being viewed as dull & square, even contemptible - as long as the image of a “Mormon” in your mind was smiling sweetly at you. Now our people are being told that their beliefs are cruel & hateful, & that really does rattle their self-concept. In 3 Nephi, the Savior says “he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil”, & many of our people have made that the linchpin of their theology. Go to church, yes, stay away from coffee, yes - but above all, Do Not Make Waves.

So of course now we are feuding & judging one another ferociously on this point, which is the Lord’s joke, I suppose.

Whenever culture-war issues come up, we have to look around at each other & figure out if it’s Cool for us to really talk about it, or if we have to load everything up with provisos & qualifiers to avoid an argument. And if you can’t talk about ideas, you can’t develop them, & if you can’t develop them, you can’t defend or transmit them - so you lose a lot of people, especially kids.

This is known as “culture jamming” - & it’s a general problem of course, but it’s especially hard on agreeable conformist types, which our people have historically been - & it’s our first time through the grinder, since we mostly missed the 1960s. The Church itself won’t move on these issues, but they also aren’t going to kick anyone out just for making people squirm - so we’re going to have to find a popular definition of “Christlike” that allows you to be accused of meanness without disintegrating.

A lot of people have already decided that they just don’t want to be “mean”, even if that means abandoning bedrock truths - & when they finally let go of their “mean” beliefs, the tension in their mind suddenly relaxes (to say nothing of the tension they feel from the world), & they interpret this profound relief as divine approval. It wouldn’t shock me if a third of the Church or more fell away in the next decade.

All of which is to say: we can be that “disciplined”, “unequivocal” people again, but not until this sifting process resolves.

The people (plural) who joined the early Church in Ohio or upstate New York were not the People (singular) that conquered the Plains & terraformed the Salt Lake Valley. They were fractious, inconstant, naive, self-involved, & comfortable, just as we are now.

But then they had to either deny the Spirit, or lose friends & family. Some recanted, some didn’t. Those who stayed got to experience the Pentecostal outpouring in Kirtland - then they all lost their shirts in the Panic of 1837 & were run out of town, & the temple was converted into a barn by the mob. Those who stayed after that experienced further revelations, as well as an orgy of theft, rape, & murder in Missouri.

Those who stayed after that got to build Nauvoo, the Beautiful, & receive the full ordinances of the temple - & then the governor of Illinois issued an executive order for their extermination or expulsion from the state. The mob murdered their Prophet, burned their temple, & seized the homes & farms they had built.

I.B. is impressed that these people “actually believe[d]” - but that’s only because, at each of a dozen decision points, hundreds of nonbelievers sensibly counted the cost, abandoned the Church, & melted back into Midwestern Protestant America. It was the people who remained after all that - who demonstrated an effectively boundless willingness to sacrifice - who followed Brigham into the valley.

And it’s important to point out that they weren’t the hardest, the most brutal, the most fanatical - these often became disillusioned, as the Prophet commanded them over & over to repent, endure persecution patiently, & move on. Brigham Young himself, whom gentiles often assume to have been this type of person, was nothing of the sort.

When I left Nauvoo, I again left all I had … I had accumulated thousands of dollars’ worth of property, and had to leave it in the hands of the mob, and, said I, ‘Eat it up, destroy it, or burn it down, as quick as you please, for ‘the earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof.’

How did I obtain all this property? The Lord gave it to me; He has done what has been done.

Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 2:16

This was the attitude that defined the pioneer Saints. Much is made of their practicality & industry, but they were a people who had had the worldly attachments beaten out of them. When the US government marched across the continent to bring them to heel, they buried the foundations of the Salt Lake Temple & let federal troops march through the streets without interference. (I suspect some of our admirers on Twitter would call that cowardice.) Many decades later, Brigham Young took the same position toward the locust swarms that regularly devastated Utah’s agriculture:

According to present appearances, next year we may expect grasshoppers to eat up nearly all our crops. But if we have provisions enough to last us another year, we can say to the grasshoppers—these creatures of God—you are welcome. I have never yet had a feeling to drive them from one plant in my garden; but I look upon them as the armies of the Lord, and with them it is easy for Him to consume a great nation.

Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 12:117

Everybody want to be a bodybuilder; don’t nobody want to lift no heavy-ass weight.

It may be possible for an individual to remember the captivity of their fathers & avoid the mistakes of the past - I’m not sure it’s possible for societies. We don’t get to be the united, indomitable people that our 4x-great-grandparents were, because we haven’t suffered as they did.

Fortunately, there will be no peaceful coexistence with Babylon. Those who lecture us about how we preach the gospel will learn that there is no acceptable way to preach it. Those who try to make their souls so small that they escape the enemy’s notice will find that they can’t make them small enough.

It’s going to become genuinely unacceptable to associate with the Church, even if you openly declare your intent to be a “change agent”. BYU will lose (perhaps already has lost) the ability to gather up faithful Latter-day Saints, pair them off, & launch them into corporate America - which means it will be much harder to maintain the large, single-income families with respectable upper-middle-class lifestyles that have become our brand.

Notice that the material “state capacity” & the cultural/spiritual capacity are almost mutually exclusive.

It’s difficult to imagine a future in which the Church is able to retain its vast welfare empire while enduring the kind of hardship that will draw out the old pioneer spirit. My best guess is that these things are intended to help our poor here & now - because in any serious persecution, they’ll simply be expropriated or destroyed. Maybe the institutional knowledge that we gained from building & operating them will prove useful for whatever comes next, but there’s virtually no doubt that we’ll be made to let go of the physical property.

Some of you say that you want to “join” the Church because, even though it’s fake, it’s Based. You need to know that it will take miracles for the Church to survive what is coming. If you are planning to lean on our superior culture, you do not understand the state that the culture is in. If you are planning to join us because you think we’re going to build the necessary walls & spill the necessary blood, you do not know the mind of God. We are staying because it is the kingdom of God, & we expect miracles. The compensations that will justify the suffering are real, but they are spiritual.

You that have not passed through the trials, and persecutions, and drivings, with this people from the beginning, but have only read of them, or heard some of them related may think how awful they were to endure, and wonder that the Saints survived them at all. The thought of it makes your hearts sink within you, your brains reel, and your bodies tremble, and you are ready to exclaim, “I could not have endured it.”

I have been in the heat of it, and I never felt better in all my life; I never felt the peace and power of the Almighty more copiously poured upon me than in the keenest part of our trials. They appeared nothing to me.

Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 1:309