Monthly Archives: January 2008

Reflections on President Gordon B. Hinckley

President Gordon B. Hinckley passed away the evening of January 27, 2008 due to causes incident to old age.  He was 97 years old.  Many have shared their thoughts and feelings regarding his passing.  His influence on my life was not insignificant.  In many ways, he represented the Church like no one else did in my formative teenage years.  His faith, his testimony, his manner, his humor, his love, his authority, his spirtuality, his self-deprecating wit, and his leadership have affected and will continue to affect me in many areas of my life.

I decided to do a search on Google News yesterday to see how many hits I would get for President Hinckley.  I decided to search for other terms, to compare and contrast.  I have organized the terms roughly into four groups: people, entertainment, traditional news-worthy items, and religion.

Stats taken the afternoon of January 29, 2008:

190,233 “President Bush”
123,375 “Hillary Clinton”
117,864 “Barack Obama”
84,015  “John McCain”
79,209 “George Bush”
78,022  “Mitt Romney”
30,975  “Ron Paul”
23,940 “Britney Spears”
16,570  “Heath Ledger”
12,605 “Pope”
6,261 “Paris Hilton”
1,687  “Gordon Hinckley”
1,441 “Gordon B. Hinckley”
1,171 “Dalai Lama”
244 “Glenn Beck”

8,896  “American Idol”

218,324 “Entertainment”
73,335 “Movies”
71,036 “Super Bowl”
65,494  “NBA”
23,504  “Rock Music”
17,245  “MLB”
16,570 “Pop Music”

315,589 “Economy”
248,684 “War”
152,616 “Iraq”
120,674 “Murder”
51,835  “Terror”
41,602  “Al Qaida”
23,552 “Al Qaeda”
22,012 “War on Terror”

33,790  “Religion”
10,410 “Mormon”
6,565 “Christianity”
4,162 “Mormon Church”
861 “Buddhism”

Notice that President Hinckley gets about 3.7 times fewer news stories than the ever important Paris Hilton, roughly ten times less than Heath Ledger, and about 14 times less than Britney Spears, apparently a news-worthy figure.  Consider the value of a prophet, and how valued he is by today’s society.

I find it striking that roughly 218,000 stories related to entertainment, while only 33,790 related to religion.  This supports the notion, held by many, and certainly by me, that the trivial pursuits of entertainment occupy a much dearer place in our hearts than God, or even some vague notion of spirituality. 

Ours is a culture of transient decadence, materialism, and sensuality, with blatant disregard for things transcendent and spiritual.  Contrast the impatient, nosy, over-the-top, “sound bite” culture of ours with the intense inward focused meditation associated with so many religious traditions.  Despite all of the leisure time we have accumulated with our modern society, we choose to neglect our spirituality rather than nourish it.  We by and large reject transcendence in favor of the transient; we embrace iconoclastic hedonism and forsake spiritual tradition; we seek the crass and carnal, and shun holiness.

False gods have crowded out any real God.  As further evidence, return to the search results: the economy occupied over 315,000 stories, war nearly 250,000, and Iraq over 152,000.  One can ask: who has done the crowding out: the false gods or our own selves?

In reality, these false gods have as much power over us as idols had over the children of Israel, or any other idol-worshipping group.  We ultimately cede the power and the authority.  We choose what and how we worship: the true and living God, our fears, the government, or the frivolous and transient pursuits of a decadent culture.  What takes priority and precedence in our lives?  What is ultimately important?  What do we get up in the morning for?  What do we occupy our time and our thoughts with?

What do we have faith in: man and his methods and amusements, or God and His ways and movements?  What do we obey: our selfish desires, the wanton cries of a fallen world, or the commands of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?  Everyday, we decide what to have faith in and what to obey.  No one else makes this decision for us.  We alone are completely responsible for our actions.

There is another question, and a legitimate one, that would plague the mind of any atheist or agnostic: why should I believe in God?  Much can be said about reason, and the ways man may comprehend God intellectually.  But the ultimate rationale, the ultimate Reason comes from religious experience and spiritual knowledge, that which can never be reasoned away, for while it comprises the intellectual, it wholly transcends it.  Such wondrous knowledge is beyond the limiting reach of the skeptic.  Only the pure, simple, child-like faith we are commanded to posses can transport us from the kingdom of this world to the Kingdom of God.

When I remember President Hinckley, and I reflect on the world we live in, I think of a voice, crying in the wilderness, admonishing us to prepare the way for our God.  May we so live!

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Ron Paul Has Already Won.

Ron Paul has already won.
I know what you’re thinking: Ron Paul hasn’t even won a state, Super Tuesday is a week away, and John McCain looks like the frontrunner (possibly the nominee) now.  (Of course, the media’s been telling us this for weeks.  We were a little slow to finally get there, however.)  How could he have won?  Perhaps you wonder if I am going to present a conspiracy theory as to why he has gotten such a low percentage of votes (i.e. rigged elections).  My point and perspective is different than this.

Ron Paul has already won because the “Ron Paul Revolution” (not coined by him, you recall) is far more than a presidential bid.  It is a movement for freedom, a movement about re-thinking the fundamental role of government in our lives.  For decades, mainstream Americans have swallowed dubious assumptions whole.  That is starting to shift with Ron Paul’s (we can think of it as the Founding Father’s or the Old Right’s) ideas.

What are these ideas?  There are many.  Examples include:

1.  What type of foreign policy keeps Americans most safe?
2.  Isn’t it possible that our foreign policy has something to do with why terrorists hate and attack us?
3.  Is the permanent military-industrial complex healthy economically and morally?
4.  Is a policy of pre-emptive war OK?
5.  What foreign policy would the Founders recommend?
6.  How is perpetual deficit spending healthy?
7.  How can we overcome a $9 trillion dollar national debt and tens of trillions more in entitlement obligations in the next few years?
8.  What problems are associated with our monetary policies?
9.  Why isn’t the Federal Reserve transparent?
10. Is the Federal Reserve necessary?
11. What’s wrong with following the Constitution’s admonition to accept only gold and silver as legal tender?
12. Why do we have the boom-bust cycle?
13. How can we overcome the effects or limit the problems of the boom-bust cycle?
14. How much freedom at home and abroad are we willing to compromise for hollow promises of “security?”
15. What problems are associated with a national ID card?
16. Why do we have an illegal immigration problem?
17. How do we solve our illegal immigration problem?
18. What is the best role of the federal government in education?
19. What is the best role of the federal government related to the environment?
20. What is the best role of the federal government related to energy?
21. What is the best role of the federal government related to health care?
22. How much government spending is too much?
23. How much taxation is too much?
24. Are farm subsidies effective in preserving family farms?
25. Do so-called free trade organizations (NAFTA, WTO, CAFTA, etc.) help me economically?  Why or why not?
26. What is the best way (in terms of economic policy) to a free and prosperous nation?

There are dozens if not hundreds of more questions relating to the fundamental role of the government in our lives.  How much government do we really want?  How much freedom do we really want?  Is the government too big already?  What government agencies and departments are superfluous?

Ron Paul has already won because a large portion of Americans have started re-thinking these basic assumptions.  His message of liberty, private property rights, and a federal government Constitutional in scope has caught like wildfire, and continues to be popular.  He has won because many Americans have seen the sticky political and economic situations and finally recognized there is a better way.  He has won because he has gotten the ball rolling, and has shown us that there is hope for America.

The challenge facing us is to continue the Revolution, no matter what happens to the presidential run.  There are still 434 seats in the House of Representatives without a Constitutionalist, and 100 Senate seats, as well.  There are state legislatures, city and county governments in need of freedom-minded individuals and perspectives.  Even if we choose not to run for office, we can at least make our voices be heard in all manner of venues, respectfully and peacefully.  There is absolutely no reason why this should be the end.  This is merely the beginning of a great political renaissance, a wonderful resurgence of the ideals and philosophies of the Founding Fathers and the Old Right.  May it ever be so, that those of us cynical about American politics may have a reason for optimism and hope!

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Filed under fiscal policy, foreign policy, Libertarian, monetary policy, politics, role of government, Ron Paul

Why I am a Libertarian

Why Am I a Libertarian?

In high school, I was a mostly establishment conservative.  I thought Bush I and Reagan were the good guys.  My understanding of libertarianism was slight: I saw libertarians as anti-authoritarian libertines, those who wanted their pot and their pornography, and disrespectfully wanted the establishment out of their life.

I drifted into socialism, following the same sort of reasoning that many do: poverty is a problem.  Therefore, doing something is better than doing nothing.  I thought at least the Democrats talked about it as a problem, while the Republicans seemed to ignore it.  Same with global warming, education, and social justice.  (Of course, nowadays Republicans want changes in these areas; they just want them slightly less than Democrats do.)

Then I met an anarcho-capitalist.  He was vehemently anti-state, rejecting Lockean philosophy.  And also vehemently anti-war, anti-tax, etc.  I began thinking about big government as more problematic.

The big change started occurring with Thomas Sowell’s A Citizen’s Guide to Basic Economics.  I also read some Pat Buchanan and Russell Kirk.  Paleoconservatism seemed like a natural fit.  But the corpus of information to really comprehend seemed overwhelming.  Libertarianism seemed much more comprehensible and consistent.  I had a hard time getting excited about paleoconservative concepts of race and trade policy.  Foreign policy perspectives from the Austrian theory made more coherent sense to me than paleoconservative foreign policy perspectives.  I started becoming a libertarian.  But there were the two big issues: pornography and drugs.  These became less of an issue once I realized that negative rights libertarianism was what I was more allied with.  This brand focuses on rights the government does not have, rather than on rights individuals possess.  For instance, “The government has no right to appropriate a significant portion of my paycheck without my consent,” vs. “I have a right to my drugs and my pornography.”  The former is more my line of thinking.

With both issues (granted, my opposition to the drug war is more complicated and extensive), it largely goes down to agency.  Can we legislate our way to utopia?  Does a pornography police (especially a federal one) really help public morality?  I believe, rather, that public morality is largely composed of individual choices.  If individuals choose to act a certain way, than law enforcement mechanisms are largely ineffective at truly preventing the problem.  Negative, unforeseen consequences are also a high probability.  For instance, alcohol prohibition not only didn’t prevent alcohol consumption, a large criminal organization was developed in response to it.  One wonders what the descendants of those crime syndicates would be like now if Prohibition had never occurred.  (My feelings about Prohibition are complex and unformed, so this example does not necessarily represent my view of Prohibition; but it does point out the problem of negative, unforeseen consequences.)

If I want to be part of a righteous world, how is pornography eradicated?  It is eradicated when individuals refuse to participate in it at any level of their own volition.  No laws are needed in this case.

That said, I am certainly supportive of local or private organizations monitoring carefully material (i.e. a local school board) for pornographic content, and censoring accordingly.  And I am still open to the idea of other enforcement mechanisms.  But I am at least skeptical of their effectiveness, and wary of negative, unforeseen consequences.  Far better to have individuals persuaded to not touch the stuff, where no compulsion is necessary.  The free market can also be a great help (i.e. internet filters).  Consider what would happen if the telecom industry was truly a free market (or more of an unregulated free market): with so much competition, a la carte packages would be much more possible and price competitive.  With only two or three competitors, though, (government is involved up to its elbows) such flexibility in nigh unto impossible.  But some do not realize the free market could be a great benefit here.

The non-aggression principle seems wonderfully simple, and I see this as a sufficiently minimalistic purpose of government: to ensure that no one aggresses against another, and to ensure that contracts are kept.  Now I admit I am in a quandry as to whether government is required to make us keep our contracts.  Fear can be a powerful motivator, yet many (most) of our decisions are made and contracts kept independent of government force.  After all, we pay the TV salesman full price because we want to buy the TV.  But to ensure that none are aggressed against (i.e. theft, assault, murder) seems like a reasonable government function, at least compared to the current near total control government assumes over our lives.

Basically, my love of liberty and the knowledge of the effectiveness of a free market economy have really led to me becoming a libertarian.  Establishment Republicans and Democrats far too easily compromise liberty and the free market in favor of government control.  Not a good trade-off for me.

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Why I Have a Hard Time with John McCain

My problems with John McCain are legion.

Many conservatives share my trepidation about the bills he is most commonly associated with (i.e. McCain-Feingold or McCain-Kennedy).  They seem like unwise alliances for a conservative to make, a compromise gone too far at best.  Or perhaps, they show his true philosophies, which are for big government.

One big issue for me is the hypocrisy of the “Straight Talk Express.”  There are several times in presidential debates where Mr. McCain will move off the express.  For instance, he told Ron Paul that the troops in Iraq wanted to win the war, and they wanted Ron Paul to let them.  Not long after this, John McCain admitted troops could be in Iraq up to 100 years or more.  How can a victory be reconciled with this idea of a near permanent occupying force?  In response to this attack, Ron Paul asked Senator McCain why he received more donations from active military officers than any other Republican candidate.  A fair question.  Many forget or do not realize that Dr. Paul was an Air Force flight surgeon during Vietnam.

Senator McCain also condemned Ron Paul’s brand of “Isolationism,” holding it responsible for not getting rid of Hitler before WWII.  I do not have a time machine, but if I did, I wonder how many Americans were clamoring to depose Hitler before WWII started?  I remember General Eisenhower’s statement about “Preventive war,” which he recalled “Since the earliest days of Hitler.”  He stated, “I wouldn’t even listen to anyone seriously that came in and talked about such a thing.”  Even ignoring the Old Right opposition to American entrance to the war, who would have supported a pre-emptive operation to depose Hitler?  And with a strong military appartus already in place by the time we would have attacked, how would we know that such a military apparatus would be easily controlled or quelled?  For more on this, see here.

Of course, Ron Paul set him straight.  He is a “Non-Interventionist,” which is much different than an isolationist.  A foreign policy of non-intervention means that we can trade, travel, and talk with other nations.  The government focus is on peace treaties and diplomatic relations, including trade agreements between individual countries.  (Bureaucratically-managed trade, including NATO and WTO, would not be part of it.)  Entangling military alliances would be avoided.  Entangling economic alliances (think WTO) would be avoided.  Coercive economic measures such as sanctions would be completely avoided, for sanctions tend to punish the masses, the poor, the needy, and often embolden the country’s leadership, whom sanctions are intended to punish.

I have grave concerns about Senator McCain’s record of supporting foreign military intervention, including in the Balkans in the late 1990s.  One can say he has certainly been consistent, including in talk to build up our presence in Iraq.  I shuddered when last year he sang “Bomb Iran” to the tune of “Barbara Ann” at a town hall meeting.  Such a nonchalantly hawkish and nearly bloodthirsty attitude disturbs me.

I would also rather not be drafted, as would most of my peers.  I fear electing Senator McCain increases our chances of getting drafted as compared to most other candidates.

Some champion Senator McCain’s tough talk on ethics reform and earmarks.  Earmarks and pork barrel projects, though not always transparent, are simply ways to allocate funds already in the budget.  Earmarks are a way for Congressman to get some money back into their district.  Reducing the number of earmarks is a hallow victory, for the total spending amount is unchanged as a result.  The executive branch or the vast bureaucratic machine then decides what to do with the money rather than elected representatives.

Even if reducing earmarks reduced spending, this would be savings of billions of dollars, probably not tens of billions and certainly not hundreds of billions of dollars.  With a nine trillion dollar debt and deficit spending now a regular habit (tax breaks + spending increases), saving a few billion here and a few billion there is really just pocket change.

Of course, Senator McCain has publicly stated he does not understand economics very well.  As an illustration, he said he wished interest rates were at 0%.  If one really misunderstands the economic situation so comprehensively, how can he select advisers who truly do understand the picture?  To me, it seems like he would get taken for an economic ride.  The sharks would smell the blood, as they did with President Bush.

In short, the cost in blood and treasure (for government here and abroad) should Senator McCain win the Presidency would be very alarming, and likely higher than it is currently.  I cannot in good conscience support a candidate who I have nearly zero confidence would reduce government spending and taxes and improve peaceful foreign relations.  Don’t believe me?  Look at his record.

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Letter to Glenn Beck

Brother Beck, 

Having recently listened to your recent, excellent radio interview with Ron Paul, and hearing your compatibility with him on issues monetary and domestic, I think it is time to deal with the elephant in the room: foreign policy.

Yes, I admire you for not shouting him down or yelling at him, but instead, respectfully listening when he has appeared on your TV or radio show when his foreign policy views differed significantly from your own.

And yes, many believe the threat of Islamo-fascism is real and cannot be ignored.  Many believe that pre-emptively attacking nations makes us safer, and that sanctions, enhanced interrogation techniques, and military action are necessary tools to keep America safe.  I invite you to consider again not just the assumptions behind this philosophy, but the ramifications as well, consistent with your libertarian, anti-government bias (or at least government skepticism).

I recall your special on global warming, how you boldly took on the mainstream assumptions.  One interesting point was the idea that governments were unable to combat the effects of man-made global warming effectively.  You mentioned how the Kyoto Protocol was and is largely a failure.

This is a frequent theme of your show: skepticism towards the ability of government to get the job done right.  You regularly point out failures, like Walter Reed or the response to Katrina, or your current frustration with economic policies.  With such a consistent skepticism across the board to government intervention, why do you have so much faith in the ability (even the necessity) of the a bureaucratic government to wage a pre-emptive “War on Terror?”  Why should the government-backed “War on Terror” go any more smoothly or effectively than the Kyoto Protocol or gun control laws or any other recent incursion into our liberty?  Put another way, why does the government necessarily have the best solutions to our security from this and other risks?  In other words, why does your healthy, libertarian skepticism not spill over into foreign policy handling as much as it does in economic and domestic realms?  Why is government so trustworthy in matters of foreign policy considering their record?

Rudy Giuliani, in a recent debate, told Ron Paul that the reason terrorists attack us have nothing to do with our foreign policy.  Nothing at all, he said.  Consider this point.  Iran threatens the world with talk of nuclear weapons.  North Korea has a nuclear weapon.  Hugo Chavez called Bush “Satan” at the UN not too long ago.  Don’t these actions affect our foreign policy views, perspectives, and actions towards other countries?  Isn’t it possible, at least, that foreign policy decisions, even by the United States, have a similar effect on other countries, many of whom do not have the Western perspective we do?  Why is it so outlandish to suppose that U.S. foreign policy decisions, even with the best of intentions, may engender hatred or strife, or even help to fan the flames of extremism?  Why is this point not even worth considering? 

Isn’t it possible that one way to lessen the growth of extremism is to eliminate a source of hatred?  In fact, Paul Wolfowitz even admitted as much when he said that our having troops on Saudi soil serves as a motivator for Al Qaeda.  I cannot understand the unwillingness to acknowledge the plausibility of this perspective.  To really keep America safe from terrorism, we must understand the motivations and fears behind the attacks, and they are not as simple as most mainstream Republicans believe.  This is not to blame America, neither its troops nor its citizens, but simply to acknowledge that just as crimes have motives, so too may terrorists.

Another idea is the CIA concept of blowback.  This is really just another way of stating Richard Weaver’s view that “Ideas have consequences,” meaning, of course, unintended negative consequences.  I am sure you have a good idea of what blowback purports to be (or what it is purported to be).  This is another instance where I cannot understand your unwillingness to acknowledge or discuss this idea.  Yes, we may be in a global war on terror.  But isn’t it at least worth considering whether our actions and foreign policy decisions today make things worse in the long run, even in the Middle East?  For instance, Al Qaeda’s presence in Iraq has never been stronger.  Americans have invested hundreds of billions of dollars into Iraq, and the bill keeps growing (thus relating this situation to economic woes).  Thousands of American lives, and tens (if not hundreds) of Iraqi lives have been lost.  No weapons of mass destruction have been found to justify this incursion.  With all this cost, and the cost surely to rise higher and higher in blood and treasure, isn’t it at least worth considering whether this was worth it?  Brutal regimes have existed and do still exist, the world over.  We have neither the motivation nor the resources to rid the world of its dictators, one by one (imagine what the dollar would look like then).  Even if we did, how will we guarantee that some even worse monstrosity will not rise up and takes its place?  In short, how can we really have confidence that we are actually safer as a result of the government’s “War on Terror?”

I also invite you to consider the historical or ethical basis for pre-emptive war.  It is extremely difficult to find a true historical analog.  If 9-11 has changed everything, how do we know that we have changed in the right directions?  Is it simply time to toss out the history books?

Perhaps you already have well thought out answers to each of these problems: how to avoid unintended consequences, how to pay for all of this, and how continuing this strategy really makes us safer (and, of course, how we can have confidence that we actually are doing the right thing).  If you do have such answers, I would love to hear them in your next TV show.  Please help me understand your strong and nearly unwavering support for the “War on Terror.”

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A Golden Rule Foreign Policy

All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them; for this is the law and the prophets.
-Matthew 7:12

On the Republican debate January 5, 2008, the establishment Republicans (ever notice how they really are not interested in much change in the status quo?) all seemed interested in discrediting Ron Paul, with perhaps the exception of Fred Thompson, who seemed apathetic. When it came to monetary policy, no one really understands it except for Ron Paul, and so there’s really no reason to take him on in that arena. But in foreign policy, they actually have some meat to support the current policy. And since the status quo means supporting the current policy, there is a very high need for the Giuliani/Romney/McCain foreign policy “experts” (Huckabee wisely stayed away from this one) to show their teeth, if not their bark in this arena.

In reality, however, there is a low understanding of how real people behave, including in a global context. The establishment Republicans still misunderstand (and probably always will) that American foreign policy can (and does, according to the commonly understood CIA notion of “blowback”) fan the flames of extremism and terrorism moreso than a Constitutional, non-interventionist foreign policy. There is really no good historical (and certainly no good ethical or moral) basis for a doctrine of pre-emptive war as the most effective form of self-defense. Yes, Giuliani rattled off several terrorist attacks; he missed the very significant point that Spain and Britain, who suffered the largest European civilian attacks in recent memory, were strong allies of the United States, and that other European countries (like France, Switzerland, and Italy) not involved in Operation Iraqi Freedom avoided such costly, bloody civilian disasters.

Now, we do not want to take orders from terrorists. But observing behavior patterns can provide an insight into motivations. Why do terrorists hate us? Why did they attack us on 9/11? These are critical questions to truly understand before providing a knee-jerk answer supported by faulty and/or shaky assertions. Unfortunately, establishment Republicans are unwilling or unable to provide a truly convincing defense for the current foreign policy.

Ron Paul is not so unfortunate. He can provide many different angles to explain his views and reasons for doing so. One simple way to articulate these views (compatible with foreign policy of the Founding Fathers) is to simply apply the golden rule: do unto others as you would have done unto you.

Would we want foreign troops occupying our soil? Absolutely not. And yet we think we can be an exception to this idea. The Cold War ended 18 years ago. It is high time to start re-thinking the assumption that hundreds of thousands of American troops all over the world, occupying 130 countries in hundreds of permanent bases, are actually making us safer. How does occupying a country for decades make us safer from attack? Might it not, at the very least, engender hatred and hostility?

What would a “Golden Rule” foreign policy look like? Hundreds of thousands of troops would come home to America. Hundreds of billions of dollars would be saved, making it much more reasonable to balance the budget through reductions in spending and tax cuts. Aggressive, pre-emptive military actions would be non-existent. (Would we want other countries invading our soil or bombing our buildings?) All military action would become much more humane and Constitutional. Sanctions and even travel restrictions would disappear. What would this do to the perception of America abroad? How far might this go to foster peace rather than hatred, brotherhood rather than hostility?

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Dim View of Taxation in The Book of Mormon

The following article is my own opinion, and in no way represents the official doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Some in the religious community view spiritual texts most pertinent to the spiritual realm rather than the social, emotional, or political (I am among the number). Some may even oppose their application to non-religious applications. I would not consider myself one of these individuals. My reasoning for “secular” use of spiritual texts goes like this: God has given us a brain to at least nominally comprehend spirituality, especially spiritual writings, like the Bible, Tao Te Ching, etc. Hence, it is wholly appropriate, or at least consistent, to use the God-given rational faculty to comprehend and interpret spiritual writings. Of course the assumption here is that the rational faculty can be used in many different valid ways to interpret scripture.

Being a Mormon and a recent libertarian convert, I find myself re-examining a lifetime of religious teachings and concepts in a libertarian light. The Book of Mormon is rich with application for me, including the corruption of power, justification of war in self-defense only, benefit of the market economy, etc.

Taxation is particularly harshly spoken of. Most practicing Mormons view these as complicated references, not directly applicable to our current socio-political scenario. I grant that as a possibility, but I find the consistent condemnation quite striking. Very little positive is said regarding taxation.

Many today may say taxation is a necessary evil. I also grant that a possibility (supposing a state is necessary), but I reserve the right to have ideals about how a government (if it exists) should finance itself, and certainly how it should not finance itself.

With that preface, there are primarily four explicit examples referring to taxation (I won’t get into implicit examples here). The wicked king Noah, for instance, “Did not keep the commandments of God, but he did walk after the desires of his own heart…[he did] that which was abominable in the sight of the Lord (Mosiah 11:2).” For those not familiar with Mormonism, you can plug in any of the traditional Biblical injunctions here (Thou shalt not commit adultery, kill, etc.), for that is very much the tenor. The politically relevant statements come next (but remember this is right after mentioning his wickedness): “He laid a tax of one fifth part of all they possessed.” Gold, silver, grain, flocks, etc. are mentioned here. Horror of horrors! A 20% income tax! No tarrifs, excise taxes, or other revenue streams are mentioned, incidentally, so this appears to be the only source of income. What did he do with these taxes? “All this he did to support himself, and his wives and his concubines…Thus they were supported in their laziness, and in their idolatry, and in their whoredoms, by the taxes which king Noah had put upon the people.” Expensive public works projects are also mentioned (a palace, a couple of towers, etc.) and the buildings are described as “Elegant and spacious (Mosiah 11:8).” Sounds familiar.

What happened to King Noah? Hubris, unrighteousness, and rejecting a prophet lead to military defeat of his people (via invasion) and king Noah’s death by fire at the hands of his people.

As a result of the invasion, the former subjects of king Noah were subjected to even more burdensome taxes from their captors. This time, the price was “one half of all they possessed” (Mosiah 19:22). The taxes were this time used to pay guards to keep them from leaving. King Noah’s son, king Limhi (considerably more righteous than his father), lamented over this tax burden: “Is not this grievous to be borne? And is not this, our affliction, great?” (Mosiah 7:22) These tax burdens were a direct consequence of wickedness. This increase in taxation was directly linked to an increase in bondage.

Now I am not intimating our high tax burden is the result of a wicked nation (though there may be some validity to the idea that a rejection of traditional Christian faith or some aspect thereof may be linked to the whole-hearted embrace of the welfare-warfare state). I am trying to indicate that high taxation is considered extremely negatively, and is analogous to (or part of) slavery, of being in bondage.

At another point in time and another place, and among another people, another wicked king levied heavy taxes. His name was Riplakish, and we are told “[He] did not do that which was right in the sight of the Lord, for he did have many wives and concubines, and did lay that upon men’s shoulders which was grievous to be borne; yea, he did tax them with heavy taxes; and with the taxes he did build many spacious buildings. And he did erect him an exceedingly beautiful throne; and he did build many prisons, and whoso was not able to pay taxes he did cast into prison; and he did cause that they should labor continually for their support; and whoso refused to labor he did cause to be put to death. Wherefore he did obtain all his fine work, yea, even his fine gold he did cause to be refined in prison; and all manner of fine workmanship he did cause to be wrought in prison…[And] the people did rise up in rebellion against him” (Ether 10:5-8). Violent conflict bookended this reign, as it does much of Book of Mormon history. But that (the perpetuity of war) is another story.

There is a positive example of a virtuous leader who levied no taxes at all. He is a great Book of Mormon model of leadership. Consider his words to those he “ruled”, given at the end of his life: “[I] have not sought gold nor silver nor any manner of riches of you…[I] have labored with mine own hands that I might serve you, that ye should not be laden with taxes, and that there should nothing come upon you which was grievous to be borne–and of all these things which I have spoken, ye yourselves are witnesses this day” (Mosiah 2:14).

I consider this a high model of civic virtue: a king who appropriated no taxes from his subjects, even working beside them in the fields for his sustenance. Granted, this was the exception rather than the rule. But at least it indicates the possibility of someone having authority over another group of individuals and not succumbing to the temptations and corruptions related to power.

In summary, though the Book of Mormon paints an ugly picture of taxation (consistent with our views), hope is given that there are some who would not abuse (or who would abuse less) authority over others. Ron Paul, in my estimation, is one such individual. May he win the 2008 Presidential campaign, that the great leviathan may have a true opponent!

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