The natural man likes to operate under a delusion of control. Our desire for ownership is a good example of this. Although the earth was created and maintained by God, Satan wants all who will listen to think the entire thing is his, “from the river unto the ends of the earth.” (Psalms 72:8) The desire for ownership and control is a dark fruit of the evil spirit. (see Mosiah 2:32, 37) Ownership as a fundamental tenet of happiness is taught, believed, and promoted by adherents of the great and abominable church: “And the angel spake unto me, saying: Behold the gold, and the silver, and the silks, and the scarlets, and the fine-twined linen, and the precious clothing, and the harlots, are the desires of this great and abominable church.” (1 Nephi 13:8) If you long to own stuff it’s easy to know which church you really belong to, regardless of which one happens to hold your membership records: “Behold, there are save two churches only.” (1 Nephi 14:10)
Several years ago I tried to persuade other members of my local municipal council that property taxes were inherently unconstitutional as they effectively prohibit the ownership of property and turn every “landowner” into a government renter. When one accepts the legitimacy of property taxes, he accepts that one can never truly own property. After 30 years of faithful payments to a bank, all you have to do is miss a single property tax payment and the municipality can seize your property. More accurately, miss a single government rental payment and they will repossess their rental property regardless of your presumed “ownership.” We seldom realize the extent of our desire to indulge in ownership delusion.
A couple of years ago I was in the men’s restroom at work. I am not aware of the social protocols that prevail in women’s restrooms, but you ladies should know that some men are wont to strike up a conversation with their neighbor whilst standing at a bank of urinals. On one of these occasions I found myself chatting with a fellow from the sales department. I asked him what was going on (generally speaking), to which he replied (quite specifically) that he was simply returning the coffee he had “rented” earlier that morning. I had never really considered that even a beverage is effectively as transient as a rented Red Box DVD. It was hard for me to imagine something one might possess more intrinsically than one’s own food or beverage. But practically, as I was reminded that day in the bathroom, even that would never really be mine.
The desire to own and control leads to some predictable doctrinal distortions. For example, although the accumulation of excess wealth is condemned in true Christianity,
“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal.” (Matthew 6:19)
“be familiar with all and free with your substance that they may be rich like unto you,” (Jacob 2:19)
for those afflicted with Ownership Delusion Dementia (ODD), a respectable-sounding principle is necessarily invoked to justify the accumulation of funds. One we have chosen in our day is “Self Reliance.” We ignore King Benjamin’s reminder that we are ALL beggars and entirely dependent upon God for all our substance, food, raiment, gold, silver, and riches (see Mosiah 4:19), and instead pretend that a few shrewd, hard-working souls are so deserving that they no longer have to depend upon God for all they have. And since they earned it, they don’t need to share it with others; in the world of self-reliance that would be encouraging laziness amongst the less industrious. Ironically, by calling our accumulation a “blessing,” we justify ignoring God’s commandments regarding sharing our excess. Thus, in a false attempt to to establish our own righteousness, we justify blatant forsaking of otherwise very clear heavenly mandates to consume it upon our lusts:
“They seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world, and whose substance is that of an idol, which waxeth old and shall perish in Babylon, even Babylon the great, which shall fall.” (D&C 1:16)
One problem with this view is that in the end it leads to worshipping industriousness. From the “For The Strength of Youth” pamphlet:
“Work is honorable. Developing the capacity to work will bring you to contribute to the world in which you live. It will bring you an increased sense of self worth.” (p. 40)
We wonder how the Israelites could have been so faithless as to have forsaken the fullness of the gospel in exchange for the lower or carnal commandments. But it seems we aren’t very aware of parts of that lower law; particularly the parts that we aren’t in compliance with today. Specifically, the law of Moses prohibited lending money at interest:
“Thou shalt not lend upon usury to thy brother.” (Deuteronomy 23:19)
In contrast, we encourage it, and even form our own institutions to facilitate it (e.g. Zions Bank):
“Members of a well-managed family do not pay interest; they earn it.” (L. Tom Perry, General Conference, 2008)
The Law of Moses stipulated that Israel was to forgive all debts every seven years, and that they weren’t supposed to deny somebody’s request for a loan even if both of you knew it would be forgiven soon. (see Deuteronomy 15) Hugh Nibley’s masterful discourse on this topic can be found here. I highly recommend it.
” For I was an hungred, and ye taught me to fish.”
Jesus’ example of “pure religion and undefiled” was to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. But not us. We are so concerned about the evils of the dole that instead of giving the hungry something to eat ,we prefer to give them a fishing pole. Or more likely we just encourage them to go to school where they can learn to fish like everybody else. Giving them fish directly would simply encourage laziness. What’s fascinating is that in ancient times, the concept that the idler was not to eat the bread of the laborer applied specifically to the idle rich, who were not to eat the bread of the laboring poor. That removed the temptation to take control of the means of exchange (money), which has been Satan’s plan from the beginning. When the Church launched the Welfare program in 1936 they also coined the phrase “evils of the dole” to make sure all understood the intent:
“Our primary purpose was to set up, insofar as possible, a system under which the curse of idleness would be done away with, the evils of the dole abolished, and independence, industry, thrift, and self-respect be once more established amongst our people. The aim of the Church is to help people to help themselves. Work is to be re-enthroned as a ruling principle in the lives of our Church membership.” (Conference Report, October 1936, p. 3)
It shouldn’t surprise us that culturally we end up worshipping work. And as work equals money, by natural extension we end up worshipping money, and then calling it a blessing to justify not sharing it with the poor and needy. What would King Benjamin have said about the evils of the dole?
“And if ye judge the man who putteth up his petition to you for your substance that he perish not, and condemn him, how much more just will be your condemnation for withholding your substance, which doth not belong to you but to God, to whom also your life belongeth; and yet ye put up no petition, nor repent of the thing which thou hast done.
I say unto you, wo be unto that man, for his substance shall perish with him; and now, I say these things unto those who are rich as pertaining to the things of this world.” (Mosiah 4:22-23)
Whether we engage in ownership delusion at the spiritual (you can’t take it with you), physical (renting our houses from the government), or physiological (renting our food and beverage) level, it will cause us to miss the real point of our time here on this earth. Nothing is ours. We cannot own it. No matter what. It is all the Lord’s.
“I command thee that thou shalt not covet thine own property.” (D&C 19:26)