In 74 BC Alma and his companions head off to reclaim the apostate Zoramites, who had begun to “bow down to dumb idols.” Although Alma provides a rather thorough description of the Zoramites’ weekly worship service and synagogue, there is no mention of statues within the walls of their sanctuary. What he does specifically identify is that “their hearts were set upon gold, and upon silver, and upon all manner of fine goods.” It appears that by “idols” he meant money and fancy stuff. It’s not surprising that a culture that worships money quickly degenerates into a rough-and-tumble aristocracy of deservedness and earned privilege, despising the infirm as disposable. It was among the Zoramites that the hapless Korihor (no voice to ply his once lucrative trade) was “run upon and trodden down.”
“And they came unto Alma; and the one who was the foremost among them said unto him: Behold, what shall these my brethren do, for they are despised of all men because of their poverty, yea, and more especially by our priests…” (Alma 32:5)
What kind of a culture despises men because of their poverty, particularly one where religious leaders (“more especially by our priests”) are the most prejudicial? Once my former stake president asked me what my dad’s problem was. Specifically he wanted to know why my dad had never been able to “get it together” and make a lot of money (as many others had in our ward in Southern California). To be clear, my father was a worthy priesthood holder, but drove Buicks, not BMWs. That same leader, who had also been my bishop prior to becoming the stake president, had criticized my career aspirations when I told him I was interested in becoming an institutional equities salesman for an investment bank: “You don’t wanna do that. They only make 600 a year.” By “600” he meant $600,000. He made significantly more than that.
Religious cultures that first misunderstand and eventually despise the “meek and lowly” are ones that ideologically buy into the Gospel of Blessings (see previous post below). Once a religious culture begins to believe that the rich are morally superior to the poor (as manifested by their more abundant blessings), the next logical step is adoption of the Gospel of Affluence, where religious leaders are chosen because of their economic success. This happens when the religious hierarchy feels the need for the same high-caliber business management that most readily produces the gold, silver, and fine goods that the faux religious covet. When a society equates economic rank with religious standing, it’s not long before the poor and meek are cast aside as a thing of naught. From then on, the socioeconomic imbalance is only exacerbated by their flawed belief system; if blessings are God’s manifestation of my goodness, I certainly can’t be expected to share my means with the poor. Thus the “great fixed gulf” between rich and poor widens, with great inequity leading to great iniquity (these words share the same root, btw). If this sentiment were ever to infect our culture, we would be well advised to either repent or take cover, because it is the Lord Himself who has promised to forcibly intervene and correct the imbalance by turning the exiting order on its head to ensure that the meek inherit the earth:
“But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked.” (2 Nephi 21:4)