Lately I have wondered what is “common good”. We can now observe societies that are in different states of progress, as a group of scientists lately did. They found out, that in a more modern society people tend to be more impartial toward strangers; willing to give them a hand, treat them nicely/fairly. I am no behavioral scientist, but I have my own ideas about the development of society.
I am interested in societal issues, because I believe in and hope for Zion. From the scriptures I have gathered, that Zion means at leas three things. It is a place; it’s actually two places–the New Jerusalem and the place of the new temple for the Millennium, but it is also the place of the restoration of the original temple, the old Mount Zion. Traditionally, Mount Zion is the same place that was called Mount Moriah during Abraham’s sojourn in the Promised Land.
In addition to that, Zion is a state of mind and also society. It is the pure in heart–those, who love the Lord, and also their sisters and brothers. Loving means being willing to actually go out of one’s comfort zone to help the neighbor.
The idea is that I don’t need to save the whole world in practice; if I help my neighbors and they help theirs, everyone gets helped. Right?
Not so fast. Aren’t we supposed to earn what we receive? Yes, and if we work harder and earn more than others, we are entitled to have more. That was also something that was advocated by a popular demagogue, saying “every man fared in this life according to the management of the creature; therefore every man prospered according to his genius, and that every man conquered according to his strength”. You can find this idea in Alma 30, vv 12 to 17.
If you actually read Alma’s chapter 30, what can we discern about the society that Alma and Gidgiddonah were trying to build and preserve? Consider what Korihor said about every man prospering according to his aptitudes and strengths.
While I agree that we should all be working hard, according to the commandment given to Adam to eat his bread by the sweat of his face–exertion required here–I don’t think that the idea is, that we leave everyone to their own devices. It seems that in Alma’s society there was a tension between Alma’s teachings and his and his followers’ lifestyle, and those, who thought that they shouldn’t have to give to others.
But Zion can not be built by force. If you force some to part with the fruits of their labor, and let some get used to getting “something for nothing” you end up with lots of resentment–and actually on both sides. People don’t actually like being on the dole. Yes, there are some, who abuse the the welfare societies that exist in Europe; there are actually “career” people, whose main thing is filling out forms to get this or that handout, and their children learn that skill for making a kind of a “living”. But they do not enjoy it!
How do we solve the tension between these two? Teaching, teaching, and teaching; being patient and forgiving, not minding too much if some seem to be abusing us. According to King Benjamin (and some other influential teachers), it is not our place to judge the needs of others. Thus, the word “undeserving” should not be heard too often.
Furthermore, Zion is not just for people, who look and think like us. Zion is open for everyone; everyone can come to Zion, as long as they will abide by its basic principles. And all kinds of people will come when they see, the happiness that radiates from the people of Zion, and they feel the love when they are among Zion people.
Last weekend, I heard two people tell how they became LDS. The short version: read the paragraph above. We have here a small group of Zion people, and because they behave accordingly, people who come feel the love; love is felt through the Spirit, and it can open up the way to one’s heart. Our little group here is growing, and the bigger we grow, the more the people if the Great And Spacious Building will mock us and tell us that we are naïve dreamers or quite often something worse.
But all this Global confusion is serving the purpose of the building of Zion. Instead of living in narrow tribal societies, where you work in and for a small group, you find yourself responsible and willing to take the whole of humanity into account.
Understandably, there are some, who will react adversely to this change. They feel their narrow tribal interests threatened by a Global one, and their response is aggressive. In Near East, people turn to extremist forms of Islam; in Europe people turn to secular hedonism or then radical nationalism (Belgium was without a PM for over six months because it is not a nation-state, and they couldn’t agree on who should “call the shots”); it seems in America people are turning into Nativist resistance and other similar tendencies.
On the other hand, the development encourages previously ignored groups to demand for rights they perceive themselves entitled to. The society needs to debate the issues and it will develop into a tolerant one, but it takes time. Both extremes must tone down and talk calmly. We can co-exist, but it takes some time for a downtrodden minority to feel and be accepted as equals.
What is a funny thing here is that if we read the scriptures, the answer is clear. The answer is stewardship. It is both physical/practical , “temporal” and spiritual. We not only have a stewardship on a personal and family level, but we have a stewardship on a Global level.
Let’s say you “own” a house; let’s say you “own” the land the house is built on. In the law (IANAL), possession is what defines ownership in most cases; the exceptions are few and clear (in principle, at least). How can you “possess” land. Once you’re driven from it by natural or human force, it’s gone. That’s what happened e.g. to the American Indian, among many, many others before and after them, let alone Israelites.
If you can not “own” a portion of land, it is naturally something that you need to consider. Consider this: the Lord gave you the means and opportunity to stake your claim on some soil on His Earth. Any farmer knows you can not grow crops on a field without putting in some effort, and somehow replacing the nutrients that come out of the soil when crops are harvested–we need to sow, irrigate and fertilize it to keep growing the crops.
That is exactly how it is in the Global perspective. We are not “entitled” to anything, and we need to remember that we can not keep taking out more than we put in. The Earth is incredibly rich when properly treated, but if we want the “Fat of the Earth” we can not take it by extortion.
So I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I can see a development towards a society that is more responsible for each other and the source of our well-being, in other words, the Earth. Granted, there is a counter-development, that seeks to secure traditional privileges (just like the European kings fought to keep their absolute power and so forth), but they are doomed to lose, because Zion will fill the Earth.
The answer is not a society that is less responsible for those, who are unable to provide for themselves (the materially poor) as well as those, who are temporarily incapacitated by their attitudes (the “undeserving”). To the contrary, our example will get some of those on board, while others deny the power of God and refuse to see the way to eternal life that opens up when we realize that all this is given us so that we can have eternal life and Christ made it possible for us despite our mortal weakness.
So if we want to have a more responsible society, what do we do? We teach people the principles taught in Scriptures. We live what we preach. Actually, we don’t even preach but show by example and instruct kindly.
And with those, who don’t want to receive all, we will remember that it is not our place to judge.
My shot in the dark; my brick hurled through the window.