Junior Ganymede
We endeavor to give satisfaction

Unexpected Lessons in Theology from Dead Economists

June 18th, 2013 by G.

Nauvoo Temple
An economist’s studies led him to the insight that failure and unexpected obstacles are major drivers of innovation and creativity. But innovation and creativity aren’t just virtues for the workday. Creativity–creation–is the fundamental attribute of God. What starts out as an economics principle becomes an insight into the fundamentals of life: it is when we are desperate that we become the most godlike. We blaze brightest when thrown into the fire.

No Zion community was ever built in Palmyra or along the Susquehanna. Each attempt at building a gathering place only took root after the Saints were persecuted and driven out. The only attempt that succeeded was the one in the least hospitable location.

Ignorance–the veil–is a major source of unexpected obstacles.

So both ignorance and failure are potential drivers to Sainthood and exaltation.

There is no single theodicy. After all theodicy, since it explains why we’re here and why conditions here are they way they are, is in effect the entire plan of salvation. That ignorance and desperation drive us to higher heights is only a partial theodicy, but the part is important.

Bruce Charlton makes a good point about the spread of evil in society:

I feel there is no compelling reason why I should not go-along-with current practices and prevailing trends.


Modern morality is thus not, or not typically, actively evil – it is instead conforming to evil; and this conformity is not active but rather has a double-negative quality.

Of course, once a person has gone-along-with evil (because he feels no reason not to) then he will be corrupted by that collusion – and will usually come actively to embrace that evil, to defend it, then to propagate it – but the initial move is more of an un-principled acquiescence.

Such behaviour appears cowardly – indeed it is cowardly; but much of this cowardice arises because courage is neither activated nor mobilized; and courage fails to deploy because there are no grounding beliefs which demand implementation; or which, when violated, cause a strong reactive response.

If God wants us to give value to relationships, which is what living in a society means, then results like this are inevitable. Most of us, probably all of us, outsource some of our opinions to the world around us. No man can literally be self-made. We will therefore tend to be infected by the evil of our society without even realizing it. And God can’t completely and directly step in to prevent it without disrupting the existence of the society. What’s to be done? Failing, that’s what’s to be done. President Benson taught that participation in the atonement begins with knowledge of the Fall:

No one adequately and properly knows why he needs Christ until he understands and accepts the doctrine of the Fall and its effect upon all mankind.

The first principle of the gospel is repentance, which really means that the first principle of the gospel is sin. Or rather, awareness of your sin. You cannot repent until you know that you are sinning. Failure is what teaches that you are sinning. When the inevitable consequences of your actions are flung up into your face, then you know that you are on the wrong path. Based on this insight, we can reformulate the statement that first principle of the gospel is sin, or awareness of sin. Neither is really true. Rather, the first principle of the gospel is experiencing the consequences of sin. Indeed, in the light of Christ most of us know at some level that we are sinning all along. But we hide from that knowledge or ignore it–until failure forces us to face it.

The economist Schumpeter taught that the main benefit of a free market was that it allowed failure. Even the largest firms, even whole industries, could go under. Growth was impossible without it. Creative destruction, he called it. One specific application of creative destruction is in the business cycle of booms and busts. In the busts, surviving firms cut their dead-weight losses, get rid of inefficient programs, and usually emerge leaner and more efficient. They are purged in a refiner’s fire.

The Lord’s commandments to the early Saints to build Zion sometimes seem like a cruel joke. He tells them to build Zion, promises them how glorious it will be, and then when it blows up, tells them its their fault for being wicked. After a while, the failure starts to look like a feature. Perhaps, I’d argue, the failure was the point. Not Zion or bust. Bust and Zion.
Banks may be too big to fail, but sons and daughters of God are too much meant to be big not to fail.

Comments (5)
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June 18th, 2013 07:07:35

J. Max Wislon
June 18, 2013

This is wonderful insight, Adam. Very, very powerful thoughts. Thank you.

Geoff B
June 18, 2013

Excellent points Adam G.

Mark D.
June 18, 2013

I would really worry about anyone over thirty who isn’t deeply convicted of the reality of sin.

el oso
June 19, 2013

Preach on Brother G. Failure and faith lead to repentance and progression. Also, no question about it, Zion is hard to build. There is no question that the difficulty is part of the whole Zion equation.

June 19, 2013

The Plan of Salvation is like unto a Kobayashi Maru simulation.

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