The Book of Mormon Has a Dim View of Taxation

Another interesting article on LewRockwell.com, regarding Mormons, this week. The website titles this one “Open Letter to Mormons Regarding Ron Paul, Part II: The Book of Mormon Has a Dim View of Taxation.” This article was written by Chris Reeve, LDS libertarian. I am going to post the entire text of his article here. This is a great example of how we can apply the Book of Mormon in the political realm:

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 tariffs, 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). These taxes were used to pay the occupying force. 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 linked with slavery, with 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 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.” Those who didn’t pay taxes were thrown in jail and forced to work, or they were put to death. (Ether 10:5-8). Violent conflict bookended this reign (his subjects rose up in rebellion), 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” (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 far less than most) authority over others. Ron Paul, in my estimation, is one such exemplary individual. May he win the 2008 Presidential campaign, that the great and terrible leviathan may have a true opponent!



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3 Responses to “The Book of Mormon Has a Dim View of Taxation”

  • Avatar for Blog Jamie Says:

    Your right in saying that King Mosiah did not use tax money to pay his own salary for being King, but that does not mean that he did not levy any taxes at all. He might have levied taxes to build up infrastructure.

  • Avatar for Blog Mitch van Biljon Says:

    and Jamie, that would be in perfect accordance with Article 1 Section 8 of the Constitution. That however is the beginning and end of what we should be taxed for.

  • Avatar for Blog Marc Says:

    The happiest peoples of the Book of Mormon were those who had “all things common” among them (note: not all things in common, but rather all things common-big difference).

    3 Nephi 26:19 And they taught, and did minister one to another; and they had all things common among them, every man dealing justly, one with another.

    4 Nephi 1:2 And it came to pass in the thirty and sixth year, the people were all converted unto the Lord, upon all the face of the land, both Nephites and Lamanites, and there were no contentions and disputations among them, and every man did deal justly one with another.
    3 And they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift.
    4 And it came to pass that the thirty and seventh year passed away also, and there still continued to be peace in the land.
    5 And there were great and marvelous works wrought by the disciples of Jesus, insomuch that they did heal the sick, and raise the dead, and cause the lame to walk, and the blind to receive their sight, and the deaf to hear; and all manner of miracles did they work among the children of men; and in nothing did they work miracles save it were in the name of Jesus.

    Notice that among them, great miracles were wrought. Why? Because they had made themselves equal in temporal things. Therefore the Lord made them equal in heavenly things. In essence, they were a Zion people.

    D&C 70:12 He who is appointed to administer spiritual things, the same is worthy of his hire, even as those who are appointed to a stewardship to administer in temporal things;
    13 Yea, even more abundantly, which abundance is multiplied unto them through the manifestations of the Spirit.
    14 Nevertheless, in your temporal things you shall be equal, and this not grudgingly, otherwise the abundance of the manifestations of the Spirit shall be withheld.

    The people in Joseph Smith’s day lost their inheritance because they failed to live the law of consecration and have all things common and the Lord told them why:

    D&C 101:1 Verily I say unto you, concerning your brethren who have been afflicted, and persecuted, and cast out from the land of their inheritance—
    2 I, the Lord, have suffered the affliction to come upon them, wherewith they have been afflicted, in consequence of their transgressions;
    3 Yet I will own them, and they shall be mine in that day when I shall come to make up my jewels.
    4 Therefore, they must needs be chastened and tried, even as Abraham, who was commanded to offer up his only son.
    5 For all those who will not endure chastening, but deny me, cannot be sanctified.
    6 Behold, I say unto you, there were jarrings, and contentions, and envyings, and strifes, and lustful and covetous desires among them; therefore by these things they polluted their inheritances.
    7 They were slow to hearken unto the voice of the Lord their God; therefore, the Lord their God is slow to hearken unto their prayers, to answer them in the day of their trouble.
    8 In the day of their peace they esteemed lightly my counsel; but, in the day of their trouble, of necessity they feel after me.

    Further in section 101, the Lord gave them a parable to teach them about their failure, their being cast into the wilderness (pioneers migrating to Utah) and what His will would be. Mormons don’t seem to believe their own scriptures, and after nearly two hundred years still have not learned to make themselves equal in temporal things. They have not learned to consecrate their property, and lift up the poor. Mormons have not yet created a society where they are one hearty, live in righteousness and have NO poor among them (Moses 7:18).

    In summary, sure, taxation is theft. But not imparting our substance as King Benjamin taught is extorting from the poor, our substance, which does not even belong to us, but to God. Even our own bodies are not our own, but of the dust, which belongs to the earth, which is God’s. But we take ownership of all that God has given us and we exact a price for it and our labors. We covet our own property, just as Martin Harris coveted his own land until the Lord chastened him. Until we learn not to covet “things” and serve Mammon and extort goods and services from each other and instead give freely as Jesus taught in His sermon on the mount and at Bountiful, we are no better than any government, which extorts money in the form of taxation. And our possessions will perish with us.

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