Friday, July 3, 2015

No City of Enoch for Us

Why silence on Zion?

I love the idea of Zion. The pure in heart. A people of one heart. No rich or poor among them. Trusting God to be their protector rather than in armies. A place where the just, and those who want peace, can gather to be spared the evils of the world. But even as a teenager I wondered why the scriptures tell us so little about it? I thought, maybe evil people didn't want the story of Enoch in the Old Testament, so they took it almost completely out. But Joseph Smith restored that story, and we still know almost nothing about the city of Enoch. Then there are the Book of Mormon peoples after Christ's visit. It seems that tons of records survived from the 100 years before that visit, and at least a few thousand words from the visit, so why is there only one chapter about almost 200 years of Zion? Why not tell us how Zion works?

Some answers

Made by individual righteousness

I've imagined a few answers. I don't remember how I got the first, but I think it is common. People have to be righteous and obeying all the commandments, and then Zion will happen--or God will show us how at that time--and everything will be great (except for the world outside trying to destroy us because they can't stand righteousness). Divested of the illogic of the extremes, I can still believe this to a degree. People must choose to be part of Zion. No one can be compelled there or it won't work, and perhaps it is true that any political, economic, or social system will work great if all the members are such just people. But I'm not certain. I suspect that many of the same principles that we know help our current societies function well will be needed to make a Zion society function well.

We've been told

A second answer is that we already have been told. The old scriptures may have been incomplete, but with all that Joseph restored, we have a complete blueprint for building Zion. Reinstitute the United Order, Joseph's city planning, and the other fun stuff Joseph started and we will be Zion. I believed this for a long time, but my recent reflections make me doubt. It appears to me that Joseph kept changing the rules. Mormonism was a perpetual work in progress--an eternal progression rather than a fixed goal. Joseph was putting us on the path to Zion, not laying out a paint with numbers image in the sky.

Zion never happened

A third possibility that has occurred to me is that Zion never really happened. It's easy enough to doubt the reality of a city that was carried up into heaven. This is from the same book and the same time that gave us the universal flood and a boat that carried every animal on the planet. At the very least, the reports of Zion may be exaggerated. The same might be said of the people of 4th Nephi. Mormon may have had some understandable nostalgia. He lived a life full of war, and while Captain Moroni may have been his hero, he longed for the peace of his childhood stories. The reality could be that the peace of the first 200 years ACE was the result of massive depopulation, destruction of large power structures and civilization, and a consequent lack of competition for anything. There were no rich because no one had enough power to abuse their neighbors and take their labor. There were no poor because the land was empty and fertile. Zion was a geological and sociological accident.

While I believe this may be the case, I find it no less wonderful in some regards. There is a lot to envy in a society where hard work really is enough to care for your family, and where you don't have to fear war and violence. I could pick at some other things. The scriptures suggest some characteristics of the 4th Nephi society that many of us today might consider less than ideal, but that's beside my point. My point is, why do I really think the scriptures are almost silent about Zion?

Today isn't yesterday

I want Zion, but I don't want it as the result of a supervolcano depopulating North America. I don't want it as the result of barricading ourselves against a world trying to conquer us--an us versus them coming together.

I now see an interplay between the structures of society and the righteousness of people. Righteous people improve social structures, but well designed social structures also make people better. That's the whole point of meeting in our churches. We believe that the things we do in church make us better than we would be if we tried to do it all alone. So why, when it comes to Zion, did I think we had to fix the people first? It's pretty clear we need to fix people and social structures simultaneously--there is no separating the two.

With this background in my head, what hit me seemed obvious. Zion must be built in context. The Zion of Enoch cannot be the Zion of today. It's possible that the Zion of then and the Zion of now would be socially identical, and only the paths to Zion of then and now are different, but I think it unlikely. To build a local Zion is a different beast than building a global Zion. And that will be different than a Zion that spans universes. To build a stone and bronze age Zion is likely incomparable to the task of building a space and information age Zion.

So why do we know so little of Zion? Perhaps the Zion we are to build and the Zions of the past are only the same in a few key essentials. If we knew too much of the past, we would be striving toward practices that are not right for our time. We would be trying to live as the small Zion people of 2nd century ACE Mesoamerica instead of facing squarely the challenges and opportunities of today. We would cling to Joseph's incomplete image of Zion rather than becoming the prophets he taught us to be, bringing about Zion in an ever-changing world. Perhaps it is enough guidance for us to focus on those few key indicators of a Zion people and that will lead us forward. We will shape our societies to be pure in heart and one in heart, free of poverty, and refuges from war, and we will do it despite the challenges and with the tools of the world we live in today.

Measuring Zion

Often in our religious discussions we focus on the "pure in heart" part of Zion, and we assume that being "of one heart" means sameness of belief. We look to judge purity of heart through conformity to a measurable set of rules, although we know that we can't know people's hearts in this way. We also know that Zion will welcome all just people, not only those who believe like us, so unity in Zion has to include diversity of belief, and even diversity of religious (and areligious) practice. For me, and for now, I'll judge our success in building Zion by how we uplift the poor and create refuges from war. Most people can agree pretty well on the presence of poverty and war, and while they are still among us, Zion isn't here yet. By any measure, we've got a ways to go. But I trust God that Zion is within our reach.

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