“Why Are there Classes among Members of Our Church?”: Anderson’s Economics of Mormonism in Transition by Sarah C. Reed


In the lead-up to the March 31 release of our Peculiar Edition of Nephi Anderson’s novel Dorian we will be running a series of posts featuring the first paragraph (and one other paragraph of the editor’s whim) from the essays included in that volume. Come back for more every Tuesday and Thursday.


The publication of Nephi Anderson’s last novel, Dorian, in 1921, came near the end of an era of Mormon history marked by a number of dramatic changes. During the 50 years from 1880 to 1930, the Mormon Church abandoned

many of its idiosyncratic practices: polygamy was officially ended, the LDS political party disbanded, communitarian economics de-emphasized. At the same time, it increasingly participated in American politics and culture: Mormons sent a delegation to the 1893 World’s Fair, Utah gained statehood in 1896, Reed Smoot weathered the congressional hearings regarding his election and was finally seated in the Senate in 1907. This process has been called “Americanization” or even “assimilation” because of the way the Mormon cultural region (to borrow Ethan Yorgason’s term) came to conform to hegemonic economic, political, and social norms; nevertheless, the integration of the region into America was not an unequivocal development. Mormonism’s doctrines and narrative had to be reinterpreted to harmonize the change from a separatist society to one accommodating the dominant cultural conventions….

As Mormonism shifted from communalism to capitalism, the individual began to displace the community in the building of Zion. The emphasis on self-sufficiency moved from a community effort to the onus of individuals. Even so, vestiges of the older model remained in the discourse. For example, apostle Anthon H. Lund was himself a Danish immigrant and was sympathetic to the difficulties that other immigrant converts faced. In various conference talks he reminded the saints of their responsibilities in helping these new members integrate into the community. Similarly, Andrew Jenson, assistant church historian and also a Danish immigrant, continued to speak about the gathering and praised the Mormon communities and warned against their dissolution, even as other leaders de-emphasized this model. Uncle Zed’s immigrant background fits in with this perspective; for him, communitarianism wasn’t just an economic model, but had a theological implication. In one of their theological talks, Uncle Zed explains to Dorian his idea of salvation, blending together science, religion, and economy. Christ works for those of us below him who can’t get there “by self-effort alone,” that “the great error” of evolutionists is that “higher forms evolve from the initial and unaided movements of the lower,” which “is as impossible as that a man can lift himself to the skies by his boot-straps” (122 – 123). In working out individual salvation, Uncle Zed gives three principles: 1) the individual must be willing to progress; 2) he must be willing to accept help; and 3) he must be willing to “share all good with others” (125). Uncle Zed goes on to expound on the third principle: “Coming back now to the application I mentioned. If it is God’s work and glory to labor for those below Him, why should not we, His sons and daughters, follow His example as far as possible in our sphere of action? If we are ever to become like Him we must follow in His steps and do the things which He has done. Our work, also must be to help along the road to salvation those who are lower down, those who are more ignorant and are weaker than we” (124 – 125).

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