It’s hard to do satire when the Mall People (I can’t think of any better name) say things like the following, as found in the mockingly named Times & Seasons: named for a newspaper which, ironically, was published among a people who chose to build up their economic sector rather than the temple, as commanded by the Lord. A Time for building, and for tearing down, and signs for all seasons indeed.
Here’s what Nate Oman boils it all down to, you who object to multi-billion dollar malls built by one proclaiming to be the Kingdom of God, Zion, The House of Israel, and all other titles as pertaining to righteousness:
“…by failing to work through the actual economic trade offs involved in the project, her [Jana Reiss’s] argument misses the points of moral and practical judgment, thereby obscuring the nature of the choice that Church leaders made with this project.”
Got it? Reiss’s argument is that the mall itself is a “moral failure,” something of an overly kind way of saying “failure”; as if there was a grade to be given, rather than a work which is either good or evil.
O Man!’s argument is, apparently that Reiss’s piece misses some points, and thus by missing them obscures the nature of the choice. Duh! It’s just logical! You see, it is as simple as this, as presented in The Beginning:
“The most fundamental question is whether the Church should save a portion of its revenue.”
And so I turned to the scriptures for guidance, and read of the great Council in Heaven, wherein was asked, what shall we do, O Ye People? Shall we Save a Portion of our revenues, or shall we Save all of them? And one came forward and presented an investment plan wherein all the revenue was saved, but only after being well laundered; and another said, Spend Me! And I will Save Them All! and he was like unto O Man.
It was decided that a portion of the revenues should be saved, and one third withheld in The Slush Fund, and no man could count them all. But then one among them looked, and was amazed, and wondered aloud, “These aren’t revenues, these are souls.” And it was decided that this particular Saver needed to have his retirement plan liquidated, and his skills made more marketable, so he was sent to learn how to work, and to see that revenue must be saved, and souls cannot be saved unless savings are invested, but only when invested with minimal profit margins as compared to other schemes.
And there was one, O Man, who under Azael governed the Times & Seasons, and he declared:
“Despite the price tag, from the Church’s point of view the Mall is less a piece of flashing [sic] spending, than consequence of the choices that the Church’s commitment to institutional thrift impose upon it. As a result of this policy of thrift and institutional restraint, the Church necessarily builds up a massive pool of cash.”
And the cry went forth, as among them of old, Let us baptize revenues in this pool! O Man answered their call, “If it is not spent, this cash must be parked someplace. The result is that the Church invests this money. The Church is funding the Mall out [sic] a holding company for its investment. From the point of view of the Church’s balance sheet this is not an expense. Rather, it is a form of saving against future expenses.”
There were many who pondered, who is this OMan, that can turn an extragavent vanity of gluttonous spending into meritorious thift and prudent saving? This Fountainous Hall of True Religion and Tiffany’s, this wonder of Celestial Retractions! Who turn all this, like water into wine, into a Great Pool of Parked Cash? Surely this man must be sent to Save, for who among us would actually call dumping five billion souls into a massive hole an act of saving, and of restraint? O Man! Then there was like unto OMan, who stood and calculated, and said:
“it is important to realize that saving by definition will limit the amount of resources devoted to the poor – and everything else that the Church supports. I am willing to entertain that this might be the right thing to do. My wife has done humanitarian work in Haiti, and the suffering there and elsewhere is appalling. Given such suffering, a policy of institutional thrift on the Church’s part may be open to criticism. But framing the issue in terms of saving children in Haiti versus an expensive shopping mall misses the issue.” What is the issue?
All of Pandaemonium clamored, and shouted, and raged for there was a basic rule that no soul was wise enough to criticise the Church, for it was in all things, through all things, and shows contempt for all things. What is the Issue? Not Feed My Sheep or Build My Mall, But some other mystery. The issue is: there can nothing wrong with whatever our imaginary abstraction called The Church does, with money given it out of charity for expressly stated purposes: NOTHING WRONG. But this was not the stated issue. Silence was called for, and O Man replied:
“The real question is whether there should be saving at all.” Should we save any, or should we not save any?
“Once one opts for savings, however, that saving will necessarily be invested in some profit making activity.”
And there were some few profits in those future days, not as many as hoped for, but this was OK. Because what we lack in profits, the word went forth, we gain as charity, and so O Man explained,
“What the Mall reveals, however, is that with regard to its saving the Church does not actually behave as a profit maximizing institution. It feels a sense of obligation for Salt Lake City and wants to improve the city. It does this by taking money from its investment portfolio [i.e., Lord’s Sacred Funds] and putting it in an asset — a shopping mall — with a higher level of risk and a lower level of return than it would normally obtain. In other words, the shopping mall investment doesn’t actually look like profit maximizing behavior to me. In economic terms, I think it is safe to assume that the opportunity costs of the investment in the Mall are higher than the expected return on that investment.” And many wondered, for profits should be maximized, Super Sized, and goodly endowed. But O Man saw their wonderment, and that they understood not his words, and he said:
“Given that this is the choice the Church is making, I think that the there are two major questions.”
One asked, is it, Why are these the choices, and not some others? And another asked, is it should they preach repentance, and faith in the Lord Jesus, or should they teach us shopping, and protect the temple from the least of these? And O Man raised his hands, and silence reigned, and he taught the multitude:
“The Church leadership clearly feels a sense of obligation to Salt Lake City, but the Mall actually reveals that it is a rather weak sense of obligation. The $1.5 billion price tag of the Church’s investment is not the right measure. Rather, the measure is the foregone marginal profit of placing the saving elsewhere, say an investment account at Goldman Sachs. Hence, the Mall indicates some sense of local obligation but not a strong or overwhelming sense of local obligation.” Many nodded their heads, and agreed: some, but not strong or overwhelming. The right measure is indeed the foregone marginal profit of placing the saving elsewhere. So he continued,
“The second question is whether the Mall will actually be effective in revitalizing Salt Lake City. I think that you can make perfectly good arguments about that [sic] this project is a bad idea, but it seems to me that these are ultimately questions of practical judgment, i.e. what will be most effective, not moral judgment.” Yes! It is not moral judgement that is in question ultimately, they realized, but rather what is most effective in establishing a higher rate of foregone marginal profit, relative to all other imagined possibilities of investment profiles, which thus and ergo indicates that the Church feels “some” obligation to Salt Lake City, and is clearly not making many profits therein.
Great Relief poured forth, for at last all felt that the Church was not a work of darkness, but was again good and right, acting as Jesus would in this world, if he acted in this world, which he doesn’t and so we need the Church. So, to thunderous clamor, and lightening and amid spinning tornados which seemed to point happily at the Mall, O Man whispered The Great Secret:
“As I see it, at each point the Church was faced with a question of good judgment rather than the stark moral choice that Jana sees between malls and starving children. Should the Church save a portion of its revenues? Should the Church put a portion of its revenues in a sub-optimal investment because of a special duty to the community where it’s headquarters is located? Will the Mall be effective in promoting urban renewal? Thrift, local obligation, and urban renewal strategy.”
Thrift By Spendthrift! Local Obligation To Build Malls is Charity! And Urban Renewal is Not a PassWord to Making damn sure there is no poor among us!
And with Great Equity, having measured all things to a nicety, confounded not nor unconfounded in his confoundment of foundational questions, he explained, “These are matters on which people can disagree. They are matters on which people can be wrong. Errors about such matters, however, do not strike me as moral failures.” And the decree went forth that when profits are absent, this is a sign of charity; and when billions are not saved, this is a Great And Marvelous Saving, for all is opinion, and people can indeed disagree, and this is the fullest development of their Real Agency. Be Free to Shop, blameless O Man!
And O Man answered his people, and many wondered at his saying, for he read the mind of his opponent, and yet admired her in her foolishness: “Jana Reiss invokes the prophet Amos in her article. She is trying to get the kind of simple moral clarity that he demonstrated. This, I think, is admirable, and I think that she is absolutely correct in invoking Amos in thinking about our moral obligations to the poor. On the other hand, Amos – and other ancient prophets – are not, in themselves, very good templates for thinking about modern investment decisions.”
Why not, O Man?
“This is because the underlying economic infrastructure in the ancient worlds that they discuss was strikingly different than those that exist in the modern world. The kind of complex investment decisions that the Church faces simply did not exist in Amos’s world.”
Is not that why we sustain modern profits and speculators to guide our savings decisions today? And O Man answered,
“It does mean that understanding the meaning and application of those norms requires a more nuanced understanding of investment than can be provided by reading the scriptures.” And all nodded their heads, and said yes, We Can Save a Portion of Our Revenues, and Seal up the Revenues upon the earth, garishifying it, and planting all manner of iniquitious things upon it, and let the Heavens open and close at our command!
But They were all beguiled, and many lost and fallen.
What Time & Season is it when we find ourselves saying things like what Nate Oman, honest to God, actually wrote and posted?
I don’t know anything about Mr Oman, but I think I know that he is the sort of person who maintains that by taking both sides, he is not advocating the taking of the side of evil, nor the side of good: for in some kingdoms, such as in religion, economics, and starving children, matters of morality are not wisely inquired into, but rather these are times when we ought to abide the evil, call it good, and let sophistry be our abiding light.
Mr Oman, the question is this: Is it good for an institution whose mission is the teaching of the gospel, the saving of souls, the redeeming of the dead, and the caring for the poor to spend a PENNY, a MINUTE, or a THOUGHT on anything other than that mission?
The scriptures are indeed a poor investment guide, but not an altogether bad guide, so this church says, to saving souls. Your scriptures say, warn, declare, and teach: You cannot serve God and Mammon. Jesus may not know much about modern investment, as you claim: but he seems to think he’s got a plan for urban renewal, suburban renewal, spiritual renewal and creation of worlds. In your rush to excuse evil for the sake of feeling about the subtle wickedness that informs the “judgment” of “the Church,” you ask the wrong questions, and give no answers.