One book that profoundly altered the way I see the world is Animal Farm. I recently re-read it and I was struck by the shift from a communist democracy to a totalitarian regime. I began to see some parallels to the changes happening in the modern church.
Animal Farm is TIME magazine’s, one of the greatest books of the twentieth century. It is short (about 60 pages long, available here to download the pdf) and simple to read yet contains profound insights into society. Animal Farm tells the story of a revolution on Manor Farm by the animals. After overthrowing Mr. Jones and his men, the animals establish a utopian society. They establish rules that will preserve the freedom and happiness of the animals. The pigs Napoleon and Snowball offer themselves as leaders of this community. Over time a dispute between the two happens, and Snowball is evicted. Under Napoleon’s leadership the pigs slowly become corrupted and take advantage of the other animals. At the same time the animals live in ignorance of the manipulation of the leaders and refuse to rebel against the increasing tyranny that the pigs subject them to. Animal Farm makes two powerful statements: one about the corrupting influence of power and the second about the ability of people to accept and live with an abuse of power.
Leaders and Pigs
The tale shows how power can corrupt even the best people. The pure motives that guided the revolution soon get forgotten by those who take leadership roles. As Franz Kafka said, “Every revolution evaporates and leaves behind it the slime of a new bureaucracy.”
In section 121:39 of the D&C, Joseph Smith revealed: “We have learned from sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men as soon as they get a little power, as they suppose, to immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.” In Animal Farm the power of the pigs allows them to exercise unrighteous dominion over the animals on the farm.
“It seemed to them as though snowball were some kind of invisible influence, pervading the air about them and menacing them with all kinds of danger.”
As one of the early leaders of the revolution Snowball proposed a plan to build a windmill. His plan was rejected, and he was cast out of the farm (a bit like the council in heaven and Lucifer’s plan). After his exodus Snowball became the scrape goat of animal farm and when anything that went wrong it was attributed to him. In many ways Snowball echoes the way Satan is invoked within the church. The mythology around them distorts and manipulates their reputation in order to control and persuade others. Just as the name of Snowball was used to manipulate the animals in the farm, we should be wary that Satan is being used in an equally manipulative way within church discourse.
“Do not imagine that leadership is a pleasure! On the contrary, it is a deep and heavy responsibility.”
Everything good on Animal Farm is attributed to Napoleon. Orwell portrays him as a power seeker, who is concerned only with preserving his position and his own comfort. Whilst he is constantly exhorting the animals to work, he himself does very little and only administers. Napoleon alters the history of the revolution to place him as the hero who overthrew the humans. Napoleon takes the glory for achievements that are not entirely his. This reminded me of the tendency to attribute everything to God in the church which diminishes human achievement. We can be quick to attribute the recovery of a sick child to a priesthood blessing and forget the role of doctors and medical researchers, both past and present, who created the medical treatment that allowed them to be healed.
“The animals seemed to remember that a resolution against this had been passed in the early days, and again Squealer was able to convince them that this was not the case.”
Squealers purpose was to promote propoganda about the farm. He reminded the animals of how terrible things were outside the farm, and how bad they were before the revolution. In the church we often hear about how bad, wicked and terrible the world is. We are told about the dark days of the great apostasy prior to the restoration and how unenlightened the world was before the dawn of the restoration of all things. The creation of a feared outside world makes the present community appear better and safer by contrast.
Squealer also masks changes in administration and promotes historical revisionism. When the rules were violated and altered by the pigs Squealer convinced them that the rules had always been like this. The history and practices of the church are spoken of as universal and unchanging, contrary to evidence, and manuals are written to deemphasize those changes. The past is reinterpreted and whitewashed to reflect the modern state of affairs.
Administration of the Farm and the Correlation Committee
“In future all questions relating to the working of the farm would be settled by a special committee of pigs, presided over by himself. These would meet in private and afterwards would communicate their decisions to the others.”
Initially on Animal Farm all decisions were made by consensus. Every Sunday they would meet together and all the ideas about how the farm should be run and administered were openly discussed and then all animals would vote on which plan they would like to implement. Over time the meetings stopped, and instead an elite group made decisions and then imposed them upon others. This is parallel to how change happens in the church today, although we originally used “by common consent.” All decisions about how the church operates today are made by special committees behind closed doors, who then publish it via letters read in sacrament and in the church handbook of Instructions; these protocols are simply communicated to the middle-managers of the church who inform members. This shift from open debate to closed private decision making in Animal Farm solidified the shift from a democracy to a totalitarian regime.
Members and Animals
The other side of the story is the tale of the members of the community who are subjected and manipulated by the pigs.
The sheep and members
‘Two legs bad, four legs good’
The sheep in the book are, well, sheep. They follow without thinking. In Animal Farm the chorus of sheep drowns out criticism and discussion amongst the animals in all of their meetings. Sometimes it seems within the church that the chorus of ‘follow the prophet’ drowns out any discussion on the merit of the proposed course of action.
Mollie and those who leave
“None of the animals ever mentioned Mollie again”
Mollie loves sugar lumps and pretty ribbons. She leaves the farm for another farm where she gets sugar and ribbons. Mollie is like those who stray from the church. After her exodus, no one mentions her as it doesn’t fit in their framework. They cannot understand why, if live is so good on Animal Farm, Mollie left?
Boxer – The hardworking member
“Boxer was the admiration of everybody. He had been a hard worker even in Jones’s time but now he seemed more like three horses then one; there were days when the entire work of the farm seemed to rest upon his shoulders”
“His answer to every problem, every setback was ‘I will work harder.’”
Boxer’s story is heartbreaking. Boxer studies and works tirelessly out of his simple faith in Napoleon. Many bloggernaclers have an element of skepticism toward authority. We see leaders’ flaws, and we raise concerns online about things that we do not agree with. Our obedience is not in ignorance. Most of us who believe, believe with an awareness of the historical, philosophical, procedural and theological issues of Mormonism. However, the church is not made up of people from the bloggernacle. In my ward most people do not know about the issues discussed here and do not approach their faith with skepticism. In many ways they are like Boxer – the faithful who want to do the best and work hard at being faithful.
Those who, like Boxer, faithfully follow the brethren, those who sacrifice all that they have – those are ultimately the ones who get taken advantage of by the institution. They go above and beyond the call of duty in the service of the church and ultimately end up in the knackers yard out of exhaustion. Just as Boxer worked more than he needed to, believing in the leaders and in the vision they had given him of the future, in our wards we can members like him. As a youth I had a home teaching companion who went out with the missionaries every week. He was a simple man, who gave everything he had to the church, and his answer to any difficulty was to simply work harder. His dedication profoundly affected me. He was always reaching out in service to other people, yet he never achieved any form of church position despite being one of the most faithful people I ever knew. He tirelessly served the church, and never received anything in return, whilst many who were far lazier “church careerists” were given positions of responsibility. The Boxers are the unsung heroes of Mormonism.
Why compare Animal Farm to the Church?
In Animal Farm’s final scene the pigs are playing poker with the local farmers. As the animals look at the men and pigs, they realize that they look the same. The farm has become just like the farm they overthrew. The new regime simply became the old. At times it seems that the very things that the early church leaders where against have slowly filtered into the church. The radical revolutionary thinking that characterised the early restoration has been replaced with a very different bureaucracy. The question is, to what extent has the Church adopted the very stance that it once stood in opposition to?