This is two part posting which will examine the Upper, Middle, and Lower class divisions in our society as metaphors for the Three Degrees of Glory. I call them “Satan’s Three Degrees of Glory,” but not because they are completely evil. In fact, Jesus frequently used class distinctions as metaphors in his parables and teachings.
Joseph Smith taught that each of the three degrees of glory has a certain law attached to it: either the Celestial Law, the Terrestrial Law, or the Telestial Law. People become part of a particular kingdom by obeying the laws of that kingdom. This is similar in Satan’s Class structure. By obeying certain universal laws or principles, many people are able to move from Lower Class deprivation to Middle Class prosperity. In many cases, people from the Upper Classes arrived at their status by obedience to universal laws governing the realm of the Upper Class world. This is the point of books like Rich Dad, Poor Dad. People can get rich by obeying laws governing the use of wealth. Jesus has many parables that use earthly status and riches as a metaphor for heavenly status, such as the parable of the talents, the unjust steward, the house built on a rock, the man who didn’t have enough money to finish building his tower. In each of these parables, universal laws governing wealth and class distinction are used as metaphors for spiritual laws governing our place in the heavens.
I call it Satan’s Class Structure, not because it is wrong to want to progress within the structure, but because Satan wants us to focus on class divisions as our ultimate and most important identity, rather than focusing on our eternal place in the heavens.
The Upper Class: Luxury Wants
My aunt just built a multi-million dollar home of modest size. While it is certainly a beautiful structure, it could have been much more grand and splendidly superficial, if she had used cheaper building materials and labor. But instead, she used the home as an excuse to explore her discerning taste in super-luxury items and an exercise in environmental building techniques. The result is opulent but not arrogant.
True upper class mentality seeks to distinguish itself from middle class posturing through greater discernment in luxurious lifestyle. A $2,000 Chanel dress may look very similar to a department store knockoff for $100, but a closer and more cultivated look reveals a much more exquisite tailoring and quality fabrics, made in Italy by people who make middle class wages, rather than people in Vietnam making pennies.
As a gross generalization, the upper class practices discernment of true luxury over the compromised appearance of luxury. This mentality does not belong only to the rich. Anyone can build up their life with a few luxury items that are affordable within your particular financial realm. Even someone who is rather poor can have an upper class mentality by buying a few high quality things that reflect their values. For example, there are poor ambassadors and diplomats from 3rd world countries who work at the United Nations. While they don’t have much money, they do have one “made in Italy” Armani suit that they spent $2,500 on, which they wear every day for years. If they had middle class mentality, they would have bought two “made in China” Dillards’ suits for $500, and spent the rest of their money on rent for an apartment they couldn’t quite afford.
The Middle Class: Economical Wants
While the Upper Class focus their labors on obtaining luxury wants, the Middle Class focuses on cultivating the appearance of wealth on a Middle Class budget. The Middle Class is marked by insecurity and concern about being passed by in the race of life, keeping up appearances, the constant preoccupation with getting into the great and spacious building. The Upper Class is already in the great and spacious building, and doesn’t need to covet and clamor. They can sneer at the inferior taste at the Middle Class posers below. The Upper Classes are the Joneses, the Middle Classes are tying to keep up with the Joneses. To keep up with the Joneses, the Middle Class frequently overextend themselves, and make compromises on quality. They shop at Macy’s, not Saks, non-organic Albertsons rather than organic Whole Foods.
The Pearl of Great Price: Metaphors for our Spiritual Life
While the pride of the Upper Class is something we should not aspire to, upper class attitudes towards luxury can be an effective metaphor for our spiritual lives. Jesus talks about the pearl collector who sells all his pearls to obtain one single pearl of great price. This is upper-class mentality. It’s about quality over quantity, essence over appearance. The terrestrial world, as well as the middle class one, is all about fakery, illusion, the appearance of things, compromise, comfort, casualness. Jesus warned us not to become like “whitened sepulchers,” who have outward beauty, but inside are full of dead men’s bones, not unlike our cheap “made in China” knockoffs.
So does our spiritual walk reflect the kind of integrity that the Upper Class seeks in their luxury items? Do we pray, read, listen, and serve with complete honesty and intention? Or do we do so in a distracted way, simply to keep up appearances, while we try to get ahead, or appear that we are ahead in some sort of spiritual race? Like a poor UN diplomat wearing an Armani suit, a typical Saint may not be possess a great wealth of spiritual gifts. But he can put his whole soul into one thing with complete integrity, even if it is a simple prayer.
The Dangers of Upper Class Mentality
I don’t judge anyone for subscribing to the compromises of Middle Class life, as I do myself on most fronts. Our place in the classes in the mortal realm are a distraction and a temptation to the saints. It’s not good to be overly concerned about whether we have middle or upper class attitudes or lifestyles. A true saint doesn’t worry so much about the outward, physical manifestations of their life. A saint builds up treasures in heaven, not on earth. As Jesus said, “Take no thought for the morrow, what you should wear…”
But as a metaphor, Upper Class mentalities it can be helpful to remember. On a spiritual level, saints are supposed to be Upper Class Celestial beings, not Middle Class Terrestrial beings. We seek the truest and the most beautiful heavenly treasures, and don’t settle for less than the best with regards to our spiritual privileges.
Rationalization for my recent Ferragamo splurge
I think that seeking after “upper class” luxuries can sometimes have integrity to it, as long as it is a genuine reflection of our spiritual attitudes and values. If we buy luxury items because we value integrity, it is different than if we buy them to feast upon our lusts. I recently bought a used pair of Ferragamo shoes for $250. They retail for over $600. To do this, I had to overcome the powerful Middle Class mentality forged into me by my parents. I’d never purchased a pair of shoes for over $80, so I fought off lots of guilt over this.
But I remembered that Jesus let the woman anoint his feet with very expensive perfume, and when Judas suggested it should be sold and the money given to the poor, Jesus said, “the poor you always have with you.” I also remembered the scripture “how beautiful are the feet of those who preach tidings of peace,” and I thought, how beautiful are the feet of those who wear incredible couture footwear. Then I remembered the scripture, “let your feet be shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace,” and I thought that since I was a missionary in Italy, I deserved to buy a pair of the finest shoes Italy could offer, since what I gave the Italians myself was the best I had to offer. I swallowed my guilt, and made the purchase! (Then I sold them on ebay for a profit, since they didn’t quite fit right.) In my next posting, I’ll examine further the sinister dangers of class structure, particularly with regard to how we view the lower class.