In the April 1873 General Conference, President Brigham Young pointed out another value of Babylon, Zion’s opposite, that the Saints have yet to overcome – avarice, the insatiable desire for wealth or gain. He said, “Babylon is in the hearts of the people, that is to say, there is too much of it. What did you come here for? ‘Why,’ says one, ‘I understood they were getting rich in Utah, and I thought I would gather up with the Latter-day Saints and get rich also.’ Without making many remarks on this subject, I want to say to every one of those who come up here, their minds filled with Babylon, and longing for the fashions and wealth of the world, you may heap up gold and silver, but it will leave you, or you will leave it, you cannot take it with you, and you will go down to hell.”
Twelve years earlier, Elder George A. Smith made the point that the Saints’ avarice was a result of the conditioning their families had received over many generations. He said, “It is well understood that the human race have been traditioned to the utmost extreme that tradition could possibly be impressed in the human breast, in the practice of covetousness, the worship of money, the love of earthly goods, the desire to possess property, to control wealth, has been planted in the breast, soul, and heart of almost every man in the world from generation to generation.”
In 1857, Apostle Lorenzo Snow made the same point about the source of our avarice. He stated, “In the Gentile world, where the Gospel first reached us, our manner of training, our habits and our education, all went to influence our minds to look after self, and never to let our contemplations or meditations go beyond that which pertained to ourselves. In making any exertion that would in any way tend to benefit ourselves, to exalt ourselves, and assist us in amassing riches… we considered we were doing first-rate, for that was the object of life with us…. This is what our parents taught us to a great extent, and it mattered, with us, but very little, how or what course was pursued if we could gain those things we desired….”
Then in 1889, Apostle Orson F. Whitney, in describing what Zion is not, helps us to see what Babylon actually is – avarice and all. He said, “How was this miracle of Enoch’s city accomplished? Not by an empty and vain profession of righteousness; not by men seeking themselves, and their own honor and glory; not by heaping up gold and silver and precious stones… not by the rich grinding under heel the poor; not by the proud despising the humble; not by the poor hating and envying the rich. It was not done by loving the things of this world.”
Clearly, we must overcome our inter-generational avarice if we are to successfully participate in the building of Zion.