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I had an interesting discussion a few years ago at the Weber County Fair. This man said he'd been a strict conservative most of his life, arguing against the government helping the less fortunate as unconstitutional do-goodism, and that families and charity must be responsible for the poor.

Then his elderly mother became ill, eventually requiring nursing care. Before too long, the cost of this care had consumed her savings and all the equity in her home. Her children were not people of means. So, under the theory of government this man had espoused all his life, it was time for his aged mother to be tossed into the street.

But of course she wasn't. In America, when the resources of the elderly are exhausted, Medicaid takes over. After the family had done all they could, We the People stepped in and took up the slack.

After telling his story, this good man said, "The limited government thing sounds good in theory. But in real life, there are just too many needs out there. It would be nice if charity could do everything, but it isn't realistic. There are legitimate needs in our communities that require the collective effort of government. I was cured of my hard-core conservatism by my experience."

With this story in mind, I have given a lot of thought recently to a strange quandary: How can a charitable person come to believe that allowing the disadvantaged to suffer is somehow less evil than government helping them? The epiphany came late last year: The answer is idolatry.

Our LDS culture has an expansive interpretation of idolatry. The prototypical example is the boat named "Sabbath Breaker" out on the lake on Sunday. In our culture, idolatry means caring more about the creations of men than God. Belonging in the "creations of men" category are political ideologies.

It's become clear that there is a small minority in Utah that has set up a political dogma that carries all the trappings of religion. Their patron saint is an icon named Ronald Reagan (which bears scant resemblance to the actual man). Their scripture is a narrow interpretation of the Constitution that has more in common with the Articles of Confederation than the Constitution itself. Their founding prophet was Cleon Skousen, and their modern prophets are folks like Glenn Beck, who like other false prophets have become fabulously wealthy from their preaching.

The disciples of this political religion have lost all ability to self-doubt. They aren't interested in evidence, logic or discussion; they already have all the answers. They quote the personal political views of hyper-conservative Ezra Taft Benson to prove their political faith is a branch of Mormonism, while ignoring the opposing views of the liberal Hugh B. Brown.

I fear some have unwittingly reached the point where their political religion has eclipsed their religion. That fits our definition of idolatry. I know that sounds harsh, but many people I know are puzzled by how some LDS politicians can read King Benjamin's sermon in the Book of Mormon and say the things they say.

I have an alternate view to the conservative religionists: Thirty years ago the United States enacted supply-side economics. Its purpose was an unjust transfer of all wealth in this nation to the wealthy, and it has been outrageously successful at this. We were told the benefits would "trickle down."

However, Franklin D. Roosevelt's economic guru, Marriner Eccles of Utah, could have told us this would create the same conditions that led to the Great Depression, making our modern Great Recession inevitable.

This, not the laziness of the unemployed, is responsible for the current economic hardship in our state.

Steve Olsen ran for Congress in 2006 and is currently chairman of the Weber County Democrats. He lives in Plain City.