Not my favorite books by Nibley, but his favorites. I remembered seeing this list a long time ago, and finally tracked it down. Here it is in the Deseret News, October 31, 1980. (Thanks, Google. It’s also in one of the newer volumes of the Collected Works, but not one that’s online yet.) Chronicles and Satyricon are both on hold at my library now…
A new article up at First Things recounts a Catholic professor’s experience reading the Book of Mormon. Although he does not have a spiritual experience with it, he finds much to praise in its insistent focus on Christ, and some to criticize in its drabness. I rejoice whenever anyone recognizes the former, and frankly have no argument with the latter. Though any Mormon would quibble with a few things in the piece, he brings up some terrific points–I especially like the whole “grandfather’s funeral” analogy–and the whole thing is definitely worth reading. The money quote:
Mormonism is obsessed with Christ, and everything that it teaches is meant to awaken, encourage, and expand faith in him. It adds to the plural but coherent portrait of Jesus that emerges from the four gospels in a way, I am convinced, that does not significantly damage or deface that portrait.
I came to this conclusion when I read through the Book of Mormon for the first time. I already knew the basic outline: that it recounts the journey of a people God led from Jerusalem to the Americas six hundred years before the birth of Christ. In America, they split into two groups, the good guys (the Nephites) and the bad guys (the Lamanites), who battled each other until there were no good guys left—except for Moroni (Mormon’s son), who buried the chronicles of their wars and then, in 1823, told a farm boy from upstate New York where to find them.
When I actually read this book, however, I was utterly surprised. I was not moved, mind you. The Book of Mormon has to be one of the most lackluster of all the great works of literature that have inspired enduring religious movements. Yet it is dull precisely because it is all about Jesus. Continue reading
Below is the text of Hugh Nibley’s classic 1970 essay “Educating the Saints” (copied from this online source, with fair use in mind), including my notes on what we can learn from it, as teachers and students, about education. I submit that, though Nibley was writing for and about Mormons, this is the best work of fundamental values in public education ever written, and should be required reading for anyone who would be a good teacher, in any capacity.
I’ve put in bold the segments of Nibley’s text that seem particularly pertinent and powerful, followed by my 21 notes in brackets and italics. My notes are meant to interpret the ideas in the essay into general classroom policies and strategies. Looking back on these notes about a decade after I made them, when I was still a new teacher, I’m pleased to see that my work has largely been consistent with the ideas here, as I understand them.
Nibley uses Brigham Young as his model for effective education techniques, and well he should: Young took thouands of poor, illiterate, disparate immigrants and made them the foundation of a society whose descendants are disproportionately well-educated. Though one would benefit from simply perusing the bold and italicized sections, reading this whole essay would be valuable to anyone; reading it from my source will also allow you to enjoy Nibley’s 200 footnotes!
A few weeks ago, a former student groused about college tuition on Facebook, to which I cheekily replied with a favorite quote from Good Will Hunting: “You paid a hundred and fifty thousand dollars for the exact same education you could have got for a buck fifty in late charges at the library.”
Another commenter admitted that, but asked, “Who recognizes a library education?”
That’s a revealing question. It’s meant to say, obviously, that no potential employer will credit what you know based on your own reading alone. What the world wants to see is degrees and credentials. *
But here’s where the commenter’s challenging query falls short: I’ve never said that the purpose of education is to get a good job.
In a classic address, LDS apostle John A. Widstoe summarized the educational value of temple work:
Another fact has always appealed to me as a strong internal evidence for the truth of temple work. The endowment and the temple work as revealed by the Lord to the Prophet Joseph Smith (see also Doctor Talmage’s The House of the Lord) fall clearly into four distinct parts: the preparatory ordinances, the giving of instructions by lectures and representations; covenants; and, finally, tests of knowledge. I doubt that the Prophet Joseph, unlearned and untrained in logic, could of himself have made the thing so logically complete. The candidate for the temple service is prepared, as in any earthly affair, for work to be done. Once prepared he is instructed in the things that he should know. When instructed, he covenants to use the imparted knowledge, and at once the new knowledge, which of itself is dead, leaps into living life. At last, tests are given him, whereby those who are entitled to know may determine whether the man has properly learned the lesson. The brethren and sisters who go through the temple should observe all these things and recognize the wonderful coherence and logical nature of the carefully worked out system, with a beginning and an end, fitting every known law of God and nature, which constitutes temple worship.
The wonderful pedagogy of the temple service, especially appealing to me as a professional teacher, carries with it evidence of the truth of temple work. We go to the temple to be informed and directed, to be built up and to be blessed. How is all this accomplished? First by the spoken word, through lectures and conversations, just as we do in the class room, except with more elaborate care, then by the appeal to the eye by representations by living, moving beings; and by pictorial representations in the wonderfully decorated rooms (as any one may see in Dr. Talmage’s book.) Meanwhile the recipients themselves, the candidates for blessings, engage actively in the temple service as they move from room to room, with the progress of the course of instruction. Altogether our temple worship follows a most excellent pedagogical system. I wish instruction were given so well in every school throughout the land, for we would then teach with more effect than we now do.
Indeed. As an educator myself, I’ve always been impressed with how effectively the “lesson plan” of the endowment is put together. I’ve often outlined it in my head as I’ve gone there, wondering if I could reproduce such a complex yet organically coherent structure in my own lessons. I’ve largely given up on that, though: I realize that the best means for teaching the gospel may not necessarily be the best means for teaching grammar.
Still, I think examining the pedagogy (teaching strategies and methods) of the temple, in the manner of apostles like Elder Widstoe and Elder Talmage, can assist us in our worship and discipleship. Continue reading
This morning, First Thoughts featured a link to a new tool called “I Write Like…” where writers can compare their work to the styles of famous authors. The site is clearly an ad for a publishing agency, and gives wildly illogical results: for example, though it correctly identified the first chapter of Huck Finn for me as written in the style of Mark Twain and the short story “Araby” as by James Joyce, it also said the first chapter of Genesis (King James Version) was in the style of Kurt Vonnegut and that the first few paragraphs of Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” sounded like H.P. Lovecraft. Those comparisons are plausible, I suppose, but still a bit far-fetched.
The site does not provide any commentary on its analyses, nor does it even explain its program’s methodology. Such background information would make this much more enjoyable. As it is, it’s little more than a cute novelty.
However, as I played with this toy, I thought about the issue of Book of Mormon authorship. Though this would hardly be a scholarly study, I wondered what this site would say about it: does all of the text seem to come from one author, or many? Does it sound like Joseph Smith? (Though, to be fair, “I Write Like…” surely doesn’t have Smith in its program, nor is it consistent: in the space of two pages, Faulkner’s short story goes from sounding like Lovecraft, apparently, to Vladimir Nabokov. My test here is purely facetious fun.)
1 Nephi chapter 1 is written in the style of cyberpunk master William Gibson. (Strange, I don’t remember Nephi spending much time dwelling on malevolent artificial intelligence. Perhaps the desert wilderness into which his family was exiled was the Matrix?)
1 Nephi 22 sounds like Daniel Defoe. Makes sense. Nephi Robinson and Lehi Crusoe sure could have used Friday.
Alma chapter 1 could have come from the pen of Jane Austen, it says. Continue reading
During a recent session in the temple, I was hit with particular force that we are to study the law of consecration not in general, not in a vacuum, but specifically as it is taught in the Doctrine and Covenants. Besides the factual and motivational information I’ve found in this brief project so far, I’ve been impressed that this aspect of the gospel agrees so well with our growing emphasis on charity and service, as per President Monson (best exemplified in adding “care for the poor and needy” to the mission of the Church).
So I’ve been trying to read up on this basic celestial law, from sources that focus on its development in the D&C. First, not surprisingly, I looked it up in the index to the scriptures. This list includes all those in the Topical Guide, plus several others:
See also Common; Devote; Equal; Inheritance; Order; Poor; Property; Substance; United Order; Zion
D&C 42: 30-39 (D&C 51: 2-19; D&C 58: 35-37) principles of consecration explained.
D&C 42: 30, 39 consecrate of thy properties for support of the poor.
D&C 42: 32 consecrated properties not to be taken from church.
D&C 49: 20 one man should not possess above another.
D&C 51: 3 every man equal according to his family.
D&C 51: 5 transgressor not to have claim upon portion consecrated to bishop.
D&C 58: 36 (D&C 85: 3) a law for inheritance in Zion.
D&C 78: 5 order established that saints may be equal in bonds of heavenly and earthly things.
D&C 83: 6 storehouse kept by consecrations.
D&C 105: 5 Zion can only be built up by principles of celestial law.
D&C 105: 29 lands to be purchased according to laws of consecration.
D&C 105: 34 let commandments concerning Zion’s law be executed and fulfilled.
D&C 124: 21 bishop to receive consecrations of the Lord’s house.
The next source I thought of was the CES manual for the D&C. It has an essay in the appendix which is entirely devoted to teaching the law of consecration. This may have been the best single source for what I was studying. One of the many useful things in this section of the text was this series of self-analysis questions:
1. Are you contributing to or detracting from a spirit of unity in your home? in your ward or branch? in the Church as a whole?
2. Is your life in harmony with the Spirit of the Holy Ghost so that you will contribute to a unity of thought and action in the kingdom?
3. Do you truly have an attitude of consecration? Is your primary concern in life to consecrate everything you have or with which you will be blessed to the building up of Zion and the Church on the earth?
4. Do you have enough confidence in your commitment to truly say, “I am willing to sacrifice anything and everything for God”?
The third of the official sources I used for this study was BYU’s Scripture Citation Index, where I looked up the references given in the index, to see how they had been used in general conferences. Continue reading
After reading this great post about the ten books that most influenced an author over at First Thoughts (one of my favorite blogs) a few weeks ago, I’ve been working on my own list. The list changed drastically over a few drafts, and I’ve been surprised by the final results.
These are not necessarily my favorite books (though many of them are), nor are they what I’d consider the best books I’ve read (though, again, some of them are). These are the books that have most contributed to who I am today. For better or for worse, these are the ones that stuck with me, changed me, that left some deep imprint impossible to explain me now without.
The only caveat here is that I decided not to include any scripture on this list. For it to be accurate, they should be on here, but I ran into too many problems. Should I count them all as one monolithic book called “Scripture,” separate them into Standard Works, or separate them even further into individual texts by author? The more I broke them down, the more I had to wrangle with how to rank them. It got too thorny, and I just decided to ignore that altogether for this list.
The original list at First Thoughts, along with many of the comments afterwards, cheated by doubling up on books and squeezing more than ten onto these “top ten” lists. This draft has significantly fewer than my first couple, but I’ve still elected to cheat, also. My top ten list has twelve titles. If you really want to be a purist, cut off the last two.
I’ve listed them here roughly in order of just how much they’ve shaped me, and I’ve included the general period in my life when I read them.
1. Hugh Nibley, Nibley On the Timely and the Timeless (college). This isn’t my favorite Nibley book (his Book of Mormon works or Approaching Zion would probably get that nod), but this “greatest hits” collection deeply impressed me at the time with its range of classical literacy to social criticism to studious, spiritual discipleship. It was the first Nibley book I read cover to cover, and started me on the path to the rest of his oeuvre. The way that I read scripture, study history, and understand the practical relations between things ancient, esoteric, and pragmatically modern are all heavily influenced by his life and work (though, since reading his biography–which I took with me to read on my honeymoon because it had just come out and I couldn’t wait to start it–I have attenuated this idolizing a bit and tried to expand my circle of influence). Undeniably, his books have had more of a profound effect on me than any other. I bought an old copy from E-bay several years ago…right before it was reprinted in a new edition.
2. Hopkins and Sugerman, No One Here Gets Out Alive (high school). I owe this one to my older brother. Like all boys, I worshipped my older brother, so when I was old enough to emulate his adoration of classic rock, I followed suit. I came across this biography of Doors frontman Jim Morrison and devoured it. For a moody, pretentious adolescent, it provided a role model worthy of my own egomaniacal imagination. This book’s influence reached far beyond my devoted memorizing of every note on the legendary Best of the Doors two CD set. Even back then, I would read biographies with an eye especially keen for what great people had done at my age. Morrison had been, above all, a voracious, even a ferocious, reader, and a nascent poet.
My own forays into poetry reading and writing were not terribly productive (though I still like The Lords and the New Creatures), the titles and authors cited by Hopkins and Sugerman as formative on Morrison–James Joyce, Jack Kerouac, the Romantics and French Symbolists–became my bread and butter for years, and sprouted branches of further influence that still dominate what I read today. Though I certainly no longer emulate Morrison or his lifestyle, I can’t deny that this book has had a huge impact on me over the years. Just last week I was flipping through radio stations and heard “L.A. Woman,” and I fondly paused to listen to some of it. This book may be dormant, but it is in my DNA. Continue reading
During this morning’s session of General Conference, Elder Richard G. Scott of the Twelve Apostles spoke about applying the Atonement of Jesus Christ in our lives and improving our understanding of it; he said near the end of his talk that we should all “establish a personal study plan to better understand that Atonement.”
Two things that I’ve read came quickly to mind. The first is the chapter called “Atonement” from Jeffrey R. Holland’s book, Christ and the New Covenant, which is one of the best books on the Book of Mormon that I’ve ever read. This one chapter is about 50 pages long, and is a supremely comprehensive yet readable analysis of what the Book of Mormon teaches about the Savior’s atoning sacrifice. Sadly, this work isn’t available online, but it’s available fairly cheaply from Amazon.
The other thing I’d recommend is the last chapter of Hugh Nibley’s book, Approaching Zion, called, “The Meaning of the Atonement.” This is available online here, and explores the symbolism and spiritual significance of the Atonement, from multiple perspectives.
I’ll read through both of these as soon as possible as a start, and see where my study can go from there.
Every time I drive through St. George, Utah, whoever’s in the car with me gets treated to a rant spurred by this billboard. It’s been there for years and it’s hard to miss: it’s almost due east of the St. George Temple, ironically. My problem isn’t with Starbucks or Ralph Lauren specifically–I consider coffee and name brand clothing to be bad things only insofar as God has commanded us to abstain from them–but for anyone to use the name “Zion” to advertise them is a gross affront to that holy word. Imagine a store called “Jesus’s Sporting Goods,” or an ad for a restaurant showing a sacred symbol of any religion as an attempt to promote that restaurant. Anyone should see how wildly inappropriate that would be.
And yet, here we are: the name of Zion being used to hock things that simply aren’t compatible with Zion. Now, I’m sure that whoever runs this mall or made the billboard has the geographical designation of the nature park in mind, and may not even be familiar with the LDS Church; furthermore, they’ve probably heard this complaint from many others before. Still, at least it stands as a reminder to those of us devoted to building Zion of what a careless attitude towards it may lead to: a watered-down mixture of Zion and Babylon, worthless and spiritual in name only.
But the label game reaches its all-time peak of skill and effrontery in the Madison Avenue master stroke of pasting the lovely label of Zion on all the most typical institutions of Babylon: Zion’s Loans, Zion’s Real Estate, Zion’s Used Cars, Zion’s Jewelry, Zion’s Supermart, Zion’s Auto Wrecking, Zion’s Outdoor Advertising, Zion’s Gunshop, Zion’s Land and Mining, Zion’s Development, Zion’s Securities. All that is quintessentially Babylon now masquerades as Zion. –Hugh Nibley, “What Is Zion?”
This post is not meant to explain the many astronomical references in the Book of Abraham. I’m not a scientist; I’m an English teacher. My interest is in analyzing why those astronomical references are there: what function do they serve? After studying them, I find that they consistently testify of the doctrines of Christ.
The Pearl of Great Price itself is a fascinating text, and ironic. By far the smallest of the standard works, this tiny anthology is not a series of testimonies, a record of covenants, or a detailed collection of exegesis and exhortations, like most other scriptural works are. No, The Pearl of Great Price is far too ambitious for that. Just about the only thing it does is reveal the most important saving truths of eternity, connecting us directly to the Lord.
Consider that the Bible Dictionary identifies seven major dispensations throughout world history: those begun by Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus Christ, and Joseph Smith. Now glance through The Pearl of Great Price and notice whose records it amplifies: in order–Moses, Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Jesus Christ, and Joseph Smith.
Consider that in the Doctrines of the Gospel manual for church classes, the Pearl of Great Price, which comprises less than 2½% of the standard works (61 out of 2475 pages), represents about 10% of the scriptures cited in the index (nearly a whole page out of nine and a half printed pages), an impressively disproportionate total. If The Pearl of Great Price were a basketball player, it’d be one foot tall and five times better than Michael Jordan.
I labor this point because it relates directly to the use of astronomical information in The Pearl of Great Price’s Book of Abraham. These often confusing ideas about space and time are not a primer for astronomy as much as they are meant to add to our understanding of those massive spiritual truths with which this volume was designed to enlighten us.
One of my favorite physical evidences for God comes from Hugh Nibley’s essay, “Before Adam:”
Here we get what is perhaps the most striking instance of “anthrocentric cosmology.” An astronomer (I think at Notre Dame) recently calculated the probability of a planet in the solar system having a moon (just one moon, at that) that subtended exactly the same arc in the sky as does the sun from the surface of the same planet. The chances are astronomically remote, so remote, indeed, that there seems to be something deliberate about what is otherwise a stunning coincidence. From no other point of view in all the universe will the sun and the moon have exactly the same size.
I had never thought of that before. The moon is a fraction of Earth’s size and a couple of hundred thousand miles away; the sun is thousands of times larger than Earth and millions of miles away. Yet, from the perspective of a human on Earth, they appear to be about the same size. The odds of the ratio between those sizes and distances being a coincidence seems extremely unlikely. This perfectly balanced proportioning results in the awesome spectacle of total eclipses, where the moon exactly blocks out the sun. It’s truly awe-inspiring.
“All things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator.” Alma 30:44
Students of the Book of Mormon are familiar with the “pride cycle,” that part of Helaman edited to warn us about society’s tendency to become morally slack in times of wealth. An equally important observation is given in the second half of Ether, a sequence that might be called “The Power Cycle,” or even “The Politics Cycle,” as it shows us the ruin brought upon communities when selfish leaders claw their way to the top by any means necessary.
Mormon edited the pride cycle; the power cycle is the work of his son, Moroni, who writes it as a cold, hard overview of a civilization’s tragic tunnel vision, its refusal to learn and remember its own lessons. Time and again over hundreds of years, those in authority indulge in petty games of power, to the detriment of their people, who themselves often fall into general wickedness as their leaders fail to guide them in more spiritual paths. Moroni’s commentary in these chapters gives us some of the Book of Mormon’s clearest inspiration (the rejection of the prophet Ether’s ministry is Moroni’s launching point for his famous sermon about the power of faith) and direct instruction (such as his declarations in Ether 8 that he’s writing all of this so that readers in the last days will “repent of your sins” and “be persuaded to do good continually“).
Perhaps most significantly for contemporary readers, no specific ideology is identified with any of the scores of unworthy leaders who hinder their people over time–one bad leader is often overthrown by another who turns out to be equally bad. Let’s remember this on election days.
Though I’ve added and changed some elements, my notes below are based mostly upon Hugh Nibley’s work, “The Prophetic Book of Mormon,” from the book of the same name.
|THE POWER CYCLE||Greed/wickedness/lust for power||Prophets minister||People repent?||Result of repenting or not|
|Round 1||7:4-7||n/a||Yes, 7:13||Posterity, 7:14|
|2||7:15-17||7:23-24||Yes, 7:25-26||Prosperity & peace, 7:26-27|
|3||8:2-19, 9:1-11||n/a||n/a||Genocide/destruction, 9:12|
|4 –Happiness 9:13-25||9:26-27||9:28-29||Yes, 9:34-35||Revival, 9:35|
|5—Happiness, 10:1-4||10:5-15||n/a||n/a||Finally, a righteous leader / people prosper, 10:16|
|6—Happiness, 10:17-29||10:30-34||11:1-3||No: prophets rejected, 11:5||“Great calamity,” 11:6|
|7||11:7||n/a||Yes, 11:8||“mercy,” 11:8|
|8||11:10-11||11:12||No: prophets rejected, 11:13||Ongoing wickedness, 11:14-16|
|9||11:17-19||11:20-21||No: prophets rejected, 11:22||n/a (status quo)|
|10||n/a||12:2-3||No: Ether rejected, 13:13,17,22||“Great war,” 13:15
“Ceased not,” 13:22
Theft, paranoia, selfishness, 14:1-2
Total destruction, 15:12-30
When I taught a lesson to the youth in our church last year about the Word of Wisdom, I asked them why we don’t drink or smoke. “Because it’s unhealthy,” they droned, parroting the expected answer by rote.
“Nope,” I said. “That has nothing to do with it. Let me ask you this: is drinking alcohol, for example, a terrible thing that immediately brings misery?” “Yes,” they replied, this time sounding pleased to be giving back the obviously righteous response.
“Not likely,” I answered. “I don’t know know for myself, but I imagine that getting drunk must be a lot of fun, since millions of people volunteer to do it in their spare time. So why don’t we drink alcohol, then?”
At this point, perceptive people will chime in with something like, “Because the Lord said not to.”
“Exactly,” I say. “That’s the difference between whether or not something is a sin.”
I approach subjects this way because I worry that when we demonize everything that we want people to avoid, we give those things a power that they don’t deserve; we glamorize them and set them up as the standard objects of indulgence when rebellion will rear its ugly head. A little more honesty strips them of that power.
I’m reminded of some people I’ve known who might fit this cautionary pattern: the high school-age boy who suddenly stopped being a role model of righteousness because he tried and suddenly realized the pleasure of popular sins (“Hey guys,” a typical discussion around that period might go, “our leaders were totally wrong about how awful sin is; it rocks!”), or the girl described as the “sweet spirit” of the singles ward who got tired of being passed over and changed her wardrobe and standards; as soon as she started sleeping with guys–surprise!–she had a serious boyfriend within a month.