I have a confession to make: I’ve never read Hugh Nibley’s Approaching Zion. I’m serious. I mean, I bought it years ago, probably before my oldest daughter was born. I’ve lugged it through at least six or seven moves. And it’s sitting on my bookshelf, taking up valuable real estate. But, though I’ve nibbled here and there, I’ve never even read a complete chapter.[fn1]
It seems an odd oversight, frankly: in Approaching Zion, Nibley describes what constitutes a Zion society, and what we need to do to establish such a Zion society; I’m deeply interested in how society and the law can promote social justice and a better world. So it seems like a natural fit, right?
I have two theories for why I haven’t, up until now, actually read the book. First, I do most of my pleasure reading on public transportation. And, at nearly 640 pages, Approaching Zion is not the kind of book I can comfortably slide into my messenger bag, then pull out when I’m standing, holding a strap, and trying to balance. Their Fair Share? Perfect for the train. The Benefit and the Burden? Great for the bus. Approaching Zion? No.
Second, based on the little I’ve read, I’m deeply skeptical of his project. I’m a fan of (properly-regulated) capitalism; I worked at a white shoe law firm and now work in legal academia—meritocracy is the life I’ve chosen.[fn2]
Still, skeptical or not, I feel like my spiritual/intellectual life is the poorer for not having read Approaching Zion.[fn3] And so, the Approaching Zion Project: I plan on (finally) reading the book, and blogging my reactions to it. And I’d love to have others’ participation, too, whether you’ve never read it, read it a long time ago, or read it recently. I plan on taking it one chapter at a time. I won’t blog more than one chapter a week, though I don’t promise any regularity to the posts.[fn4] If you’ve got your copy taking up shelf space, I’d love it if you pulled the book down and read along. (And if you don’t have it and don’t want to spend the money on it, the Maxwell Institute has it posted on the Institute’s website.)
The first substantive post in my Approaching Zion Project[fn5] will deal with Chapter 1: Our Glory or Our Condemnation.
[fn1] Well, that’s not entirely true: I read the Forward a couple hours ago, before sitting down to write this. But that doesn’t really count, given that it was written by Don Norton, not Hugh Nibley, and it basically just summarizes what is to come.
[fn2] I do prefer that my meritocratic society come with a healthy dose of safety net, fwiw.
[fn3] I admit, having a poorer intellectual life doesn’t always motivate me to do the things I haven’t done: I was proud to get an English degree at BYU having never read a Jane Austen novel. And, though I’ve seen several movie and BBC adaptions of her novels, I’ve still not read one. Unless you count Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, of course.
[fn4] Why not? Basically, with finals coming up, several conferences that I need to prepare professional papers for, kids to take care of and play with, Twitter sitting there calling my name, my new tax blog to update on a semi-regular basis, the Brigham Young biography vying for my pleasure-reading time, and the fact that spring has finally come to Chicago, I can’t be sure how much time I’ll be able to devote to this project during any given week. Sorry.
[fn5] I also debated calling this the Approaching Zion Experience, but arbitrarily decided against it.