One of my heroes is Hugh Nibley. I know. I know. How cliche for a Mormon Studies guy. Though it seems almost equally cliche to dismiss Nibley. In my second semester of graduate school at the University of Utah, I took a graduate seminar in ethics and public affairs. It was a small group. I was the only active Mormon. However, most of the regular participants in the seminar were very familiar with Mormonism. Jason was a returned missionary who had served in Japan. He worked at Sam Wellers Bookstore in downtown Salt Lake City. He was gay and had left the Church. Another participant in the seminar, Arlyn, was somebody I knew a bit better. He was active in the College Democrats and we had been in some classes together before. He was the youngest member in our little group. He was LDS and he came from the tiny Mormon enclave of Shelley, Idaho. He was also gay. The professor, Luke Garrott, was not LDS. However, he engaged Mormonism. This is something which none of my other professors at the University of Utah did. I never found any of my professors at Utah to be “anti-Mormon,” but instead they were completely uninterested in Mormonism. I took many of Garrott’s classes as an undergraduate. He was my graduate advisor for a time and I had been his TA. He was the person who had introduced me to Mormon historian Leonard…
This chapter (understandably) overlaps significantly with the previous chapter, Gifts. These are, after all, discourses he delivered at various times, to various audiences, with common themes. I’m reading them separately, though, and different things hit me at different readings. So, like always, I won’t discuss everything Nibley focuses on (and I’ll try to not spend too much time on things I’ve discussed previously). With that out of the way, on to the chapter.
Another confession: I had a really hard time with this chapter. And it’s not just because I read it sitting in an airport waiting for a plane that was delayed for an hour and a half. Rather, it’s because of the way Nibley speaks of the wealthy. Certain of his descriptions feel, to me, so laughably one-dimensional—so moustache-twirling, tying-the-heroine-to-the-tracks—that I find myself fighting both his prose and my instincts to not just dismiss his entire piece out of hand.
Now that I’ve read my first chapter of Approaching Zion, a couple more caveats before we get started. First, I’m not going to bother summarizing what Nibley said. Instead, I’m going to try to engage it, responding to ideas that engaged me, whether I agree or disagree. Second, I’m not going to try to engage with the full text; in Chapter 1, there were two things that really spoke to me, and one more that I’m going to mention and defer until a later installment. Feel free, in the comments, to engage with what I’ve engaged with, what I’ve said, or something else in the chapter that you feel needs to be responded to. With that, let’s go!
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.
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?
Are Mormons exclusivists or universalists?
I received an unexpected and fun email message after we began selecting the 2008 Mormon of the Year from Times and Seasons reader Last Lemming, who had made his own selections for Mormon of the Year for each year since 1950! In this first of three posts, we will include his suggestions for the years 1950 through 1969. We will follow on Wednesday morning with his picks for 1970 through 1989 and on Friday morning for 1990 through 2007. I suspect as these posts get into more familiar and more recent territory, more of you will have comments and suggestions about who Last Lemming suggested and who should have been suggested instead.