Saturday, March 05, 2005

My own thoughts on Hugh Nibley

I never had the privilege, as Barney did, of knowing Hugh Nibley personally; but I include myself among those thousands who have benefited over the years from his books, lectures, and essays, and will continue to do so far into the future. In noting his passing, I am led to reflect anew on the relationship between scholarship and the gospel, as he was a man who lived fully in both worlds.

Some time ago, I read a published statement to the effect that Latter-day Saints were the only religious group in the world for which there was empirical proof that the more educated a member was, the more likely it was that he or she would be an active participant of the faith, as measured by the usual indicia of religiosity, such as church attendance, scripture study, prayer, tithe paying, etc. I am a convert to the Church, and one of the first things that ever really struck me about Mormons was that so many of them were intelligent, accomplished, highly educated people. Excepting the Book of Mormon itself, no book influenced my own decision to convert more than did The Faith of a Scientist, by Dr. Henry Eyring, a world-renowned chemist and father of the current apostle. (In fact, there was an article about him in the textbook for my high-school chemistry class in Mississippi.) The missionaries gave me a copy of that wonderful little book, which I read several times, and which helped to persuade me that a church in which someone like Dr. Eyring could fit comfortably would probably be a good place for me as well. It has always deeply impressed me that the highest-ranking leadership in the Church includes the likes of Elders Russell M. Nelson, a world-famous heart surgeon, and Dallin H. Oaks, a respected legal scholar and former justice on the Utah Supreme Court. Elder James E. Talmage was a scientist who at one time served as president of the University of Utah, and he was a superb and gifted writer as well. (I have read Jesus the Christ about 15 times altogether, in all three of my languages; and I might add parenthetically that another noteworthy scholar, Eduardo Balderas, did a splendid job of translating this classic into Spanish.)

But all of this is as really it should be. What I regard as perhaps the two happiest commandments in the entire canon of gospel law are found in Doctrine and Covenants 88:77-79, 118. Closely related to these injunctions is the admonition of Nephi in the Book of Mormon, that to be learned is good if we hearken to the counsel of God (2 Nephi 9:28-29). I have always found myself easily drawn to people who are both deeply religious and highly educated, a combination that exists plentifully in our church and its culture.

Hugh Nibley, perhaps more than anyone else in our time, exemplified the kind of erudite spirituality that has been encouraged so much among the Latter-day Saints. In doing so, he has cast his pleasing shadow over my own life as well, perhaps in ways I don't always consciously realize. Just recently, when I was reviewing and editing my Italy e-mails for my other blog, I came across a reference to Dr. Nibley about which I had completely forgotten. It regarded something he had said about the Celestial Kingdom featuring a sort of cosmic library, wherein the literature and knowledge of all worlds were stored, and where a patron could instantly absorb the content of any particular work by merely touching it. I suppose none of us really has more than a vague idea of what the Kingdom will be like, but I myself have come to envision it as a kind of supersized version of Florence, where learning and art and creativity will bloom and flourish unimpeded by earthly concerns, and where the gifts and talents of all its inhabitants will be fully developed in ways not possible here. And I am sure Dr. Nibley has already learned a few things that he didn't know before -- perhaps from James E. Talmage, Orson Pratt, Orson F. Whitney, Karl Maeser, and others of a similar mold who have preceded him into the paradise of God, and who were surely present to greet him on his arrival. We can all look forward to the prospect of joining them there one day.


Blogger Barney said...

Garry -- I took the liberty to add links to the LDS scriptures you cited in your post (for our non-LDS readers).

2:43 PM  
Blogger Garry Wilmore said...

That's fine; in fact, it appears that when you created the links, you had not yet seen my e-mail requesting that you do exactly that.

3:04 PM  
Blogger Barney said...

Great minds think alike...

3:26 PM  

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