[Guest Posting: Excerpt from Hugh Nibley: A Consecrated Life by Boyd Jay Peterson, just released from Greg Kofford Books in a new ebook form.]
One day in the early 1950s, Hugh Nibley’s teaching assistant Curtis Wright found Hugh leaning over his desk, reading from the Book of Mormon, and laughing. Wright asked Hugh Nibley what was so funny, and he responded that he had discovered an error in the Book of Mormon.
“You did, huh?” Wright asked. “That’s interesting. Let me see it.”
Hugh handed the scriptures over to Wright and pointed to Alma 42:10, which says that humans are “carnal, sensual, and devilish, by nature.” Wright read the passage and demanded, “Well, what’s the matter with that?” Having taken classes from several BYU professors who had a very secular approach, Wright was beginning to think that Hugh might be ridiculing the Book of Mormon. “So I got a little defensive,” says Wright. Unable to conceal his contempt, Wright demanded, “How’s it a mistake?”
He responded, “Well, look at Alma, he says that all mankind is carnal, sensual, and devilish by nature. And he should’ve said they were carnal, sensual, devilish, and stupid.”
Carnal, sensual, and devilish are dramatic, even melodramatic adjectives. They are seriously and scarily sinful. By adding stupid, Hugh instantly stripped them of glamour and illustrates an important truth about human nature that he has emphasized throughout his life – his refusal to take any mortal being, including himself, very seriously. He believes that humans are stupid by nature. As she stated once during an interview: “Nobody’s very clever, nobody’s very brave, nobody’s very strong, nobody’s very wise, we’re all pretty stupid. That’s why we’re not tested in those things.” What we are tested on our what Hugh considers to be the two most important “moral qualities”: “We can forgive and we can repent, so three cheers. Let’s start repenting as of now.”
It is evident that while Hugh may not take himself or anyone else very seriously, he does take the gospel seriously. In fact, he suggests that it is this very fact that allows him to take himself lightly. “If you take yourself seriously, you won’t take the gospel seriously and the other way around. If you take the gospel seriously then you will say, ‘Now I know that man is nothing,’” stated Hugh in an interview in 1974. “Oh, the nothingness of man. We can joke about ourselves once we take the gospel seriously and once we know it’s blessings and promises. Then we can relax and breathe easily and have some fun.”