Hand-in-Glove with the Persecutors of the Church

[Excerpt from an interview with Sterling Van Wagenen and Alex Nibley in 1983]

It has always been said by the Prophet Joseph Smith and Brigham that the Saints would be sorely tempted, and the nearer we were to promoting the Gospel the harder Satan would work, the more subtly he would work. [He would] never use a crude frontal attack or anything like that, but his main effort was in the bosom of the Saints. That was where he was really going to do his dirty work.

Now isn’t it an interesting thing that everything is going the same way today? We do not have two parties or anything else anymore. Everything is going into one direction. He’s working awfully hard. He’s been very successful, apparently. No, the  idea [is that] that there is no longer any struggle going on, as if he’d won, as far as that goes.

Utah is so…Notice where the church is always being fought…where the church has always received the most savage…resistance everywhere in the deep South. But…we are imitating the deep South here. We match Mississippi more closely than any other state in various things now: in our morality, in our politics, in our views of things, in our self-righteousness and in our intolerance. It’s a very interesting thing now how this heavy opposition that’s coming out of this film, you know, The God Makers and so forth, and this stuff they’re doing down in Arizona. This is done by the by the Moral Majority people, people like that with which so many Mormons are trying to identify themselves. We think like them, you see. They’re all of this right-wing war-mongering and all this sort of thing — we’re hand-in-glove with that crowd which have always been the persecutors of the church. The interesting thing is they still are. They don’t like us. They won’t let us get into bed with them. They won’t. They hate it, you see, these ministers. And that, I think is amusing.

Some people would love to join up with them as far as that goes…people…that would just love to cooperate with these people and try to capitalize on their common interests. But Mormonism is anathema for them. As long as you leave Joseph Smith out, that’s fine. Forget The Book of Mormon and so forth, but otherwise nothing is dirty enough to say about the Mormons. So, that’s interesting, isn’t it? We’ve got to be ourselves, after all, whether we choose or not, you see. The Lord is forcing us to be that way.

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Forty Easters Ago

[Reminiscence from Alex Nibley]

In the spring of 1973, Dad decided we should take advantage of Conference weekend for a jaunt to visit the Hopi reservation in Northern Arizona. He had heard that the Hopis were going to perform one of their sacred dances for the last time, and he wanted to see it before it vanished from the earth.

It was a strange crew: Dad, my brother Mike, BYU basketball star Kresimir Cosic, an Okinawan woman who was a convert to Mormonism, and seventeen-year-old me. We all piled into our aging Plymouth. Kreso coiled his seven-foot frame into the front seat and Mike and I shared the back seat with the Okinawan, who was maybe five feet tall in high heels and a classic east Asian lotus blossom. Dad said she was some kind of princess in her own country; I’m not sure exactly why she ended up in that back seat of our Plymouth driving through the desert subject to heat (Dad was always suspicious of air conditioning and wouldn’t turn it on even when we had it in a car) and the merciless teasing of the grinning Croatian in the front seat.

I really wish I could find a way to fit the seven-foot Yugoslavian basketball star and the diminutive Okinawan princess into the story in a way that makes sense — the two of them going back and forth in their respective accents almost unintelligible to the Americans in the car much less each other. The Croat caustic, rude — every word a jibe or a sarcastic retort all in broken English. The Asian with impeccable Japanese manners and equally broken English who, even when she understood his words, had no clue what the giant in front of her was saying, since sarcasm in Japanese doesn’t work like Croatian sarcasm translated into very bad English. I guess I feel a need to mention this odd pair because it contributes to the felliniesque nature of my memories of that trip. Like an image in a dream it was something I could never make up in my conscious mind.

But the story is not about them.

On the day before the dance, which was to be on Easter Sunday, we visited an old Hopi man whom Dad had known for decades. Dad used to buy kachina dolls from him. When we went to his house below one of the mesas, Dad asked him if he was going to the dance the next day. No, the man said. He had joined a Christian church, and his pastor had admonished him against participating in the old Hopi rituals. His religion wouldn’t allow him to attend the Hopi dance.

It’s hard to remember Hugh Nibley getting angry in a discussion about religion. Usually he took attacks in stride and found them stimulating rather than making him lose his tempter. I had certainly never seen anything provoke such an immediate and negative response from him than the old Hopi telling him that his preacher wouldn’t allow him to attend the dance.

“Don’t you know,” Dad said, getting right in the old Hopi’s face, “these are the same danced Jesus did at Easter time!”

But the old Hopi still wouldn’t go to the dance.

Forty years later I still remember fox skin aprons and the feathers the dancers wore and their sense of purpose, their clarity and simplicity in repeating the exact movements their ancestors had made generations before. I can hear in my mind the melody and rhythm of the song the Hopis sang as they danced. I remember how moved Dad was by the dancing and how connected he felt to this land and this people who were so far removed from his Edwardian upbringing in Los Angeles.

What the sarcastic seven-foot Croat and the diminutive princess from Okinawa thought of it all I can’t say.

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A Strange World in which East and West, Past and Present Intermingle

[Excerpt of a letter to Margaret Reid Sloan, Hugh's grandmother. This letter was written from the Military Intelligence training center at Camp Ritchie, Maryland when Hugh was preparing to go overseas. It's also interesting that this letter was written before Hugh began his study of Egyptian.]

June, 1943

The past few days I spent in New York among the wonderful Egyptian collections there. The Egyptians are so different from every other ancient people that one hardly knows what to make of them. They are the only people we know of who deliberately planned to convey information to other ages than their own. They had one abiding passion — to conquer time and nullify its power. The devices they try are sometimes pathetic, sometimes ingenious and, strangely enough, sometimes successful. I shall tell you more about that when I have located a couple of manuscripts which I have been seeking thruout the libraries of the east.

From these oddly preoccupied ramblings you will see that I am living in a strange world in which East and West, past and present, are wildly intermingled. This is part of a process of tying things together — an ambitious project for which I am by no means well suited or situated, but which I feel must be undertaken. I have been talking to the best scholars everywhere and everywhere it is the same story — they are interested only in their careers and think of everything in terms of reputation and promotion. They are all looking for projects that will “pay off” without too much work and seek not knowledge but only to exploit what they know. “Every man walketh after the image of his own heart, which is the image of the world.”

I must confess with some shame that the rough, restless and unscrupulous ways of Combat Intelligence are rather well suited if not actually agreeable to my temperament. This is a way of life that does not pretend to be a finer thing than it is. Our peace-time life, of which we have suddenly grown so sentimental, was too often a drab and embittered domesticity or a meanly acquisitive manipulation of others, a la Dale Carnegie, for what we could get out of them.

One arrives at these hard judgments of our times by comparing them with the image of what should be. For me, as I have often said, you are that image. With what justice could you complain against fate, with what unanswerable arguments condemn the world! But of course you do nothing of the sort. A nature so totally devoid of anything negative or dark gives the same joy to the beholder as a perfect work or art. If you were only feeble-minded or simply not aware of things, such an aloofness from evil would still be wonderful–for dullness can be perfectly intimate with folly. But to be wholly alive and at the same time wholly generous is an angelic achievement.

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What is Worth Knowing in Comparison with Arabic?

[Letter, 1948]

As you know Phyllis is at it again, and so little Fireball must be weaned. She doesn’t like the idea and neither do I, for now I am as capable of feeding her at all hours of the night as anybody else, and the obligation lies heavy upon me since my otherwise fairly cooperative wife has been threatening a miscarriage which has put her flat on her back. Does that add to my labors? It does.

I have lost roughly 104 pounds since our return to Shangri-la. However to while away the idle hours, and because singularly advantageous opportunities were offered, I have taken up Persian. In three weeks I am able to read the stuff with greater ease than I could Arabic after 13 years! The irony of it – if we had been spending all that time on ANYthing but Arabic we could all be experts. But what can you suggest that is worth knowing in comparison with Arabic? Even Greek loses its challenges after 20 years – which is about the time when you are ready for lesson five in the language of the Koran.

Last Saturday being a whooping, howling blizzard I spent the entire day at the Kaders – we had a joyous time: old Mose divulges a little more each visit. Their kids are amazingly bright – no one can ever tell me that the Arab is the intellectual inferior of anyone on earth. The only difference between the mental gifts of East & West is that occasionally rather stupid characters DO turn up among the Sons of The Desert – a thing which fortunately for us never happens in the West, not, at least, since the establishment of universal compulsory education.

Think of it, Mrs. Kader can’t read or write a line of any language, poor woman: so to cover up her mental deficiency she learns a book by heart when it is read to her once, and since she cannot read epic poetry (as all Americans do, being literate) she must perforce speak it. I used to think it was an accident of geography that had enabled the Arab to maintain his ways unchanged thru the ages and all that, yet apart from all physical considerations these people have an honesty, simplicity, toughness, and good humor…[T]hese wonderfully uncomplicated people are less like animals than the most civilized Westerner – vivid, nervous, imaginative, generous, impulsive and extremely moral…It is that forthright and magnanimous quality which makes your friend Col. Myres (Meier, Meyer, etc.) a Pearl of Great Price amid all the bargain-counter jewels. There is something magnificent about that man – an antique simplicity coupled with an honest shrewdness that recalls a better humanity; such a one the godlike Odysseus must have been. Altogether I have to admit that with all their politics, intrigue, cast, and chicanery the military are actually far nearer to the natural state of man than those monsters of system and monuments of self-deception which represent business & the arts.

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Hugh Nibley, World’s Worst Politician

[Excerpt from a story by Alex Nibley from the ebook Beyond Politics by Hugh Nibley]

Hugh Nibley was a paradox.

As I wrote in the book we wrote together, Sergeant Nibley PhD: Memories of an Unlikely Screaming Eagle, he was a scholar who didn’t believe in war, but who never expressed any regret for having enlisted, even though it meant enduring a long parade of horror that included a front row seat watching the worst of human frailty up-close and personal from the beaches of Normandy to Dachau.

He often quoted Joseph Smith’s pessimistic appraisal of mankind’s inability to govern itself. But he also participated in the political process with the same commitment and energy he gave to the military, another institution for which he had scant regard.

He had no patience with jingoism; but he always flew the flag on holidays.

In the most Republican county of the most Republican state in America, he was (usually) an outspoken Democrat. When Democratic campaigns asked him to put a yard sign on his lawn, his standard response was, “You better give me two so I’ll have a backup when the first one gets stolen.”

On any given day he could express opinions that were anywhere from the extreme left to the far right. Though he generally leaned left, his closest friends — and the ones with whom he actually discussed politics most — tended to be far to the right. And they enjoyed their clashes of ideas; they were robust, energetic comparisons of ideas and ideals, with little resemblance to the name-calling schoolyard squabbles that usually passes for human self-governance.

I remember well when I was first becoming politically aware at the age of twelve in 1968. Dad spoke out strongly against the election of Richard Nixon, wanted very badly for him never to be the president and made no secret of his opinions, which he conveyed often with his inimitable acerbic vitriol. He had a lot to say, and none of it nice, about the man who even before he became president was known as “Tricky Dicky”. But the memory that is strongest in my mind is when, soon after Nixon won, I was astonished to hear Dad say, “The office itself often has a salutary effect on the man who fills it. I believe the presidency has the potential to have that kind of effect on Nixon, and we should certainly now support him and give him a chance to succeed.”

In our family prayers there was always mention of political leaders and their need for special divine guidance.

By today’s political standards, Hugh Nibley was difficult to define. On our blog, HughNibley.net, a reader recently commented on a posting pulled from a 1983 interview, “I had no idea [Hugh Nibley] was such an idiotic liberal.” But he has also been attacked in public as overly conservative. Often those who admire him are those who are furthest from him in political philosophy. He laughs at humanity’s puerile exercise in running things on their own, like teenagers left alone in the house for a weekend, but he was not nonpolitical or apolitical any more than he was a pacifist in World War II, though he hated the war and the military. He neither avoided politics and what he considered his duty as a citizen to be involved, nor did he back off on beliefs he held when he came under attack.

For me, as an observer of both politics and my father, it raises difficult questions. In a world that seeks above all to divide everything into neat sets of polarities in opposition to each other, he doesn’t fit any category easily. We like things either Red or Blue. It makes it so much easier to know what name to shout in triumph and which to shout in derision. But one thing I learned early on was that my father was not interested in easy answers. I learned this because this guy who was supposed to know so much, the guy people came to see at our house on pilgrimages from all over the world to get the answers their questions, rarely in his life ever gave me a straight answer to any question.

“What about this, Dad?”

“Well, the early Fathers thought this, but Aquinas said that. You can look it up here.”

“Dad, it’s in Greek.”

“Yes, but it’s very easy Greek.”

One incident stands out in my mind, and only in the light of the acrimony of our recent ultra-polarized politics have I come to understand the lesson of the time I discovered my father was the world’s worst politician.

Beyond Politics is now available on the iBookstore

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Video: Christina Nibley Mincek Speaks at Hugh Nibley’s Funeral

Few people realize that for many years Hugh Nibley was an avid amateur nature photographer. A common theme in his photographs is small people juxtaposed against monumental, overwhelming landscapes. One example is the picture here of Hugh’s sons Paul (left) and Tom in Provo Canyon with Bridal Veil Falls in the background, taken around 1956.

Hugh Nibley was an avid nature photographer.

A note about the music used in the video of Christina Nibley Mincek speaking at HN’s funeral: Once, when he had just returned from the place he loved the most, Southern Utah, Hugh was playing a favorite record, Bach’s Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue in D Minor, and as he listened he said he always felt moved to listen to that particular piece after returning from the redrock country because he knew of nothing else that could match the grandeur of the Zion Canyon. The brief selection we’ve used in the video here is played by Kelly Richardson; a recording of the full Fantasy (though not the fugue) is here, recorded by Wilhelm Kempff in 1945, which we believe is the version HN used to listen to after his jaunts to Zion.

Hugh Nibley died eight years ago today, February 24, 2005.

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Nibley Goes Multimedia – Beyond Politics Available on the iBookstore

We can now announce that the first of what we expect to be many multimedia ebook based on Hugh Nibley’s writings in now available in the iBook store.

Beyond Politics Cover

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Hugh Nibley & Associates, a company owned by the family of the late Hugh Nibley, has released a multimedia eBook edition of his classic essay Beyond Politics with multimedia supplemental materials.

In Beyond Politics HN explores the inherent and ongoing conflict between religion and politics. Nibley probes fundamental questions that concern any religious person interested in earthly government: How is the government of man different from the government of God? What are our obligations and responsibilities to each?

Thought-provoking, insightful and sometimes startling, this multimedia “Nibley Digital Edition” takes the classic essay written in 1973 and updates it with a wealth of features to make it accessible and enjoyable to a new generation. With ideas as fresh as today’s headlines, this Nibley Digital Edition puts those thoughts together with an easy-to-use electronic form that feels as if they were made to go together.

For those who have heard of Nibley’s stature as a scholar but have been intimidated by his scholarship, this Digital Edition makes his insights accessible to virtually anyone — Mormon or non-Mormon, highly educated or just interested in what’s going on in the world. Now there’s no reason anyone can’t benefit from the valuable spiritual and philosophical principles articulated by one of Mormonism’s most significant thinkers. For the Nibley aficionado, Beyond Politics Digital Edition also offers the full footnoted essay with supplemental materials to add context and deeper understanding of Nibley’s thinking.

Multimedia features include:

  • An “Easy Reading” abridged version of the essay without footnotes and fewer scholarly references
  • The full unabridged essay with hyperlinked footnotes
  • A thirty-minute interview with Senator Bob Bennett on politics, religion and Hugh Nibley
  • Nibley’s original prologue adapted in graphic novel style with original artwork
  • An original essay on Hugh Nibley’s personal political activities by Alex Nibley, his son and co-author of his World War II memoir Sergeant Nibley PhD: Memories of an Unlikely Screaming Eagle.

We are hoping to make future versions available on other devices, but this one will only work on an iPad. In the meantime, stay tuned for further announcements.

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