Orson Scott Card on Hugh Nibley & C.S. Lewis

Dr. Hugh Nibley lecturing

Dr. Hugh Nibley lecturing

Orson Scott Card wrote a great article today on Mormon Times, highlighting the tremendous influence that Hugh Nibley and C.S. Lewis have had on his “Christian education” over the years, but particularly when he was younger.

I couldn’t agree more with his feelings about the impact that these two scholars have had.  I’ve particularly been influenced, even fundamentally changed, by the writings of Hugh Nibley, and I’m just beginning to get into Lewis.  Like I’ve said in the past, in a way I’ve felt personally mentored by Nibley through reading his work, a sentiment shared by Orson Scott Card: 

It was a joy to spend time in his company, reading what he had to say.

He taught me, as Lewis did, that worldly intellectuals are only able to claim superiority to believers by using the dumbest examples of Christian thinking, and comparing it to the best of science; but the best of Christian (and, more particularly, Mormon) thinking takes all the findings of science and history into account, and finds no contradiction.

One thing that really impressed me, and continues to shape me, about Nibley’s work is that it was always solidly and unquestionably faithful and faith-promoting, but usually did so by placing Mormonism into the larger context of world history and science:

It comes from a rigorous scholar, who never lowers the bar to account for faith. Indeed, it was Nibley who taught me that religion must meet the same standard as science: It has to work in the real world. You have to be able to replicate the results.

I’ve always been a little shocked by how many members of the Church that I run into that have never read any of Nibley’s work, or very litte, something which Orson Scott Card also laments:

Wouldn’t that be a tragic irony if the greatest scholar, explainer and defender of Mormon doctrine in contrast to the philosophies of the world should be forgotten by his own people?

Hugh Nibley continues to be one of the Church’s most “unofficial” profound teachers and defenders of this century:

But it was Hugh Nibley, more than any other person, who actually taught me, not the gospel itself, but how to study the gospel and hold myself to the most rigorous standards as I did…

But our Christianity, the revealed religion, both ancient and modern, is nowhere better explained and applied than in the writings of Hugh Nibley.

Jump on over to Mormon Times to read the whole article.

Have you been influenced by Nibley’s work?  How so?  Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

12 Comments

  1. Posted February 19, 2009 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

    I’m not sure when I first read something by C. S. Lewis, but I suspect it was in high school, and it was most likely (as with Card) “The Screwtape Letters”. That book and “The Great Divorce” are, IMHO, two of the greatest works on the human relationship with God and with each other; I go back to them again and again. In fact, Lewis once had an impact on my dating decisions, though I won’t say I’m particularly proud of how I handled myself.

    Likewise, I first ran across Hugh Nibley in an article I read in a Church magazine while on my mission (1972-74). I couldn’t get much more of his stuff on my mission (I was in Central America), but when I got back to BYU, I started tracking down what I could (which wasn’t much; most of his writings were out of print or hard to find). I did take a class from him (a seminar on Enoch, coinciding with his series of articles in the Ensign and eventually published as Enoch the Prophet). I own and have read the complete FARMS set of Nibley’s works, and have read several of the volumes multiple times (e.g., I just recently re-read all of the Book of Mormon-related volumes).

    My own observation, particularly in the Bloggernacle, is that many of those who are quick to criticize or dismiss Nibley have actually read very little of his works. I am especially amused when critics inside or outside of the Church claim that some particular concept — for example, that not all Native Americans descend from Lehi’s band or that other peoples were here in the Americas when Jared’s or Lehi’s group arrived — is a very recent and controversial idea within the Church, when Nibley was claiming exactly that over half a century ago.

    Nibley has his flaws, foibles, and errors, but his are the shoulders upon which much of current LDS scholarship stands. Critics tends to either dismiss him or pick nits mostly (I believe) because they lack the scholarship and intellect to directly engage him. ..bruce..

  2. newellista
    Posted February 20, 2009 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    I was disappointed that by the time I got around to attending BYU, that Dr. Nibley had retired. He did come back and teach a Pearl of Great Price class one of my last semesters there, and I was lucky enough to get a seat in that class.

    I have to say that was simultaneously the most frustrating, and the most rewarding class I took during my College career. All the “urban legends” I’d heard about Dr. Nibley bringing in Greek, German, and Latin texts, and then reading from them to support his lecture, where true. Many times I was unable to hear what he was saying, since, by then, his voice was pretty soft, and he didn’t like the microphone he was supposed to wear. We were graded entirely on a paper we were assigned the last week of class. I don’t remember the topic, but I remember the topic being way over my head. I got a B- in that class. Only non A grade I got in a Religion class, (aside from the D- I got in a New Testament class as a result of a doctrinal dispute I had with the teacher. But that’s another story, entirely!)

    However, even today, 15 or so years later, I will be reading in the Pearl of Great Price, and run across a scripture that transports me back to that classroom in the JSB, and once again I’ll hear Dr. Nibley explaining something fascinating about that particular scripture. I’m still gaining insights into the Pearl of Great Price based on that class. And I know I missed way more than I actually caught!

    I have since read much of Dr. Nibleys work, and have started “assigning” it to my children as they begin their college studies. Although Dr. Nibley made some assertions that, with the discovery of more evidence, seem a little dated, his insights and the shear breadth and depth of his faith and scholarship were breathtaking.

    The thing I found most surprising about Dr. Nibley was his great humility. Although he was so well read in so many subjects, and his memory was phenomenal, I remember hearing him say words to the effect, “This is what I believe now, but that could change.”

    He was a true seeker of truth, and took it from wherever he found it.

  3. Posted February 20, 2009 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    Like Bryce, Nibley is one of my heroes, though we take very different meaning from what Nibley said. I do not agree with Card on anything either, but I do share his appreciation for Nibley. Funny how this all plays out.

    Bruce: to say that those whose criticize Nibley do not understand him is one thing (though I think that many who claim to love him likewise do not understand him). But to that they “dismiss him or pick nits mostly (I believe) because they lack the scholarship and intellect to directly engage him” is silliness.

  4. Posted February 20, 2009 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    Bryce:

    Thanks for this tribute to Nibley. I have found him to be an immense thinker, especially in Mormon theology. In fact, he often was ahead of his time. No, he was not perfect in his scholarship or in his life, but his words should never go out of print. Scholars should continue to pour over his work, even those articles published in Church magazines.

    Our Church was lucky to have him around. He should not be ignored.

  5. Laurel Lee Pedersen
    Posted February 20, 2009 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

    I, too, have greatly appreciated and enjoyed Hugh Nibley and his contributions to LDS scholarship. I truly appreciate the insights on temple worship, and his work in this area has really strengthened my testimony. I own the 5 volumes that were made from his honors Book of Mormon class videos also, and learned so much from them.

  6. Posted February 21, 2009 at 1:20 am | Permalink

    Chris H.

    Read my comments a bit more closely. There are and will always be sober, educated and erudite critics of Nibley, starting with Nibley himself (who only semi-facetiously disavowed anything he had written more than three years earlier). But I’ll stand by my criticism that many on the ‘net who snipe at Nibley show little familiarity with his works and even less with his sources. ..bruce..

  7. CS Eric
    Posted February 23, 2009 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    I was lucky enough to take a P of GP class from Dr. Nibley at BYU. The class was amazing, at least the little bit that I understood. There are still bits of irrelevant trivia he wandered off on that I remember.

    Still, my most surprising encounter with the man came early one morning in SLC a couple of years later. I was walking down one of the downtown streets, and a shabbily-dressed old man was more shuffling than walking in my direction. My first impression was that he was probably homeless. My next one was surprise, as I realized that this old man was Hugh Nibley.

  8. Posted February 24, 2009 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    Like any who have read “Approaching Zion”, that book completely changed my priorities and the way I view success, work, and money.
    His books have strengthened my testimony in Joseph Smith, the Restoration, and the scriptures.

  9. Ferreira
    Posted March 3, 2009 at 12:05 am | Permalink

    Studying Nibley’s work has helped me to gain a greater testimony of the prophets and scriptures. The feeling I have is that he is pointing to the scriptures, using many extra-canonical texts, but always to enlighten or strengthen the position of revealed truth as taught by the Lord’s prophets. His work has opened my understanding of scripture and helped me to break out of pesky study ruts.

    My experience with C.S. Lewis mostly consists of reading “The Restored Gospel According to C.S. Lewis” which was enlightening; Lewis had a way of describing the complex in a way that I related to or felt familiar with. Not having read much Lewis, I can’t say whether the quotes were cherry picked or representative, but I was impressed with what I read.

  10. Raymond Takashi Swen
    Posted October 13, 2009 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    I first encountered Nibley through his book, An Approach to the Book of Mormon, when I was in high school. It taught me, first of all, that there is more to the Book of Mormon than I or any single person could fathom. When I was a freshman attending the University of Utah, I heard Nibley present his thesis that the origin of the written word was the temple and the need to connect mankind with God. I have copies of all of his books. Card did not note in his column that all of Nibley’s books can be read online at the Maxwell Institute web site without buying the books.

    It seems to me that Nibley was just as seminal in the field of the study of the Book of Mormon and Pearl of Great Price as Henry Eyring was in his field of chemistry. Almost all of the topics addressed by LDS scholars in the 21st Century were introduced and significantly developed by Nibley. His long life and productivity were a blessing to all of the Church, especially as he lived into the era when his words could be recorded. His entire Book of Mormon course is available on just a few DVDs, where you can see and hear him lecture just as if you were in his class. I also own the Nibley “The World and the Prophets” lecture series that was developed for radio broadcast on KSL, which Card was listening to in his car. It is a great introduction to the early “fathers” of traditional Christianity, who still had much of the precious truths of the gospel but were close to losing them.

  11. Posted October 13, 2009 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

    I dropped out of high school after the 10th grade and went into the navy planning to become a cook, go to a chef school after the navy and become a chef in a big hotel in Las Vegas, my home town. I was barely 17 when I went into the navy. My parents subscribed to The Era for me and I received it monthly. That’s where I discovered Hugh Nibley. I didn’t know anyone could be so smart. I decided to go to BYU to be around him, and try to become like him. I didn’t make it. I took a few classes from him, & tried to read everything he wrote in English.

    I eventually became a faculty member at BYU. There I attended every lecture, & read everything written by him, or about him that came up. Yes, I too attended his Pearl of Great Price class. I watched on TV his B of M class lectures & taped them. I was privileged to have him come and meet with my students & I & discuss “The Implications of Mormonism for Education.” (I was a professor of education. I retired eleven years ago.)

    I didn’t think I could get him to come, but thought I’d try anyway. I phoned him up & told him what I wanted . He was silent for a moment & then said, “I think I’d like to do that.” I couldn’t believe my ears! We set a date. The day before he was to come I called him up to make sure of time & place. He said, “I said I would do that?” “Yes you did Bro. Nibley,” I said. “Well, I don’t have it here on my calender. My calender has me meeting in Salt lake with the Brethren.” “Oh no,” I said, “We’ve all been forward looking so much to your coming.” He was silent for a moment and then said, “I’ll be there. I was hoping for an excuse not to go to Salt Lake.” The next day I met him at the south east door of the McKay Building, and escorted him to my waiting students..

  12. Eunice Robertson
    Posted January 15, 2010 at 1:12 am | Permalink

    The first book (or anything of his) that I read was “Lehi in the Desert…..” when I was trying to better understand what was going on during a Book of Mormon reading and study one year. What a difference it made! I’ll always be grateful for the way that book opened my eyes, and made the my study of the Book of Mormon so much easier.

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