September 10, 2009

Hugh Nibley's First Published Work (At Age Ten)

A new discovery pushes the date of Hugh Nibley's first known published work back by five years much to the surprise of Louis C. Midgley, who has been keeping an eye on Nibley publications for decades. His efforts resulted in the comprehensive Nibley bibliography listing 16-year-old Hugh's 1926 poem "Of Birthdays" in the top spot.1 A clue pointing to Hugh's even earlier premier is found in Boyd Jay Peterson's biography of the admired Mormon scholar:
El and Sloanie [Hugh Nibley's father and mother] allowed Hugh great latitude in [his] educational arrangement. He spent a great deal of time exploring in the woods or riding his bicycle about town. "I would always stop on the Broadway Bridge and look down the river," mused Hugh. "As far as you could see were the masts of ships—three-masters, four masters. The three-masters were the common ones." Hugh was a very capable artist by age ten and enjoyed sketching the ships and making models out of balsa wood.2
As it turns out, Hugh Nibley's earliest known published work was one such sketch, featured alongside the work of other children in a 1921 issue of the Church's Juvenile Instructor that I stumbled on by sheer accident.3 Click the image for a full page view:

[And a big salute to Rebecca Gentry's excellent Uncle Sam/goat portrait! And extra credit goes to anyone who can decipher the meaning of the cryptic "Twin Brothers" poem by Thelma Buys.]

Hugh Nibley, "Of Birthdays," Improvement Era 29/8 (June 1926): 743 as found in Louis C. Midgley, "Hugh Winder Nibley: Bibliography and Register," By Study and Also by Faith: Essays in Honor of Hugh W. Nibley, ed. John M. Lundquist and Stephen D. Ricks (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1990), 1:xv—lxxxvii.

Boyd Jay Peterson, Hugh Nibley: A Consecrated Life, (Greg Kofford Books, 2002), p. 28.

Juvenile Instructor 56/1 (January 1921): 49.

September 8, 2009

5 Reasons Some Struggle Regarding Polygamy

"Consecrate Your Brain," part 6
Continuing series with Greg Smith.
This is the last installment dealing with plural marriage.
See also the Introduction, and parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 7.

LifeOnGoldPlates: Give us some ideas on why you think some members, perhaps especially women, struggle with plural marriage in LDS history. 

Greg Smith: I think there are many reasons for this.  Some miscellaneous thoughts:

1.  We forget, I think, that the women and men almost universally found it a struggle at the time.  And, often the only thing that settled them was revelation that it was God's will to them.  I think, in that sense, it is/was supposed to be troubling.  It was supposed to be a spur to revelation.  So, the negative initial reaction is normal, expected, and perhaps even proper.  Too often, though, we leave it there.

2.  We leave often it there partly because the view that the critical accounts give of the process does nothing to assuage our concerns, and in fact makes it look blacker and bleaker than it was.  This makes it a particularly useful tool for anti-Mormons or critics--they don't have to work very hard.  The less they tell you, the better off they are.  And, up to a certain point, they can tell you more and have it look worse.  But, you're not getting the whole story, as I was surprised to discover in my own case. But, the helpful, useful story is a much longer, more involved one.  I've heard some people say that if you can't summarize the answer in a paragraph, it's not much good.  I think that absurd.  I deal with medical issues every day, and many of them can't be easily summarized outside of a fifteen-to-twenty minute conversation.  And, in those cases, I don't have to usually deal with a hostile "anti-medicine" crowd that has muddied the waters, skewed the data, and set the rhetorical terms--and, the issues are usually relatively clear-cut and no one debates what the evidence is or answer should be (unlike history generally and plural marriage specifically).  Complex issues--in science, in medicine, in politics, in history--simply take time and patience to understand and grasp fully.  Sometimes, we're not willing to put that time in.

3.  The second biggest problem, in my opinion, is a distorted "positive" view of polygamy among some few.  This is the view one hears championed from the back rows of Sunday Schools and Elders' Quorums on the rare occasions when it comes up.  There's often--I've noted--a barely disguised glee (on the part of a few men, but they're vocal and obnoxious out of proportion to their numbers) that one day this is all coming back, and then they're going to be loving it.  The implicit or explicit messages is that the sisters better deal with it and brace themselves.  Such people have bought into the nineteenth century caricature of polygamy as an eastern harem of delights for the man.  It is not surprising then, that women draw the second half of the conclusion of the "harem" model, which is that the women will be oppressed, exploited, unhappy, and second class.  Personally, I think the people who would make good plural husbands are not those who tend to speak up about it on the odd occasions when someone broaches the idea of its "return."  And so, the sisters among us get an even more skewed sample as they hear from the people or attitudes least likely to lead to success.  So my advice--were I entitled to give any--would be to ignore anyone who seems pleased with the idea of it coming back, since (a) I don't think it is; and (b) if it is, the guy you're picturing with horror is the last sort you'd want to end up with anyway, under any circumstances.  :-)

4.  Another difficulty, as I alluded in my conference talk, is that this can stir up a whole host of issues that on a strictly rational examination might be peripherally related at best.  But, from an emotional/psychological point of view, they're very tightly linked.  Thus, especially given the critics' portrayal of plural marriage, it can be seen as a surrogate or logical conclusion of most of the evils perpetuated against women.  It is too easily made into the final end-point of sexism, of women's lack of priesthood leadership in the church, of every slight and mistreatment by those who misuse authority.  It can represent or embody all our hopes for marriage that were not fulfilled or were cruelly dashed by circumstance or our chosen partner's choice.  A few examples of modern fundamentalist polygamy's links to child abuse and mistreatment morph all too easily into seeing all such relationships in those terms, almost by their nature.  This is, we conclude (rightly) something that God could not countenance.  And enough women have been battered, mistreated, abused, or raped by "loved ones" that this can very easily look like more of the same and institutionalized to boot.  It would be presumptuous of me to give advice about that to someone I didn't know well; I merely suggest that we cautiously examine ourselves and wonder if plural marriage isn't a safer stand-in for more basic, fundamental legitimate grievances.  In general, I will only say that the answer to such issues lie in revelation and the atonement of Christ.  I'm not convinced that any other fix will do.

5.  Finally, as I've mentioned earlier in this conversation, we tend to see marriage after this life as a mere 1:1 copy of marriage on earth, when I think it is much, much more.  Even as a youth in the Church, I remember finding it funny when a teacher would say, "Remember, before you marry someone, you should think about whether you're going to want to be with this person FOREVER."  That always struck me as completely backward--if I managed to be exalted, perfected, and glorified, I was pretty sure that I would be delightedly happy with someone else who was also exalted, perfected, and glorified.  The big trick is not putting up with a perfect person forever; it is dealing with a decidedly imperfect person (coupled with our own imperfections) for the next day, week, or month.  So, I think this a good illustration of our cultural tendency to sometimes mistake the temporary and transient for the permanent and eternal.  When we praise God "forever and ever," I don't think that mere hyperbole.  The gospel is all Good News--every bit of it.  If it's giving you bad news, you simply haven't understood it well enough yet.  But, the answer to that lies also in revelation.

LoGP: Dealing with believing members of the Church on the subject of plural marriage can be difficult. In addition, there are different types of critics that need to be engaged: secular critics and sectarian critics. Do you see a need to craft a certain answer depending on who is asking the questions?

GS: I haven't found it necessary to do so.  The key issue with both is that they deny that Joseph could be a true prophet.  The sectarians don't think a prophet is possible because the Bible is complete and the only source of normative communication from God; the secularists think not because they don't believe in God and revelation at all.  Both regard Joseph's claims as impossible from the outset--and some are even bold enough to admit it.  Both use plural marriage not as events to be understood, or choices to be put into context, but ultimately as rhetorical and polemical tools designed to batter down any and all opposition to their views of revelation, or prophetic authority, or how closely the modern day saints should hue to prophetic recommendations, etc.  Its their "magic bullet."  No need to deal with the Book of Mormon as evidence, since Joseph was married to an under-age (by 21st century standards) young woman.  Thomas S. Monson advised support for Proposition 8 [in California]; well, Joseph Smith advised polygamy, and look where that got us.  David Koresh had multiple sexual partners among his religious followers, therefore Joseph and Koresh can be understood as mere variations on a theme.  Its utterly intellectually sloppy, of course, but that doesn't really bother them: if they even realize they're doing it.

Image is adapted from Fritz Kahn (1888-1968), "Das Leben des Menschen; eine volkst├╝mliche Anatomie, Biologie, Physiologie und Entwick-lungs-geschichte des Menschen. Vol. 2," Stuttgart, 1926. Relief halftone. National Library of Medicine,