23 February 2007

Come, Let us Reason Together: A Nibleyesque Musing

I have one thing to say for the readings this week: Nibley’s “Beyond Politics” is pure genius! I especially enjoyed Nibley’s elaboration on how God wants us to understand the plan of salvation—how, unlike Satan, He cares to negotiate with us until we understand. “God is willing to discuss things with men as an equal.” So often, the world sees living a religion as necessitating blind faith, willfully ignoring the conflicts we see in the world. But this is so backward from what is real that it’s ridiculous. It’s the philosophies of the world that tell us to accept things as they are, not to ask why, but to simply accept that it is. “That’s just life,” the world tells us. It points out the huge gaping dilemmas, cries how incomprehensible the world is, and retreats back into ignorance. Heavenly Father, on the other hand, wants us to ask why, forces us to look at the tough questions and demand answers.

I think the world sometimes avoids religion because we are, as C.S. Lewis said, afraid that if we actually look for God, we would actually find Him, which means a great deal of responsibility. I’ve had friends come up against problems with the Church that they see as irreconcilable—whether it be why women don’t have the priesthood, why their parents got divorced, or why their loved one had to suffer or die. To me, it seemed that the only reason the problems remained for them is because they refused to demand answers from the source. They continued to seek out worldly philosophies on the subject, which they hoped might explain the problem but which inevitably brought more and more questions into their lives. They had laid down their scriptures and their prayers, which is where they ought to have been seeking their answers all along. When I find seemingly unanswerable questions, it’s often because I’m not looking in the right place for the answers.

Another great corollary of this discussion is that deciding to live a righteous life does not mean that all discussion ceases. As Nibley points out, even in the beginning, there was a counsel in heaven. In the Church, we sometimes portray this key discussion as more of a gathering for a one-way dispensation from God, but I think it’s important to notice the collaborative nature of the word. Nibley casts an interesting light on this: “Satan was not cast out for disagreeing, but for attempting to resort to violence when he found himself outvoted.” I’m not sure that I quite buy it doctrinally, but it certain fits into Nibley’s picture of the universe as an essential collaboration between God and men. After all, we believe our intelligences to be equally eternal with God’s; He’s simply further ahead in the plan than we are. Why shouldn’t we all have had a say in how things work?

In contrast with the godly reasoning Nibley presents in “Beyond Politics,” the worldly philosophies exposed in “The Way of the ‘Intellectuals’” look like the pathetic counterfeits that they are. Rather than equality and plainness of God’s “come, let us reason together,” the figures Nibley describes from the Book of Mormon rely on power, charisma, and elitism to make their points. If you disagree with them, it’s merely your lack of judgment. There’s no room for disputation as there is in the kingdom of God. It’s amazing just how plain the difference is when you put these philosophies side-by-side. It’s one of the reasons I’m glad to be studying at BYU. The “open” liberalism espoused by other colleges is actually more confining than they think—no universal truths mean the stability must be made up by embracing current trends. At BYU, however, being united in the gospel gives us a firm foundation for exploring all areas of truth.

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