16 February 2007

Darkness and Lightness: A Nibleyesque Musing

“To Open the Last Dispensation: Moses Chapter 1” was a very different essay from what I’m used to reading. The comparison between Moses and other apocryphal accounts of confrontations with Satan was certainly interesting, but hard to follow because of the two-column format. It’s interesting to see that the Lord has spoken to men in the same pattern since the beginning of time: they receive a manifestation from God, are tempted by Satan, overcome him, and receive a vision of the eternities as a reward for their faithfulness.

I wonder how this model might be compared to Joseph Smith’s experiences with God. Clearly, the First Vision doesn’t quite fit into this pattern—Joseph is attacked by Satan before receiving a witness from God—but I sense there are some similarities. It really disappoints me when people in recounting the first vision avoid mentioning the evil spirit that nearly overpowered Joseph, as in the Church’s recently released video on the First Vision. For it seems to me that an encounter with evil is almost as important to becoming a prophet as a revelation from God because realizing the reality of Satan is important in being able to adequately warn the people of his tactics. As it says in the Book of Mormon, one of Satan’s greatest weapons in these days is to convince men that he is no devil, for there is none. There is a imminent danger in denying the reality of evil in the world.

Hugh Nibley’s humorous skit on BYU, “Shalamar,” was almost as hilarious today as I’m sure it was back then. The comments about the student’s dress—modest in name only—were dead on to attitudes I see sometimes on campus. I find it frankly amazing that people took themselves lightly enough in that day to be able to put up with Nibley’s cutting humor. Now at BYU, it seems as though we have to worry about everything offending someone; we take everything ten times more seriously than it was meant. One thinks of the recent disaster of the Cougarettes' dance to “Come Thou Fount” which sparked a contentious letter campaign in the reader’s forum of the Daily Universe. In fact, the editorials of the DU are a perfect example of what can happen when we take ourselves more seriously than the gospel. People are always becoming offended, accusing the other side of being the devil even on such non-issues as parking or rolling backpacks.

We all could learn from Nibley’s balance between taking the gospel seriously and laughing at gospel culture. I love watching the skit comedy group on campus, Divine Comedy, but several people I’ve taken to the show have been quite offended by their humor. Particularly, there was a skit about an overzealous return missionary going on a date with a girl which really offended my friend. In the skit, the missionary refused to drink Sprite (“don’t you know they’re owed by Coke?!”) and wanted to have a table facing east (“just in case”). My friend was certain that this was completely blasphemous, making fun of the Word of Wisdom and waiting for the Second Coming. I’m not so certain. These things aren’t doctrines, but cultural practices. One of my favorites is the skit making fun of Sacrament meeting talk clichés and improving upon them. When I watch it, it doesn’t make me pay less attention in Sacrament meeting. Rather, it makes me think of all the conventions we have to keep us occupied, that perhaps prevent the inspiration of the Spirit from getting into our lives. Humor is a way of waking us up, saying, “is this really what you believe, or are you just doing it because everyone else is?” It separates the culture of Mormonism from the doctrines, which allows us to keep our focus on what really matters.

1 comment:

Cathryn said...

I'm convinced that's an especially important distinction to make--that of the difference between LDS "culture" and doctrine--that I'm constantly trying to figure out how I'm going to teach my kids. I think that when we can recognize and understand the difference, we understand why we believe what we believe at a deeper level than we could otherwise.

Or maybe I just feel a need to justify my Utahn bringing-up. Hmm.