Those who ask, "What is the meaning of life?" and
get no reassuring answers have been known to conclude that the whole thing is a
cruel joke. If we are supposed to find the answers, they say, why are they hidden?
Precisely because we are supposed to find them, which means we
must look for them; the treasure is buried to keep us digging, the pearl of
great price lies glittering in the depths where we must seek it out. Treasure
hunts can be both instructive and fun, provided the clues are not too
discouraging and kind Providence has strewn the most exciting and obvious clues
all over the place. It is only when we choose to ignore them, like the
pig-headed constable in the English murder-mystery, blind to all but his own
opinion, that we court frustration and cynicism.
"An Intellectual Autobiography," xix* * * * * * * *
We are pushed onto this earthly stage in the middle of the
play that has been going on for thousands of years; we want to play an
intelligent part and, in whispers, ask some of the older actors what this is
all about—what are we supposed to be doing? And we soon learn that they
know as little about it as we do.
can tell us the plot of the play? The sophic mind assures us that the play is
simply a product of lighting, rocks, and wind and has no plot aside from the
plots we invent for it. In that book things just happen—and there is no
way of proving that that is not so. The mystic makes a virtue of the
incomprehensibility of the whole thing; he submerges himself in the darkness of
unknowing and wallows in his self-induced and self-dramatizing mood of
contradictions: he is strictly a sophic, not a mantic, product.
mantic admits that the play is incomprehensible to people of as little knowledge
and experience as ours and insists for that reason that if we are to know
anything at all about it, our knowledge must come from a higher source, by
revelation. According to the mantic way of thinking, things do not
just happen—and there is absolutely no way of proving that that
is not so. The same starry heavens that have supplied the mantic with
irrefutable proof since time immemorial that things do not just happen have
always been the most self-evident proof in the world to the sophic that things
do just happen.
"Sophic and Mantic," CWHN 10:370-71* * * * * * * *
The whole strength and astounding survival of the Hopis lies
in their plot, in their scenario by which they live, and my point is that our
world does not have such. The scenario was their real life. The vicissitudes of
life were a parody, a sideshow, a mock play on the side, and that's the only
play outsiders ever see. Our existence is a parody; it's not the real play.
"A Stage without a Play," 1* * * * * * * *
Literature and art can help us enjoy or endure the play (of
life), but cannot, by their own confession, tell us what it is about. Science
as such confines itself rigorously to examining the props on the
stage—measuring and describing tangible objects. It renounces the goal of
comprehending the play as a whole. Philosophy would like to tell us what the
play is about, but will not allow itself to run out of scientific bounds; it
remains a scavenger in the camp of science. Religion alone can, if anything
can, tell us the plot of the play from beginning to end—the eschatology
without which it has no meaning. Even the layman cannot be indifferent
We were made that way; we cannot rest until we know what it is all about
Indifference to eschatology is the mark of sterile societies, and can even be
It is the unknown that appeals most: science and art can only promise more of
the same; religion alone has the excitement of infinite possibilities
is not philosophy, ethics, or aesthetics. It deals exclusively with things that
"Eschatology," 1-2* * * * * * * *
The basic problem is this moral and spiritual one: what are
we to do forever and ever? What do you want to do when you do it forever and ever?
"The Philosophical Implications of Automation," 3* * * * * * * *
My sense of urgency comes from the fact that I spend all my
days now with the scriptures. And the two marks of the Church I see are and
have been for a long time these: a reverence for wealth and a contempt for the scriptures.
Naturally, the two go hand in hand. We
should call attention to the fact that these things we are
doing are against the work of the Lord. There is one saying of Joseph Smith I think of quite often: "If
the heavens seem silent at a time
when we desperately need revelation, it is because of
covetousness in the Church. God has often sealed up the heavens because of covetousness." And now
the Church isn't just shot through
with covetousness, it is saturated with
covetousness. And so the heavens are going to be closed. We're told we don't get revelation if we put our
trust in money in the bank.
"Nibley Talks about Contemporary Issues," 13* * * * * * * *
It is not a case of physical versus"spiritual"
values, but of eternal things, physical or not, versus things we know to be passing and
therefore unworthy of our ultimate dedication.
"Educating the Saints," 232* * * * * * * *
The comfort of philosophy, the quiet resignation and calm
acquiescence with fate are well enough in themselves, but they are what in
ancient times distinguished the pagan from the Christian, for the latter amazed
the world by the robust and joyful assurance with which he viewed things of the
other world. One of the most striking features of primitive Christianity was its
constant and hardheaded insistence on the nearness and reality of the other
"Two Ways to Remember the Dead," CWHN 3:164* * * * * * * *
If the earth is perfectly adapted and completely outfitted
for all our physical and spiritual needs, what is there left for us to do? Won't
it weaken our character to have everything handed to us ready and prepared for
our use? That question, the most natural one in the world to ask in our
society, shows how far removed we are from the celestial order of things. It's
the same question that is asked by the small boy who comes to visit you for
summer vacation: "If a guy can't break everything around the house and
yard, drown kittens, shoot birds, cut down the apple tree, take the baby buggy
apart, stick things in the piano, [and] throw rocks at bottles, what can a guy
is a good question, and the way we answer it is a measure of our fitness for
the kingdom of heaven.] If we advise the little fellow to acquire more
sophisticated tastes and follow our example, to seek his diversions more
constructively as we do, watching westerns on TV, going hunting, playing golf,
going to football games, attending X-rated movies, or driving a car, he can
protest that such activities differ from his own only in being more passive and
less imaginative, but really they are quite as trivial and immature and
unproductive as his. . . .
Gregory VII wrote a letter to the bishop of Rheims in the eleventh century in
which he told how the barons of the time were literally destroying Europe in
thousands of private wars and feuds and raids on each other's castles and lands
and serfs, and how, when he protested what they were doing, they asked him in
all seriousness, "If we don't do this, what else is there for us to do?
For what other purpose were gentlemen placed upon the earth? What else can a
normal man possibly want to do?"
activities of the modern world that go by the name of work may not have been as
spectacularly destructive as those of the barons of the middle ages, yet we are
beginning to find out now that they are destructive. And it is high time that we
begin to ask ourselves, as we ask the little fellow who's spending the summer
with us, whether what we are doing is really what we ought to be
is full-time employment for all simply in exploring the world without
destroying it, and by the time we begin to understand something of its
marvelous richness and complexity, we'll also begin to see that it does have
uses that we never suspected and that its main value is what comes to us
directly from mere coexistence with living things—the impact on our minds
and bodies, subtle and powerful, that goes far beyond the advantages of
converting all things into cash or calories.
"Our Glory or Our Condemnation," CWHN 9:8-10* * * * * * * *
One would hope that our shopping-mall someday might become
the equivalent of the ancient suq, the agora of the Greeks, or forum of
the Romans, with their lively exchange not only of goods but of business news
and ideas and valuable information. The suq and the
agora were where philosophers preached, and in the
forum was where the great orations were delivered—the
marketplace was an educational place. Will the mall ever become anything like
that? Alas, the possibility of that is completely canceled by the imperative of
the TV. Here we reach a state of total nihilism; all day long, and half the
night, a procession of plots, murders, bedrooms, fights, and lethal explosions
passes before the bemused spectator, sharing time with cunningly calculated
interruptions by lavishly contrived commercial sideshows, thus combining the
overlapping images of utter depravity with total triviality; and the thundering
Hauptmotif that runs through it all is money. The
inversion of the values is complete, for the less important an object is, as
the ancient rhetoricians taught, the more fervidly and persistently it must be
brought to the public's attention, so that what the new generation gets is a
world turned upside down, with the froth as the substance and foundation of
reality. They get that all the time, while the perennial base of intelligent
thought and action is at best tolerated as a picturesque, elitist,
old-fashioned frill of education. We have a complete switch of values: "All
is dross that is not Madison Avenue."
"Goods of First and Second Intent," CWHN 9:535-36* * * * * * * *
The whole eschatological issue can best be explained, we
believe, by a brief diversion into one of those little parables for which we
have always had a weakness.
then, a successful businessman who, responding to some slight but persistent
physical discomfort and the urging of an importunate wife, pays a visit to a
friend of his—a doctor. Since the man has always considered himself a
fairly healthy specimen, it is with an unquiet mind that he descends the steps
of the clinic with the assurance, gained after long hours of searching
examination, that he has about three weeks to live.
the days that follow, this man's thinking undergoes a change, not a slow and
subtle change—there is no time for that—but a quick and brutal reorientation.
By the time he has reached home on that fateful afternoon, the first shock of
the news has worn off, and he is already beginning to see things with strange
eyes. As he locks the garage door, his long-held ambition to own a Cadillac
suddenly seems unspeakably puerile to him, utterly unworthy of a rational, let
alone an immortal, being. This leads him to the shocking realization, in the
hours that follow, that one can be rich and successful in this world with a
perfectly barren mind. With shame and alarm he discovers that he has been
making a religion of his career. In a flash of insight he recognizes that
seeming and being are two wholly different things, and on his knees discovers
that only his Heavenly Father knows him as he is. Abruptly he ceases to care
particularly whether anybody thinks he is a good, able, smart, likeable fellow
or not; after all, he is not trying to sell anyone anything any more.
that once filled him with awe seem strangely trivial, and things which a few
days before did not even exist for him now fill his consciousness. For the
first time he discovers the almost celestial beauty of the world of nature, not
viewed through the glass of cameras and car windows, but as the very element in
which he lives. Shapes and colors spring before his senses with a vividness and
drama of which he never dreamed.
perfection of children comes to him like a sudden revelation, and he is
appalled by the monstrous perversion that would debauch their minds,
overstimulate their appetites, and destroy their sensibilities in unscrupulous
plans of sales promotion. Everywhere he looks he gets the feeling that all is
passing away—not just relatively because he is saying goodbye to a world
he has never seen before, but really and truly. He sees all life and stuff
about him involved in a huge ceaseless combustion, a literal and apparent
process of oxidation which is turning some things slowly, some rapidly, but all
things surely to ashes. He wishes he had studied more and pays a farewell visit
to some friends at the university where he is quick to discover, with his new
powers of discernment, that their professional posturing and intellectual
busywork is no road to discovery but only an alley of escape from
responsibility and criticism.
days pass, days during which that slight but ceaseless physical discomfort
allows our moribund hero no momentary lapse into his old ways, he is visited
ever more frequently by memories, memories of astonishing clarity and
vividness—mostly from his childhood, and he finds himself at the same
time slipping ever more easily into speculations, equally vivid, on the world
to come and the future of this world. The limits of time begin to melt and fuse
until everything seems present but the present. In a word, his thinking has become eschatological.
has happened to our solid citizen?" his friends ask, perplexed. He has
chosen to keep his disease a secret; it would be even more morbid, he decides,
to parade his condition. But he cannot conceal his change of heart. As far as
his old associates can see, the poor man has left the world of reality. Parties
and golf no longer amuse him. TV and movies disgust him. He takes to reading
books, of all things—even the Bible! When they engage him in conversation,
he makes very disturbing remarks, sometimes sounding quite cynical, as if he
didn't really care, for example, whether peppermint was selling better than
wintergreen or whether the big sales campaign went over the top by October. He
even becomes careless of his appearance, as if he didn't know that the key to
success is to make a good impression on people. As time passes, these alarming
symptoms become ever more pronounced. His sales record drops off sharply. Those
who know what is good for their future begin to avoid being seen with him. Like
Lehi of old, he is hurting business, and dark hints of subversion are not far
in the offing. What is wrong with the man?
we said, his thinking has become eschatological. He lives in a timeless,
spaceless world in which Jack Benny and the World Series simply do not exist.
His values are all those of eternity, looking to the "latter end" not
only of his own existence but of everything and everybody around him. As he
hears the news or walks the streets, he sees, in the words of Joseph Smith, "destruction
writ large on everything we behold." He is no longer interested in "the
things of the world." The ready-smiling, easily adjustable,
anxious-to-get-ahead, eager-to-be-accepted, hard-working conformist, who for so
many years was such a tangible asset to Nulb, Incorporated, has ceased to
the question arises, has this man been jerked out of reality or into it? Has he
cut himself off from the real world or has cruel necessity forced him to look
in the face what he was running away from before? Is he in a dream now or has
he just awakened from one? Has he become an irresponsible child or has he taken
the measure of Vanity Fair? Some will answer one way, some another. But if you
want to arouse him to wrathful sermons, just try telling the man that it makes
no difference which of these worlds one lives in—that they are equally
real to the people who live in them. . . .
will be noted that this eschatological state of mind does not bear the mark of
just one school of thought. Once it gets in the blood, all the aspects and
concepts of eschatological thinking enter with it. Our businessman, for
example, begins to wonder about certain possibilities: What about the
hereafter? Will he ever really see the face of the Lord? Is there going to be a
judgment? He almost panics at the thought, which has never bothered him before
because he has been successful. He becomes preoccupied with history and
prophecy, aware for the first time that his whole life is linked not only with D
Division of Nulb, Incorporated, but, for better or for worse, with all that
happens in the universe; he belongs to history and it to him—"the
solemn temples, the great globe itself" are as much his concern as any man's.
These ideas that come to him are all essential parts of the same picture in
which one can descry inextricably joined and intermingled apocalyptic,
prophecy, millennialism, Messianism, history, and theology—all belong to
the same eschatology. . . .
anyone who does not experience it, the eschatological view of things is pure
myth—an invention of an overwrought mind desperately determined to
support its own premises. Only what they fail to consider is that those who
have had both views of the world interpret things just the other way around: it
is, after all, eschatology that looks hard reality in the face; lazy and timid
people take refuge in the busywork of everyday; only strong and disciplined
minds are willing to see things as they are, and even they must be forced to
it! No wonder the scholars have agreed that whatever else eschatology is, it is
conclude our parable, what happens to our man of affairs? A second series of
tests at the hospital shows that his case was not quite what they thought it
was—he may live for many years. Yet he takes the news strangely, for
instead of celebrating at a night club or a prize fight as any normal healthy
person should, this creature will continue his difficult ways. "This,"
he says, "is no pardon. It is but a stay of execution. Soon enough it is
going to happen. The situation is not really changed at all." So he
becomes religious, a hopeless case, an eschatological zealot, a Puritan, a
monk, a John Bunyan, a primitive Christian, an Essene, a Latter-day Saint. In
every age such people with their annoying eschatological beliefs have disturbed
the placid ("perfectly adjusted") waters of the slough of custom and
paid dearly for their folly.
"The Way of the Church," CWHN 4:302-7* * * * * * * *
The only person you try to impress is your Heavenly Father,
and it is awfully hard because he can't be fooled—not for a minute. I
have always felt driven in this way. The gospel is so wonderful. There is so
much to find out. It opens the doors to so many things. It is sort of an
obsession, a sort of personal thing. As long as you are going to be doing
something, why not be doing something that hasn't been done before?
"Nibley the Scholar," 2* * * * * * * *
Don't be like anybody else. Be different. Then you can make
a contribution. Otherwise, you just echo something; you're just a reflection.
"Apocryphal Writings," CWHN 12:292* * * * * * * *
When I first came here, I went to a few of the apostles,
including J. Reuben Clark, Richard L. Evans, and John Widtsoe to ask if it
would be better to remain low-key, keep my nose clean, and avoid these things.
The answer was always the same: That is the worst thing you could do. We've got
to have some voices speaking out because everybody knows that all the virtue
isn't on one side of what we're doing. Since then I haven't shifted one iota.
"Nibley Talks about Contemporary Issues," 14* * * * * * * *
I never thought of myself as a participant, but always on
the sidelines, always looking on, and always finding myself in a position where
I could get a rather good look. But everybody's in that position if they just wanted
to take it and realize what they were into. We're wandering around as strangers
looking for things to recognize, and whenever you see something which you know
is good, true, and beautiful, that's an act of recognition. And you recognize
it as such not by analyzing it, but it comes to your memory, it hits you: "I've
seen that, I know that's right," and so forth.
"The Faith of an Observer," 2* * * * * * * *
What things should we think about then, and how? . . . In
the first place, that question itself is what we should think about. We won't
get very far on our way until we have have faced up to it. But as soon as we
start seriously thinking about that, we find ourselves covered with confusion,
overwhelmed by our feelings of guilt and inadequacy—in other words,
repenting for our past delinquency. In this condition, we call upon the Lord
for aid and he hears us.
begin to know what the Prophet Joseph meant about the constant searching,
steadily storing our minds with knowledge and information. The more we get of
it, the better we are able to judge the proper priorities as we feel our way
forward, as we become increasingly alert to the promptings of the Spirit which
become ever more clear and more frequent, following the guidance of the Holy
as we go forward, we learn to cope with the hostile world with which our way is
sure to bring us into collision in time. That calls for sacrifice, but what of
that? Eternal life is not cheaply bought.
"Zeal Without Knowledge," CWHN 9:78* * * * * * * *
The Church has been put to great trouble and expense through
the years by its insistence on sticking to its long and awkward title. Plainly
the second part of the name is very important—the Church of the latter days. These are the last
days—the last days of what? Neither we nor the outside world have
ever bothered to explore or argue definitions about that—because the
answer is obvious: it is the perennial message of the apocalyptic teaching
which is now recognized as the very foundation of the Old and New Testaments.
The last days are the last days of everything as we know it.
"Beyond Politics," 292* * * * * * * *
The one future that no one could have imagined was what we
could read about in the Book of Mormon; but that we tolerantly consigned to a
fantastic realm of the long-ago and far-away, a sort of overdone science
fantasy. As it turned out, the Book of Mormon was not dashing off into
Never-Never Land but bringing us down to reality if we had only believed it. But
we did not and we still don't. But the past year has torn aside veils that we
would prefer to have left in place, and we find ourselves enacting what our
ancestors would have called a mad melodrama.
"The Book of Mormon: Forty Years After," CWHN 8:534
REPENTANCE* * * * * * * *
must keep plugging away at the business of repentance as if the Lord were to
come and inspect us today. Until that time, we must withhold judgment of
others. Another teaching that is coming into full force just now is the Book of
Mormon admonition to be more patient with the imperfections of the church and
less patient with our own. The church is a training school in which everyone is
there for the training. So don't waste time criticizing the authorities.
"The Book of Mormon: Forty Years After," CWHN 8:564* * * * * * * *
Repentance is the main message of the Book of Mormon, which
also tells us what repentance is. Metanoia, the New Testament word, contains no
hint as to how we go about it, but the Greeks had a better instruction in the
two great maxims from the temple at Delphi: "Know thyself" and "Nothing
in excess." Both are lamely translated as advice for making friends and
influencing people. Actually they are the rules by which the universe is
governed; the one sets us on the right track, and the other keeps us there. The
Book of Mormon tells us that the essence of repentance is knowing exactly what
we are. . . . The very purpose of our being here is repentance, and repentance
is an unsettling exercise in self-knowledge: "O how great is the
nothingness of . . . men" (Helaman 12:7). This is the time of probation
and preparation, though we are born innocent, there are flaws in our nature,
and it is the purpose of our earthlife to bring them out in the open through
repentance and eradicate them through baptism, to clear the way for further
progression. If there is any weakness in our characters, this is the setting in
which it is bound to show up, this life is the day of our probation; whether we
find ourselves in an unstable and dangerous or a safe and prosperous
environment, it makes no difference—the bad stuff in us will come to the
"The Book of Mormon: Forty Years After," CWHN 8:565-66* * * * * * * *
We're just sort of dabbling around, playing around, being
tested for our moral qualities, and above all the two things we can be good at,
and no two other things can we do: We can forgive and we can repent. It's the
gospel of repentance. We're told that the angels envy men their ability both to
forgive and to repent, because they can't do either, you see. But nobody's very
clever, nobody's very brave, nobody's very strong, nobody's very wise. We're
all pretty stupid, you see. Nobody's very anything.
"The Faith of an Observer," 2* * * * * * * *
Father, whenever the end is scheduled to be, can't you give us an extension of
But tell me first, what will you do with it?
. . . ah . . . we will go on doing pretty much what we have been doing; after
all, isn't that why we are asking for an extension?
isn't that exactly why I want to end it soon—because you show no
inclination to change? Why should I reverse the order of nature so that you can
go on doing the very things I want to put an end to?
is what we are doing so terribly wrong? The economy seems sound enough. Why
shouldn't we go on doing the things which have made this country great?
I made it clear enough to you what kind of greatness I expect of my offspring?
Forget the statistics; you are capable of better things—your stirring
commercials don't impress me in the least.
why should we repent when all we are doing is what each considers to be for the
best good of himself and the nation?
it is not you but I who decide what that shall be, and I have told you a
hundred times what is best for you individually and collectively—and that
is repentance, no matter who you are.
find your inference objectionable, Sir—quite unacceptable.
"Beyond Politics," 279-80