Carole's Reviews > Approaching Zion

Approaching Zion by Hugh Nibley
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Feb 13, 2010

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Read from January 31 to February 13, 2010

Hugh Nibley was a very highly-regarded scholar in the Mormon church. This is a long book, so it gets a long review.

He did not originally write this as a book. It's a collection edited by FARMS of all the lectures that Hugh Nibley has given related to the Law of Consecration - the idea that the true practice of Chistianity should be in a utopian society. Since it's intended to be a complete collection of lectures, it can be pretty repetitive - if he gave a nearly identical lecture to two separate audiences, both versions are included.

It was kind of cool and refreshing to see how Hugh Nibley was a total radical. He was pretty outspoken in his criticism of specific political and business leaders in Utah (maybe even to the point of being uncharitable?). He was very critical of BYU, but stops short of actually critisizing the Church itself. It's fun to read talks from a prominent Mormon in the 1980s that is so anti-capitalism, anti-war, and environmentalist. That alone probably made it worth reading - just for the validation that my liberal views are consistent with my religious beliefs (Ha! I knew it!)

A lot of what he says gets pretty extreme - he seems to condemn the pursuit of any profession that wouldn't be useful in a perfect utopian society (he's especially got it in for Lawyers, but he even calls out dentists). I almost felt like he was saying that any career outside of academia or the arts shows a lack of faith in God's willingness to provide for all of one's needs.

It could be that he expressed himself in such extremes in order to counter what he saw as the even more extreme prevailing attitude amoung members of the Church: that God wants us to seek wealth and that wealth is a reward for -and therefore sign of- righteousness. He points out that the scriptures do not support this idea in any way and that the pursuit of wealth is absolutely incompatible with serving God. In several of these lectures, he mentions that the meaning of the word, "Mammon" as in "You cannot serve God and Mammon" is "business."

Which brings me to another problem with the readability of the book. The mammon thing was helpful, but a lot of the pages and pages of linguistic and historical side-notes are not. They're fun trivia and it's impressive that he is so knowledgable, but for me at least, it bogged down the discussion and tended to distract from rather than reinforce his point. It almost gives the book sort of a stream-of-conciousness quality. This would work better in a lecture than in a book - which is what this book originally was, so that makes sense.

There were a lot of little things here and there that I tended to disagree with, but if I had to summarize the point of the whole book, it would pretty much boil down to two points that did resonate with me.

1) The reason we are here on this earth is to acquire knowledge, experience, and wisdom. Not money.

2) You can't follow God half-way. God expects total commitment.

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