Monday, November 5, 2012

Nibley's Four Approaches to Learning II

Of Nibley's approaches to meeting the challenge of the learned world, the second is:
2. We can run away from them. That is, we can claim to be scholars in the full and proper sense of the word and yet refuse to meet other scholars on their own round, confining our learned antics to audiences of "our own people." We at the BYU want the world to accept our academic pretensions, even though we do not begin to come up to its academic standards. We claim special status and immunity as a Church school and yet ask full faith and credit in the world for a brand of education which we will not allow the world to criticize. All this is a form of running away from our scholastic responsibilities. When books and articles against the Church and its teachings have come out in the past, no matter how patently false and unfair they have been, none of the Church's army of professional scholars has shown any inclinations to rush to the defense of the faith, though even a mercenary should show some measure of loyalty to his employer. Why is this so? Those who keep silence when the Church is attacked are neither vicious nor depraved, but they are afraid—they are playing safe in a ticklish situation. For having given out that they are scholars, they must, to save face with the Gentiles and the Saints, steer clear of any situation in which their limitations would be brought to light. (Hugh Nibley, "Nobody to Blame," in Eloquent Witness: Nibley on Himself, Others, and the Temple, Collected Works of Hugh Nibley 17, ed. Stephen D. Ricks (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 2008), 131.)
I think that Nibley had some of his colleagues in both the history and religion departments in mind when he wrote these words. These were individuals who, if they wrote at all, wrote only to Latter-day Saint audiences. Older faculty tell me that the situation began to change under President Holland, who insisted that the faculty needed to publish as well as teach.

What Nibley said about BYU fifty years ago is not necessarily true now. I have several colleagues who have stepped up and defended their faith. Unfortunately I also have some colleagues who keep silence when the Church is attack and would not dream of defending the faith. Nibley describes them as mercenaries who show no measure of loyalty to their employer. Some also wish those who defend their faith would keep silent. These seem not to be mercenaries but either intellectual pacifists or traitors.

Intellectual pacifists seem to think that if we just keep quiet everything will go away of its own accord. That might be true sometimes, but usually is not true. Honest intellectual pacifists would realize that they are not suited for academia and should abandon it for Nibley's first option. Instead, these intellectual cowards simply run away from their academic, to say nothing of their covenant, responsibilities.