Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Nibley's Four Approaches to Learning III

In Nibley's outline of the four possible ways of meeting the challenge of the learned world, the third was:
3. We can agree with the world. This has always been standard procedure with our Mormon intellectuals. What else can they do, since they cannot stand up to the opposition and cannot afford to run away? Nothing is more prevalent among the LDS schoolmen than the illusion that they can enroll themselves in the company of the experts and gain their respect and recognition simply by agreeing with whatever they say. Naturally our poorly equipped scholars tend to panic when anyone threatens to substitute serious discussion for professional camaraderie. They have assailed me hysterically for daring to criticize Mrs. Brodie or speak of the Book of Mormon in polite company. And yet I cannot feel to chide them for their timidity—mere prudence admonishes them against rocking the boat in waters where they cannot swim. But the point is that they claim to be expert swimmers and volunteer themselves as lifeguards for all. And so their specious learning has been a source of weakness to the Church. (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), 131-132.)
So some, perhaps many, intellectuals feel that the only thing that matters is for their colleagues to like them. Such people cannot possibly be taking the Book of Mormon seriously and, in fact, many of them do not. Unfortunately, I know a number of colleagues and not a few administrators who panic when anyone threatens to substitute serious discussion for professional camaraderie.

An acquaintance of mine wants so desperately to be liked that he refuses to point out when his colleagues and, even worse, his students spout utter nonsense. Although he himself believes, he will not point out that what they are saying is flatly absurd and utterly false. He seems to think that they will come around to the correct point of view if only they are shielded from seeing the error of their ways. He may think he is being nice, but he is actually denying them the opportunity to repent because he refuses to call them to repentance.

Looked at another way, what sort of real intellectual capitulates to the whims of the popular crowd? These days, many intellectuals have only the courage of others' convictions, not their own. As has been repeatedly pointed out, these days one type of diversity that is rare on college campuses is diversity of opinion.