Amateur Hour

The other day, reading a few random talks from random individuals, I came across a very short essay written by Hugh Nibley.  This essay discussed the idea of a paid clergy within the church and the pros and cons of a paid clergy.  What is so interesting about many of Nibley’s essays is how they discuss history and how that applies to a modern context.  That essay, entitled “The Day of the Amateur,”[1] is still as applicable today, if not more so, than it was then.

The article, as the title alludes to, is little more than a discussion and contrast of professionals on the one hand, and amateurs on the other.  Professionalism is, as Nibley states, “the child of the universities.”[2] Before there were professionals, there was what is called the Sophoi, “ancient traveling teachers who gave the modern world its moral and intellectual foundations.  They were, to a man, amateurs.”  Professionals, as we all well know, are paid for their opinions, works and teachings.  Amateurs, like Olympian athletes, are not.  They simply do what they do either out of charity or because they feel compelled to do so out of some duty to the human race.

According to Nibley, the amateurs were required by law to be amateurs, “because what they were doing was holy business and not to be contaminated by ulterior motives and ambitions.”[3] In ancient history the Sophists, the great imitators of the Sophoi, eventually overran everything and professionalized it all.  These Sophists were the great professors and the reason why Socrates eventually “advised students to examine prospective teacher’s credentials very carefully and critically.”[4]

As Nibley opines about a day gone by in his usual manner:

“Learning, [now] forgotten in the universities, was revived in academies, salons, societies, courts and coffee houses where amateurs came together to revel in the things of the spirit and make the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the high point of western civilization.  It was the Age of the Amateur.”

Fast forward a few years to the mid-nineteenth century, universities slowly took hold of society and by the twentieth century (and now in the twenty-first century) everyone goes to school for accreditation of some sort.  College teaching, for the most part, offers a “safe birth for mild and mediocre souls who in time, by the sacred role of seniority, [end] up ruling [the] institutions.”[5] Professionals, in this regard, can be boring, inept and lacking of any real inspiration, but the amateur, to get any recognition of any kind, has to be good and inspired.  To maintain the status of an amateur, as the Sophoi of old, the amateur must be honest, dedicated and incorruptible.

Professionals, however, all they need is a certificate, a piece of paper hanging on a wall, a couple of initials after one’s name and, magically (at least in today’s society), they’re granted virtual hero status.  People fawn over them, accept their word as scripture and certainly give much more credence to a professional than some guy with no initials after his name, no degree.

What is particularly troublesome about this essay, to me individually, is that I have often fallen prey to some of the arguments used by the Sophists.  I have been swayed by their opinions, their calls for degrees and certifications.  I went to college because I felt I needed a degree to succeed (financially) in the world, not thinking that there were other ways to succeed, to get by, to live and learn.  I had bought into the following statement, hook, line and sinker:

“You are moving into the most competitive age the world has ever known.  … You need all the education you can get.  Sacrifice a car; sacrifice anything that is needed to be sacrificed to qualify to do the work of the world.  That world will in large measure pay you what it thinks you are worth, and your worth will increase as you gain education and proficiency in your chosen field.”[6]

I went to school to get a degree in order to get paid from the world “what it thinks [I’m] worth.”  While I appreciate the opportunity to go to school, I nevertheless look back on those years wondering why it was that I fell in line with the crowd and failed to think for myself.  Today, however, I would hope that this statement would raise a few red flags for someone interested in establishing Zion and someone who is, if only slightly, aware of LDS history from the 1800s.   While I agree that education is important, I disagree with the premise of the above statement that implies that education is found only through college and universities, institutions where we may become a “professional” and get a degree, a certification, or whatever it is these days to tell the world that you are now “[qualified] to do the work of the world.”  This quote was restated in the April 2009 New Era, page 19[7], and is juxtaposed between statements of youths from across the United States discussing the importance of attending college and gaining an “education.”  Even more bothersome for me is the urging of the President of the Church imploring the youth of the church to “sacrifice anything that is needed … to qualify to do the work of the world.”  Seems, to me at least, to be a bit too Babylonian in nature, especially when prophets of old have given counsel in direct contradiction to this statement.

According to a discourse given by Brigham Young, Joseph Smith appeared to him in a vision “given right in broad daylight” and gave him a message relating to the building up of Zion.  Young related the following:

“Said [Joseph Smith] – ‘Never spend another day to build up a Gentile city, but spend your days, dollars and dimes for the upbuilding of the Zion of God upon the earth, to promote peace and righteousness, and to prepare for the coming of the Son of Man, and he who does not abide this law will suffer loss.”[8]

Yet, in spite of this statement by Brigham Young, we are much further away from the “upbuilding of the Zion of God upon the earth” today than we ever were then.  Now, in lieu of counsel to build up Zion, we receive counsel which essentially builds up none other than the Great Babylon.  Truly, it is an interesting juxtaposition.  Nevertheless, this quote is used in this article to merely discuss our proclivity to obtain certifications, degrees, and an “education” at the hand of Babylonian professors.  We, naturally, then rely on these certificates to be taken seriously in our personal and professional lives.

Relating this to things of the spirit and the church, some of you may have noticed a certain trend that occurs within the halls of most meeting houses and places of worship, especially among the LDS faith.  Other than the first Sunday of the month, members are asked to prepare and given talks over the pulpit.  This is a way of encouraging mere members of the church to share their experiences, knowledge and spirit with the congregation at large.  It is an inspired practice, it would seem.  It serves as a way for member’s to learn to acquire the spirit, to study the gospel and teach everything by the spirit.

What is an inspired practice, however, has morphed into uniformity of thought.  It’s a true LDS oddity how this could happen.  Pay attention to the next week’s talks, those given by regular members on any given Sunday.  What you will likely find, if your ward or branch is anything like mine, is that most members will simply relay their thoughts in the form of an old Ensign or General Conference talk.  Some of these members will simply read the old Ensign or General Conference talk as if it were their own words, others will re-read the talk word-for-word giving due credit and others still will intersperse their words with the words from the talk.

What makes this unique to the LDS faith is largely the role of general authorities and members of the first presidency and quorum of the twelve apostles in the lives of everyday members.  These men, once called to one of these positions, take on super-human status.  They are no longer capable of error, of giving bad advice or interpreting scriptures to fit a box for which they weren’t meant to fit.  Instead, they become mostly infallible (though no one will admit as much).  Obedience to their words is what is required to be a card-carrying member of the LDS church.  Somehow their words become inspired, their statements become scriptures.  No longer do we, as mere members of the church, filter their words through the spirit to verify whether it is the spirit that is teaching us or whether we’re hearing the man’s opinion.  Instead we rely, word-for-word, on what they say.  Their words then, as a result, become our words.  We quote them, reference them, and repeat them, verbatim, over countless pulpits nearly every week of every year.  Instead of using the scriptures and allowing the spirit to speak through us, we draw on their words to give authority to ours, we rely on their words to justify ours – everything we do is filtered by what “so-and-so” apostle or general authority said.

I am, in this regard, no different.  I have used these very same practices to justify my statements both here on this blog and in talks I have given over the pulpit in years past.  My ability to recognize this issue is highlighted mostly by my own experience, day in and day out, practicing this very method to support and uphold my words.  Only recent have I begun to question what it is, exactly, that we are doing by practicing this sort of “idol” worship, if I may say as much.

Somehow, somewhere along the way, the “general authorities” have taken on expert status when it comes to the gospel and the doctrine of the gospel.  Somewhere along the way we gave them what they never (to my knowledge) asked for – doctrinal authority.  Christ, in his interactions with the Scribes and Pharisees, “distinguished between their right to preside over the church (which He did not challenge), and their assumed exclusive right to teach and interpret scripture (which He utterly rejected).”[9] The scribes and Pharisees, as well as the Sanhedrin, jealously guarded their right to claim leadership by asserting their authority.  “Their appointment to leadership offices, … priestly trappings, and possession of the temple were all used to buttress their claimed rights to preside and exercise control and dominion over the Jews.”[10]

I am not prepared to place these same accusations on the LDS hierarchy, though I see striking and troubling similarities.  At this point, it is the members who presume that the LDS leadership has an “exclusive right to teach and interpret scripture,” though certainly the leadership has, in certain instances, declared that to be their right as leaders.  This exclusivity to teach and interpret scripture is the reason why so many talks rely on so many quotes and statements from “professionals” within the LDS church.  By professionals, I mean those who have a title in front of their name, be it Elder or President or something else.  In our private lives we generally rely on the initials which follow someone’s name to know what to do, what to believe and how to act, be it an M.D., a PhD or something else, while in our religious lives we do exactly the same thing, the only difference being how we rely on the title which precedes a general authority’s name.  No longer, as the logic follows, is it the message that is the most important thing, though surely it is important, rather it’s the title in front of the name which lends especial credence to the message.

I am, admittedly, not quite sure why we have such a fascination with quoting others.  As I previously stated, I am as guilty as the next.  It is, indeed, easier to write and share my thoughts when I bring in quotes from outside sources.  That all being said, it is simply not a black and white issue, though the current practice in the LDS church, in my opinion, is overkill.  Members are all too eager to pick up their favorite talk or a talk which has been given either to them by a member of their Bishopric or one on the subject at hand, and regurgitate it for all to hear.  That, to me, does little more than destroy the spirit of the meeting.  It is true that a well placed quote, a poignant thought and outside sources can indeed enhance the message we are trying to convey, but all too often those quotes become paragraphs.  The paragraphs extend into pages and, before you know it, the talk is over and it turned into one giant quotation.  So be it.  I can only change myself – and I aim to – and you can only change yourself.  The change starts at an individual level and hopefully it does.  Let that change begin with you.  Instead of opening the most recent Ensign, open your scriptures and your heart to hear what the Spirit would teach you.

John Taylor Gatto wrote, in his book Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling, the following, which underscores one of the reasons why we are so quick to look for the expert to lead us, guide us and save us from ourselves:

“We are addicted to dependency; in the current national crisis of maturity we seem to be waiting for the teacher to tell us what to do, but the teacher never comes to do that.  Bridges collapse, men and women sleep on the streets, bankers cheat, good will decays, families betray each other, the government lies as a matter of policy, corruption, shame, sickness, and sensationalism are everywhere.”[11]

In writing this, ironically enough, I was reminded of a book I just started reading.  A friend recommended this book several months back, at which time I bought it, but it’s been sitting on my shelves gathering dust until this past week.  In the introduction to this book, I found a statement that rang true to my spirit and one which I am trying to convey in this article:

“…What I have tried to convey are the thoughts and consciousness of Jesus that were behind his words when he uttered them.  I commune with Christ and ask him:  ‘I don’t want to interpret the Bible from my own views.  Will you interpret it?’”[12]

Encapsulated in this brief sentence is a meaning that is easy to forget:  we are all too often eager to use someone else’s opinion of the scriptures to justify our thoughts, beliefs and intentions.  Rare, indeed, is the man who searches the scriptures and seeks out the only true interpretation from the true source of light and inspiration.  We would do well to seek Christ and His interpretation of the scriptures as opposed to another man’s interpretations, no matter how good that person’s interpretations may be.  The Pure Source is really the only source from which we should drink.[13]

Nibley, in closing his essay, addresses this very issue and states his opinion on the importance of everyone contributing to the dialogue:

“If we have no professional clergy in the Church, it is not because the Church cannot use expert knowledge, but because all members should be experts where the gospel is concerned, and as such they should make their contribution. All the same contribution? Not at all! The Church is structured for eternal progression, and that takes place as we all feel our way forward along a broad front. Seeking and searching are among the most common words in our scriptures; we are all supposed to be seeking all the time. Just as missionaries go forth as an amateur army, searching out the honest in heart in the most scattered and unlikely places, on the widest possible front, so the rest of us increase in knowledge, here a little and there a little, not by trusting a few experts to come up with the answers, but by all of us searching, all along the line, finding out a fact here and a document there, and reporting the discovery to the whole body.  When he was editor of the Times and Seasons, the Prophet Joseph invited all to contribute.”[14]

The next time you give a talk, or assign someone to give a talk, I hope you take these thoughts to heart.  Stop quoting others and start trusting the spirit and your ability to be taught by the spirit.

What is especially interesting is Nibley’s typical retort at the end of one of his lectures, after having discussed similar ideas:

“Just remember — these things we’ve talked about here today aren’t really that important. What is important is that you keep the commandments and pray for the Lord’s guidance.”[15]

Truly, that is what is most important.  Instead of relying on others to tell us what to believe, to interpret the scriptures for us, to give us quotes and statements to justify what the spirit has undoubtedly taught us, we should pray for and then rely on the Lord’s guidance.[16]

**Approximate percentage of this essay which is made up of direct quotes from others:   23.2% – (676 out of 2,916 words)**


[1] Nibley, Hugh.  “The Day of the Amateur.”  New Era.  Volume 1, number 1.  January 1971.  Pages 42-44.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Hinckley, Gordon.  “A Prophet’s Counsel and Prayer for Youth.”  New Era.  January 2001, Page 8.

[7] “Questions & Answers,” New Era.  April 2009.  Pages 18-19.

[8] Young, Brigham.  “The Priesthood, Etc.” JD 12:59.

[9] Snuffer, Denver.  Come, Let Us Adore Him.  Page 97.

[10] Ibid.  Page 60-61.

[11] Gatto, John Taylor.  Dumbing Us Down:  The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling.  1993, page 99.

[12] Yogananda, Paramahansa.  The Second Coming of Christ:  The Resurrection of the Christ Within You.  2004, page XXX.

[13] See John 4:10.

[14] Nibley.

[15] See http://www.zionsbest.com/amateur.html and the “About the Author” section.

[16] See Jeremiah 31:31-34 for a better discussion on this principle and idea.

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Comments
  1. berb says:

    my thoughts and feelings have been so similar to these. i too have came across that quote from hinkley about “sacrificing anything to qualify to do the work of the world”. why would a prophet encourage its members to heed the call from babylon, to fit in with the world and prescribe to their ideals? if we are to truly be peculiar, then why are we seeking to appease babylon?

    another thought that came to me was the spiritual climate that existed when Christ was on the earth. many refused to see him for what he was and were incapable of understanding him and his teachings. i want to speculate, i wonder…if the jews, being so blinded to Christ and his teachings, when he comes again…would our church reject him as well, being unable too see and comprehend him and his gospel? if the mass of members can only believe what is taught through an ensign or a general conference talk and cannot feel or recognize the promptings of the spirit, its seems possible that they might not recognize an adinadi or an enoch or Christ for that matter, because they are only attentive to what title/position a man has and many could not get past the fact if these persons appeared as a “wild man” as enoch was?

    if we continue to be desensitized and force fed the gospel principles, if members of the church don’t gain a testimony of Christ and don’t engage themselves in seeking and searching, if members only focus on what the bretheren say and seek not for the spirit and for the truth, then members will slowly, gradually let go of the iron rod. they may not realize it, because in their minds, they are so focused on the bretheren, to the extent of spiritual tweets, yet they never begin to understand why Christ won’t accept them to be their friend on facebook.

  2. Change says:

    Interesting thoughts. We are largely desensitized as to what to accept.

    It’s not so much that “Christ won’t accept them to be their friend on facebook” as it is that we, on an individual level, don’t accept Christ. We all constantly reject Him. We all use his name in vain (speaking as if He approves of every word that comes out of our mouths). Whether it’s micromanaging our households, telling our wives both how and when to act, clean and take care of the kids, or whether it’s believing that men are infallible, either way the end result is the same – a loss of the Spirit and an end of our Priesthood.

    Any amount of control, domination, or abuse as a priesthood holder brings upon us the wrath of God.

    A good read can be found here: http://ldsanarchy.wordpress.com/2010/02/24/the-priesthood/

    Scroll down (if you want, though the entire article is worthwhile) to the portion on “Ecclesiastical Abuse.” It’s as applicable to us as husbands and priesthood holders, as it is to priesthood leaders.

    As to whether the masses would recognize and accept an Abinadi, a “wild man” like Enoch, a Samual the Lamanite, or whoever it might be, history teaches us that it’ll likely be a very small minority. Alma was the only HP who recognized what Abinadi was teaching, and his followers were all of about 200. Enoch’s followers also started off very small, though they grew to be an entire city plucked out of the gulf of Mexico. History is littered with examples of people rejecting true prophets.

    I’d highly recommend obtaining a copy of Come, Let Us Adore Him. From it I borrow two quotes:

    “The Lord has always sent His messengers without credentials. From Enoch, who made this self assessment: “Why is it that I have found favor in thy sight, and am but a lad, and all the people hate me; for I am slow of speech; wherefore am I thy servant?” (Moses 6:31) to Joseph Smith who “frequently fell into errors, and displayed the weakness of youth, and the foibles of human nature,” (JS-H 1:28), God’s servants are almost never found at the head of society. They are often like Abinadi or Samuel the Lamanite – belittled, persecuted and violently opposed. They always pay their tithing, but the rarely collect it. It is not likely this pattern will ever change.” – p. 66

    “Each of us must find Christ for ourselves. Popular opinion and the collective view of who are God’s “chosen people” cannot be trusted. There has never been a safe, broad mainstream which reliably prepared or can prepare anyone to receive Him. It has never happened this way. We delude ourselves into thinking it will be otherwise for us. It was always designed that the Gospel of Christ requires you to find Him in His solitary way. His way is that of a “thief” who comes without credentials, without trappings and without public acclaim. His only sign of authority may be that your heart will burn within you as He speaks to you while in the way. Often times He will require you to first accept the unlikely truths which save, originating from unlikely sources, before He will permit you to come to the Throne of Grace.” – p. 68-69

  3. brett says:

    very interesting that you speak of the priesthood and how agency is so intertwined and how we can lose the priesthood and the spirit by either exercising control or dominion. i am not sure if i told you about my experiences last week with this subject, but it follows this topic to a “T”. i was arguing with my wife last week about cleaning of all things, tired of the messes. we hit the subject twice during the week and we were both at the end of our rope with each other. while driving to work i prayed on how to resolve this. i wanted to keep an open mind but truly felt correct, that our houses need to be in order. a phrase came to my mind, and i was not aware of where the phrase came from, but the phrase, “to kick against the pricks” came to me. after work, i decided that i truly wanted to know how to resolve this and prayed again. after my prayer, i thought and tryed to focus on how resolve this issue. the thought came to me to go talk to Mom. since i was in the area, i did so. once i got there, i found she was not there, but i saw that her laptop was there and so i decided to check my e-mails. no new e-mails were there,but i decided to scan my inbox and found the article about beards that you had sent me from ldsanarchy. as i was re-reading the article, i noticed the most current post on that site was a re-printed post on agency: a continous principle of war. since i was already preparing to teach about agency on sunday, in EQ, i decided to read it. what i read was a direct answer to my prayer as well as inspiration for my lesson, which i did end up sharing in EQ because it fits the topic of agency so well. it taught the concept of D&C 121 specifically 34 to 46, the same verses that you mentioned about unrighteous dominion and the priesthood in the above comment. those verses are amazing. to top it off, verse 38 describes the phrase “to kick against the pricks”. so thanks. your random e-mail helped lead me to the answer that i wanted and needed to recieve.

    several lessons were learned from this, or renewed:
    -i need to seek for answers through prayer
    -i need to focus on an answer, or something that i want or need to get answers on
    -in order to recieve or resolve something, i choose either to seek the answers and revelation or i choose to think about normal mundane issues
    -i need to think for myself, turn off the distractions, and ponder about the task at hand
    -listen. listen for the holy ghost to whisper and guide you. i need to take more time to listen.
    -i have 2 choices, for almost every choice, with my wife and my demands for cleaning or for my kids, either demand them to do it and loose the spirit and the priesthood (until i repent) or do nothing, and try to persuade her, show her by example, but in the end, it is her choice.

    since then, i have caught myself a few more times on similar but different issues, realizing that we can’t force someone to do something just because we think it is right, such as to be to church on time instead of walking in late.

  4. Gur-aryeh says:

    Damn good post and comments! You nailed it. In trying to let go of my desire to aspire to the honors of men, I have discovered that most of what I have done in my religious life has been with an eye toward the honors of men. Sure, I thought I was doing the best I could, I thought I was being pretty good and doing my duty to the best of my ability. Yes, my motivations have been mixed (as I think our motivations typically are), but I found my desire to please men at the core of most of my motivations. Every time I think I’ve begun to rid myself of that desire, I see that it goes deeper, that there is a deeper level of pride and need that drives my to please man. This “aspiring to the honors of men” thing is a crazy deep rabbit hole.

  5. Rooch says:

    As mentioned, there are some really good articles on priesthood and agency posted at ldsanarchy.wordpress.com
    Check out all of those written by Jahnihah Wrede, they are AWESOME.

    I enjoyed the post. The next time anyone has to give a talk in church, I recommend not just omitting quotes, but showing up in jeans and a t-shirt. I have yet to try it, but I have a brother who went to church today in casual attire. He said it was an awesome experience.

  6. Pontius says:

    Thanks for the comment. Indeed, that rabbit hole is way too deep. Shocking how deep it goes. I once had a friend/acquaintance who likened it to what Nephi termed the “vain imaginations of men.” Our vain imaginations entrance us with the beauty of being liked, loved and accepted by all. It’s like a giant IMAX movie playing in our head, as we seek more and more the honors of men.

  7. John says:

    Jeans and a t-shirt would be welcomed, though the looks would be enough. I’ve long since ditched the “flaxen cord” around my neck, but am still working on the rest.

    This article was actually in response to something I read over at another blog. The author shared a talk he had given the previous Sunday. Everyone was enamored with, and gushed over, the talk. I threw it up on MS Word just to analyze it to see how much was his, and how much was quoting someone else.

    Approx. 45% of that talk was direct quotes…one section lasted over an entire page.

    We’re so scared of conformity that we somehow think the constant parroting of other words somehow makes us fit in a little better, brings us more accolades, or something else. Then, I look at the Journal of Discourses and there were some thinkers. Free thinkers, inspired by the spirit and not held down by talks cataloged on LDS.org…

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