Lessons from a genius: Arthur Henry King

Arthur Henry King by Nathan Florence

Wow! The new semester starts, with new classes and a new calling, and my blogging goes down the drain! I made a goal this week with some wonderful new friends that I would blog, though, so I planned all week to get here.

I met with a member of our Stake Presidency a month ago, and we got talking about our common interests in philosophy and education. He pointed me towards a book, Arm the Children, by Arthur Henry King. It is a book of speeches and papers Brother King wrote on teaching and having faith in the contemporary world. From what I understand, Arthur Henry King converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when he was later in his life. He was raised Quaker (which I assume led to his unique perspective on some of our cultural habits), in England, where he learned to love the hundred books or so that his home held. From the love of reading those few books he went on to become the predominant scholar of Shakespeare in the world at his time. At one point he became something akin to the Deputy Director of Education for all the United Kingdoms. He traveled the world to many colonies of the UK to help them develop their education system to become stronger. Along the way, and from study, Brother King learned 17 languages. He became a master of etymology and literature. He truly was a genius.

I’m not exactly sure how he become in contact with the church. Surely, as he traveled the world he had heard of the Mormon church. He wrote that what converted him was the account by Joseph Smith of the events leading up to and including the First Vision. Everyone ought to read his talk on Joseph Smith as an author, it is one of the best I have ever read. He taught that Joseph Smith wrote in such a way that just by his writing Brother King knew Joseph Smith was not lying or cheapening his own experience through persuasion or over-the-top rhetoric. By the language of the prophet alone he knew it was true, and at over 50 years old he was baptized and joined the church. Soon after the prophet asked him to come to BYU and help give the students a perspective of the gospel from the world. He did that, starting in the English department, then the Philosophy department, and finally ending in the Honors Program, until he passed away ten years ago. Many of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles used to quote him in General Conference talks and devotionals at BYU. He also wrote many articles in the Ensign back in the 70’s. According to this member of my Stake Presidency, at one point an apostle said that Arthur Henry King was a hidden gem of the church that more members need to become acquainted with and read. It has been a pleasure to read from his wisdom and faith. Here are some of the wonderful lessons and excerpts that I have enjoyed from Arm the Children over this past month:

P. 30 – “[Matthew] Arnold believed that art had to fill the gap left by the decline of religion and therefore had to take over the moral function that religion had previously had. The idea that instead of having a religious faith one could live from poetry, from fine art, from music was a common among undergraduates and academics when I was a young man; I think it may still be a common idea.”

P. 37 – “The Doctrine and Covenants is an extraordinary document, and, of the documents the Mormon Church had to offer me, it was the one which, after the Joseph Smith story, impressed me most. The Doctrine and Covenants legislates for a new religious community, and the way in which its revelations apply to the details of people’s lives seemed right to me. There has to be a connection between testimony, revelation, and ordinary practical life.”

P. 48 – “[ . . . ] Our Father does not require obedience; he requires willing obedience. And our faith should give us wiling obedience. It it does not, then there is something wrong that we must struggle to put right by prayer and thought.”

P. 68 – “I learned early that patriotism does not connote slavishly following your country in all things. Patriotism does not mean, “My country right or wrong.” That is moral nonsense. But it means, “My country insofar as it remains faithful to God’s purpose.” A true patriot doesn’t pretend not to notice when his country goes wrong. He doesn’t say, “All is well,” when all is not well [ . . . ] A true patriot says, “I love my country, and, therefore, I will do my best for my country. I will place my abilities at the disposal of my country; I will try to improve my country.” A true patriot is prepared to help humbly bring his country back on to the right track again.”

P. 123-4 – “I believe that the more we know about our ancestors–the way they lived, the history of their times, there language and culture–the more chance we have that they will accept the gospel. I am sure that is so because if we turn our hearts towards them, they should turn their hearts toward us. That is one of the things that Malachi means.”

P. 130 – “We must remember that we should judge in such a way that we shall not mind being judged in the same way. That is the point. To commit ourselves to a judgment is to be prepared to have someone else commit himself by judging us.”

P. 143 – “Self-forgetfulness is at the heart of sincerity. That means that if we try to force sincerity, we shall merely produce insincerity and hypocrisy. Once we start being self-conscious, we can’t be true. Any self-conscious effort to express things is always against the grain. To attempt self-consciously to speak or write well means to fail; it is to forget that we are members one of another. [ . . . ] This has everything to do with being righteous [ . . . ] We have to learn to be sincere. We have to try, just as we have to try to repent all our lives. It is an ongoing process. And eventually we can reach the point where we don’t have to think about it. It comes spontaneously.”

P. 149 – “If we do something spontaneously and it is a good thing, then it will be virtue unto us. But if we have to think whether to do it or not, if we have to reflect for even one moment, then the element of potential sin has entered because we are doubtful about what we ought not to be doubtful about. We ought to know what to do it situations. The right way to follow the Master is the way he teaches.”

P. 159-60 – “The best literature of our times (outside the gospel) is miserable, uncertain, vicious, uncertain, cynical, uncertain, sardonic, uncertain. And it is no accident that this is the case. The reason is that faith has gone out to a lower ebb than it has ever been at before in Western civilization [ . . . ] Only the bad literature of our time is “happy,” and it is bad because the happiness is synthetic. Bad literature tries to be happy with “romance” outside the gospel, and that is impossible.”

P. 274 – “There is elitism on campus: athletic, social (clubs), and political (BYUSA officers and their staff). True, BYUSA officers do not have as much power as comparable officers at other universities, but in that very absence of power, they have exemplified empty elitism. They need to be made honest by being chosen, as Church officers are. Ours is not a democratic church. Why this imitation of apostate universities, an imitation of the world not necessitated by being in the world? Cannot the Lord’s university be spared the unspeakable vulgarity of childishly run elections on which most sensible students turn their backs?”

P. 322 – “Those of us who have helped to build up the evil pressures in society or who neglect to do our best to combat them are partly responsible for the crimes that result from those pressures.”

P. 346-7 (Last paragraph of the book) – “Self-forgetfulness is the key to wholeness, to becoming at one with God’s world, and each individual must become whole. The individual is of supreme importance. The individual is from everlasting to everlasting. But the individual exists by virtue of others’ individuality. And that is why I say that individuals develop as they forget themselves, they do not develop by asserting themselves or thinking of themselves. And that’s the fundamental thing about this soul of ours: if we can be at peace with ourselves and be at peace within the group, we can be so most readily by remembering that, as members one of another, we gain by remembering others and forgetting ourselves. Fundamentally, such remembering and forgetting is what love is all about.”

What do you think?