Monday, February 20, 2017

"Whose Fruit was Desirable to Make One Happy": The True Story of José Almerich

José Almerich (left) with my uncle Matthew Stevens (right) circa 1973–1976.

This account was written by my mother Jill Stevens Smoot. The following transcription has standardized and corrected some grammar, spelling, and punctuation. 

This is the true story of José Almerich.

From 1973–1976 my father, Robert V. Stevens, along with his wife Sue Stevens and their five children, presided over the Spain Mission. My parents would, as often as possible, take us children with them as they traveled all over Spain to various missionary zone conferences. These were wonderful opportunities for us as children. Often we were overwhelmed by the Spirit and would be strengthened by the talks and powerful testimonies shared in these meetings. It was no different for my younger brother Matthew. At eight years of age, Matthew found himself sitting in on the morning session of a Valencia zone conference. Anxious to be like the missionaries, Matthew arrived for the morning session wearing a white shirt and tie.

Excited at the lunch break, Matthew begged our mother to let him go outside with some of the missionaries so that he could pass out a Book of Mormon. Reassured by the missionaries that they were happy to watch over my little brother, my mother gave her permission.

Handing Matthew a Book of Mormon in Spanish, my mother asked him, "What do you want to say to someone in Spanish when you give them this book?" Matthew answered, "Would you like to learn how to be happy?" And so my mother taught him how to say ¿Quieres aprender a ser feliz? Matthew replied, "If the gospel makes me happy, then it cane make someone else happy too."

Matthew waited on the street corner that day for over an hour for just the right person to come along to give his copy of the Book of Mormon. Waiting as patiently as an eight year old child possibly could, Matthew soon spotted a young twenty year old man by the name of José Almerich crossing the street with a letter in his hand. José was headed for a mail box located on the same street corner where Matthew was standing. Before José could drop his letter into the mail box, Matthew approached him, handed him the Book of Mormon, and asked him if he wanted to learn how to be happy.

Surprised, José said thank you and took the book home with him. Enclosed was the address of the local meetinghouse along with the schedules for Sunday services. It was not long afterwards when José showed up to church having already read the Book of Mormon. He began taking the discussions and in time found that he was ready to be baptized.

José told my father on the day of the baptism the rest of his story. José had had a painful childhood. He was sent off to an all-boys boarding school at a very young age, rarely seeing his family for many years to come. Consequently, he received no help, support, or counselling for the physical and emotional abuse he suffered while attending school.

Following graduation he went straight into the armed services. After completing the required two years of military duty, José found himself all alone and extremely lost. Soon he began looking for some kind of meaning or direction to his life. He studied various religions but found no real satisfying answers.

José told my father that having finally come to the lowest point in his life and having given up all hope for finding family or answers that might help him work through his painful past, he found himself writing a farewell letter to his only friend in the world. He showed the letter to my father and said, "President Stevens, I had no more desire to live. The pain I was suffering was too great, and so I had made the decision to end my life. I wrote my kind friend this letter asking for his forgiveness and said my good-byes. On the day I met your Matthew, I was on my way to mail this letter with the plans of returning home quickly to do just that. As I was crossing the street to approach the mail box, I remember physically wiping the tears away from my eyes with the thought that I had never been so unhappy."

"And it came to pass that I beheld a tree, whose fruit was desirable to make one happy." (1 Nephi 8:10)

Postscript: the Book of Mormon speaks of "the great plan of happiness" (Alma 42:8), and describes a time when Nephi's people "lived after the manner of happiness" (2 Nephi 5:27). Lehi taught, "Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy" (2 Nephi 2:25). Reading and living the doctrinal and moral precepts narrated in the Book of Mormon will not only lead to an increase of worldly joy, but will ultimately draw men and women to God, who thereby shall have a "fulness of joy" in His kingdom (3 Nephi 28:10). 

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Christian Hypocrisy in Annette von Droste-Hülshoff's "Die Judenbuche"

A portrait of Annette von Droste-Hülshoff (1837).

I wrote the following in the Fall of 2014 for a course at Brigham Young University 
on Deutsche Literatur des 19. Jahrhunderts.
The specter of anti-Semitism in German history looms large in today's post-Holocaust world. The great past works of German literature, ranging from Gotthold Ephraim Lessing's Nathan der Weise to Annette von Droste-Hülshoff Die Judenbuche to Heinrich Heine's Hebräische Melodien, that have touched on themes of Jewish identity, anti-Semitism, and religious pluralism in Germany have since the end of the Second World War enjoyed renewed critical attention. Recent critics have emphasized the significance of anti-Semitism in German culture and the role these works played in shaping or (re)defining Jewish "Otherness" in German consciousness.
Much of the criticism of Annette von Droste-Hülshoff's 1842 novella Die Judenbuche has focused on the depiction of anti-Semitism in the text. As we will see, this literature has largely ignored what I believe is an example of the depiction of an arguably hypocritical Christian character. I believe the opening scene of Frederick Mergel and his seemingly pious mother taking shelter from a winter storm is ambiguous enough in the narrative to suggest religious hypocrisy on the part of Frau Mergel without explicitly depicting such. This ambiguity in turn brings more nuance to the portrayal of at least one non-Jewish character in the text.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Make America Great Again! (By Protecting it from the Mormons)

It's important that we protect America from lawless criminals and religious fanatics. (Source Wikimedia)

That there could be any Mormons who espouse Islamophobia truly baffles me. Like, seriously. I cannot wrap my mind around it. If anyone should by sympathetic to the plight of a denigrated and (often maliciously) misunderstood and misrepresented religious minority in the United States, it should be us.

And here’s why. What follows is a basic reconstruction of the popular 19th century American view towards Mormons and Mormonism. This captures the essence of what you find 19th century Americans were saying about Mormonism in newspapers, popular media, academic literature, sermons, and even government reports. 

See if it sounds at all familiar to what you hear today about Muslims and Islam in some circles.

* * *

You are living in America's Gilded Age. Just a few years ago America tore itself apart with civil war. But since then the nation is starting to heal itself and is binding up old wounds. A new national identity is being forged that will unite Americans once again. Your nation has made unbelievable advances in industry, technology, culture, and commerce. Through American ingenuity and by Divine Providence you can truly be proud of your place at the pinnacle of modern civilization. Your culture is the epitome of white Protestant capability. 

But there remain threats to this Pax Americana. Threats to white Protestant American identity and stability.

Not just Chinese and Irish immigrants and Roman Catholics, mind you. Out in the desert wasteland of Utah are the Mormons. Sure, they talk about being a Christian religion that values freedom and peace, but make no mistake about it. This is not a benign religion. The Mormons are a very real and immediate threat to America.

Within living memory they have introduced anti-Christian superstitions and humbugs with their blasphemous talk of modern revelations and new scripture. Led by their fanatical false prophet Joe Smith, an American Mahomet, the Mormons have not just blasphemed God, but have usurped the law, have attempted to forcibly seize power, have robbed and pillaged American settlements, have murdered innocents, and continue to deceived gullible dupes day by day. They were so violent and unlawful, in fact, that that they had to be forcibly exterminated from states such as Missouri and Illinois to maintain the peace and keep American citizens safe. 

Now they have set up a theocracy in the desert where their prophet controls every aspect of their lives. Economic and political power rest in the hands of a few men who claim direct inspiration from God. And the Mormons blindly follow these sinister prophets. They are authoritarian and vote en bloc according to the commands of their leaders. Brigham Young and others preach blood atonement, which allows for the murder of dissenters and apostates. They oppress women by practicing polygamy, a vile, immoral corruption that was introduced by the lecherous Joe Smith. This monstrous affront to any sense of civilized Christian morality has no place in America, and must be put down by law. (Which is why, thankfully, the Supreme Court upheld anti-polygamy laws in 1878, thus protecting traditional marriage and society at large.)

Their missionaries travel far and wide to trick people, especially gullible women, into joining their cult. Then they steal any of their property or money by their “law of consecration” (which is really just a scheme for Mormon leaders to become rich). Yes, that’s right. Mormons have a religious law that they one day hope to impose on all Americans. Just read their scriptures, which speak of this law (as well as other religious laws) being imposed when Jesus returns and the Mormons claim our lands for themselves. (They tried that in Missouri in the 1830s, but were thankfully stopped.)

When non-Mormon “Gentiles” came through their territory, the Mormons massacred them. That’s how intolerant and bloodthirsty the Mormons are. The Mormons are so restless that the army had to send an expeditionto Utah to pacify them. Civilly disobedient to the extreme, the Mormons openly defied the army and federal laws that were enacted to stop their theocratic madness from claiming more victims. They are a pack of lawless thugs terrorizing our country.

America won’t be safe from the Mormons if they were to gain any power. American democracy will perish if Mormon fanaticism is allowed to flourish. Mormonism is an assault on the very moral fabric of society. That’s why “President Rutherford B. Hayes' secretary of state William Evarts wrote to US diplomats asking them to seek help from European governments to keep Mormon converts from traveling to the US. And in 1883 President Grover Cleveland asked Congress to 'prevent the importation of Mormons into the country,' according to 'Immigration and the 'Mormon Question' by William Mulder.”

And why not? After all, scientists and medical authorities have proven that “Mormons [are] racial outsiders,” and more racially comparable to inferior races such as blacks and orientals than to us whites. Mormons are “not merely a theological departure from the mainstream, they [are] racially and physically different.” We need to stop our white Protestant culture from being overrun by the racially inferior Mormons. We need to stop the white genocide happening in this country.

That’s why we are going to strip Mormons of their rights (right to vote, hold office, hold property, worship as they please, etc.) for our own safety and protection. We need strong leaders who know how to be tough negotiators and who can restore law and order in our country. We need secure boarders from Mormon immigrants until we can figure out what’s going on here.

It's time to make America great again!

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

On Hugh Nibley and His Footnotes

After receiving a PhD from UC–Berkeley in 1938, Hugh Nibley fought in World War 2 as a member of military intelligence for the 101st Airborne Division. (Photo from
On his blog John Gee has some comments on the legacy of Hugh Nibley, the godfather of modern Latter-day Saint scholarship of the ancient world. Among other things, Gee commented briefly on his personal history with Nibley:
I knew Nibley pretty well, for someone who was my grandfather's age. I took six classes from him. I spent years not only reading just about everything he wrote, but actually looking up thousands of his footnotes. I edited two volumes in his collected works, and source checked on all but three of those volumes. I also had many personal encounters with him over a twenty year time period. I learned many of the same languages he did. I have seen first hand his strengths and weakness both as a person and as a scholar.
The mentioning of Nibley's footnotes, of course, brought to my mind the claim made by some that Nibley simply fabricated his footnotes. This claim can be easily refuted (and indeed has been).

It was not long after reading Gee's blog last night that I encountered the following in the English translation of Heinrich Schäfer's monumental achievement Von ägyptischer Kunst. Schäfer, next to Adolf Erman and Kurt Sethe, was a preeminent fin-de-siècle German Egyptologist. His work on Egyptian art is yet standard reading for students a century after its appearance.

But John Baines, the translator and co-editor of the English edition of Schäfer's work, noticed something as he worked with the text.
The German edition of the book is editorially unsuitable for an English-speaking public because of the condensed and complicated form of its citations, and because some of the works referred to are inaccessible and others have since appeared in translations or in new editions. The book also departs to a surprising extent from norms of citation in modifying or paraphrasing passages quoted, yet retaining quotation marks, and in failing to acknowledge other quotations. A fair number of references are simply wrong, especially in the list of illustrations–I only hope not too many errors have crept into this edition.
(John Baines, "Translator's Introduction," in Heinrich Schäfer, Principles of Egyptian Art, ed. Emma Brunner-Traut [Oxford: Griffith Institute, 2002], xvii–xviii.)

As far as I'm aware, nobody has attempted to wave away Schäfer's pioneering work because he wasn't as careful with his footnotes or citations as he should've been. I therefore find it rather perplexing that many have tried to do such with Nibley.

There are plenty of reasons to be critical of Nibley's scholarship. Many of his assumptions and methodological approaches can rightly be questioned, and a number of Nibley's arguments have been rendered obsolete due to subsequent scholarship and new information. (Nibley himself was well aware this would eventually be the case, and famously quipped, "I refuse to be held responsible for anything I wrote more than three years ago.") But that is not the same as dismissing Nibley out of hand because he was sometimes sloppy with his citations and sometimes employed questionable readings of his sources.

I can only suspect Nibley has been the target of these attempted dismissals for ideological and polemical rather than scholarly reasons.