I am a child of the Cold War. My first exposure to Skousen was in my grandparents' living room where I noticed on their library shelves of a few, mostly church books, a large, red volume by Skousen entitled The Naked Communist. I was intrigued. I first wondered how a book with two evil things in the title could be in my grandparents' house. "Naked" perhaps being more tempting than "Communist," I took the opportunity when no one was looking and sneaked a peak. Well, there wasn't a lot of naked stuff in there, at least not from a boy's perspective of fleshy things. However, I was a serious child given to reading and even with some interest in history. So there I was reading along a lot of excitable language about how bad Communists were and how they were infiltrating our government, society and our very thoughts. Of course I already knew some of that because, well, I was a child of the Cold War.
I didn't read the whole book but I got enough of the gist of it with a slight sense of detached skepticism I must have had since birth. It seems to be deep down in my being, which remains surprisingly optimistic, but with the perspective that I can choose what I believe and I am not ruled by emotion or "group think." Obviously, some may conclude that it is my legal education that trained me this way. That is in part true as I know from practice in the law that it pays not to believe everything (or even anything) someone tells you as the truth. But I can give everybody a fair hearing and make my own choices and accept responsibility for them based on reason, evidence, life experience, common sense, intuition, inspiration, some personal prejudices and even emotion. And I certainly don't support public figures just because they happen to belong to my church (if that were a popular practice, we'd all be supporting Senator Harry Reid, no?).
Skipping ahead a few years, I found myself at Brigham Young University. I was fortunately encouraged to sign up for a freshman Book of Mormon class taught by a guy named Jeff Holland. That was wonderful! (See my previous blog about what I learned from Bro. Holland -certainly nothing political) As I was in the BYU bookstore, under the old system where you had to get your books by class section, I noticed that next to the huge pile of official CES (Church Education System) texts for freshman Book of Mormon classes, there was also a fairly large pile of other books for the class sections taught by Skousen, Treasures from the Book of Mormon and Skousen was the author. I learned to be skeptical of choosing class sections where the professor had his own books for sale. It offended my impoverished student sensibilities to think of professors making extra money off of us. But more than that concern, I skimmed through Treasures from the Book of Mormon to try and understand how it was different from the established church curriculum. There wasn’t a lot, but there were little hints here and there of Skousen’s ultra-conservative political views. And it nagged at me that he was somehow an individual exception to religious teaching carefully prepared and reviewed by those authorized by established church leaders.
I was also aware in my BYU years of Skousen's Freeman's Institute. It was a group sponsoring conservative politics and "Constitutional" education seminars. Being aware of its location in a rather seedy looking building just off the BYU Campus, I thought that I had enough studying to do without taking on additional burdens that were of questionable or at least controversial nature. And I felt uncomfortable with the apparent appropriation of "freemen," a term from the Book of Mormon (Alma 51), for political purposes. Once again, it didn't seem orthodox but somewhat manipulative. I was looking to learn from mainstream or authorized messengers.
Skousen seemed to drop out of sight as he aged or at least the popularity or interest may have waned, particularly with the collapse of the Berlin Wall and free, Western-oriented nations rising from the former Soviet Union. Skousen's politics, like those of the related John Birch Society, didn't seem so, well, I want to say relevant, but I'm not sure that ever really fit.
Yet back in those Cold War days godless communism really was a threat to freedom, world peace, and the spread of the gospel. I can imagine how heartsick our church leaders were when after the horrors of WWII, members were cut off behind the iron curtain and missionary work was not able to go forth in so much of the world. It may have been that Skousen latched on to this sentiment to further his particular political views, which while they had some LDS support even at the highest levels of church leadership, they were never officially sanctioned by the Church nor accepted by a majority of its members.
Times go by. If you haven't picked up by now, I find Glenn Beck rather annoying. I was very disturbed when I realized that Beck was reviving the books and philosophies of Skousen on his radio and TV shows. Skousen's book, The 5,000 Year Leap even made it onto national best-seller lists with a new foreword and promotion by Beck. My thought was that it was so unfortunate when in my perception (or at least hope) that time and the official LDS Church had distanced themselves away from Skousen. Yet there he was back again and prominently displayed at Deseret Book (along with Bro. Beck). Sigh.
My last and most recent personal perspective came from a course I took on mediation presented by Utah Dispute Resolution affiliated with the Utah State Bar. In a week-long course of 40 people, you get to know the participants fairly well as we practiced our communication skills with one another. One guy seemed rather annoying from the start. He came late the first day dressed in dark suit and tie, with slicked-back, dark hair, clearly a downtown lawyer-type (or at least a "wanna-be"). Everyone else apparently had read in the course registration materials about suggested "business casual" dress. It wasn't just that he stuck out in appearance and that he had to take the last seat remaining up front, but he tended to dominate a lot of the class discussion with the kind of fake inquisitiveness and know-it-all, false modesty one usually finds with those annoying kids in grade school classes (think "Judy" in Miss Canfield's Class on "Leave it to Beaver"). This guy also spared no pains in hinting at his ostensibly exemplary family and religious life. Everyone else in the room appeared non-denominational but most likely it was the usual Utah professional mix of LDS and others. We all immediately knew he was active LDS without him having to say it directly. At one point, maybe a little selfishly to distance myself from him as I was likely identified as LDS as well, I discretely asked the young woman sitting next to me, a biking enthusiast who worked for the Utah Courts, whether she found him as annoying as I did. Her response was, "You have no idea!" Later in the week I was in the mens room and overheard him in conversation trying to promote The 5,000 Year Leap saying what a great insight it gave to the modern world and our Founding Fathers. Some time after the course, I noticed in the paper that this same guy had won a seat in the Utah Legislature on a Tea Party ticket after beating a moderate, incumbent Republican in their County Convention. ¡Ay, ay, ay!
Well, make your own judgments and choices. I've made mine. And they are not to join with the Skousen followers. Check it out and think it out for yourselves.
Addendum of August 16, 2011
As I identified Representative Ken Ivory below in the comments, I also realized that not many people of the younger generations really know who Judy is from Beaver's school class. Here are some photos. There must have been something that linked a connection in the recesses of my brain.
|Utah State Representative Ken Ivory|
|Beaver's nemesis Judy Hensler|
And Ken Ivory:
Sorry, no pics or vids of Bro. Skousen. You can go look for those on your own.