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The Gospel in Words: Reflections on Arthur Henry King

Published: Thursday, Feb. 18 2010 12:00 a.m. MST

One might be tempted to dismiss Professor Arthur Henry King as an eccentric, elitist Englishman. That would be a mistake. A big mistake. I know, I almost made that mistake.

Though I never took a class from him and was not formally one of his students, much less one of his "honorary children," nevertheless, this charming, given to absolutes, teacher influenced me immeasurably.

I discovered Arthur Henry King during my first year in law school in the mid-1970s. In a classic example of that important rule in life of never underestimating the role of serendipity, in one of my first classes I happened to sit next to Casey Christensen, one of Professor King's "honorary children." Casey invited me to join a law student study group, which turned out to include a number of Dr. King's "honorary children." These were remarkable young men, and I was deeply impressed that though very different in personality, they each bore the strong imprint of Professor King, the common denominator among them.

Intrigued, I would periodically venture across the street and sit in on some of Professor King's classes. His influence was immediate and arresting. To this day, I have vivid recollections of those classes and can still hear his strong British voice thundering in my head.

Though I can't summarize everything I learned from Professor King, the following are some of the nuggets that stand out as I reflect on his influence on me. In some cases, where his writing reflects greater precision than my recollection, I will quote from his 1998 book, "Arm the Children, Faith's Response to a Violent World."

Overarching every lesson taught by Professor King was his deeply embedded approach to seeing everything in art, literature, music and history through the gospel lens. In the case of music, for example, does a piece of music incline us more to the worship of God or to the worship of ourselves or the material world we live in? It had never occurred to me to think that there might be such a differentiation between a Bach and a Mozart on the one hand, and a Beethoven or a Wagner on the other hand.

King believed that Wagner was saturated in eroticism and self-pity. In a commencement address at Brigham Young University following the performance of the "Liebestod" in "Tristan und Isolde," King noted "that I had to struggle for five years, from the age of 13 to the age of 18, to rid Wagner from my soul."

Beethoven, on the other hand, was obsessed with self-assertion and defiance. I remember King, imitating his sense of Beethoven by thrusting his fist heavenward with a streak of defiance, saying, "I, Beethoven, am still here." "From obsession with the erotic, the sentimental, the self-pitying, the self-assertive, the arid and the violent, it is refreshing to return to the religious music of the 17th and 18th centuries, and particularly that of Bach and Mozart (and I would add Haydn). These two in their musical practice exemplify the unity we find in the gospel of obedience and the following of a strict form with a sense of freedom and joy overflowing from the form. It is difficult to imagine better examples of this combination of discipline and freedom in a sense of liberated joy."

It is not possible to overstate King's commitment to the importance of reading. And not just any reading, but close, careful, and importantly, slow reading. King felt that the most important thing we could read ourselves or to our children is the scriptures. "The scriptures can be a complete education, as has been shown by those in the past who truly educated themselves from the scriptures when they had no other education. But all of us can get something if we will be read the scriptures. And, indeed, by reading the scriptures thoroughly, we can get a better education than we can in any other way.

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