Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Cleon Skousen’s 7,000-Mile Leap

Cleon Skousen’s 7,000-Mile Leap

By: Ardis E. Parshall - October 08, 2009

From the 1965 Improvement Era, back in the days when Brother Skousen was taking us all for a ride —




  1. yikes.

    Comment by JonW — October 8, 2009 @ 7:57 am

  2. Well he got one thing right, focusing Book of Mormon tours in Guatemala. :)

    Comment by Dan — October 8, 2009 @ 8:08 am

  3. Nice. I still have an old VHS tape titled “Visit Irael! with Dr. Cleon Skousen” put out by Living Scriptures.

    Comment by Christopher — October 8, 2009 @ 8:32 am

  4. er, Israel*

    Comment by Christopher — October 8, 2009 @ 8:35 am

  5. Nice title for the post, BTW, Ardis. Clever.

    Comment by Christopher — October 8, 2009 @ 9:11 am

  6. At least this leap had a Pan Am DC-8 to get it off the ground!

    Comment by Mark B. — October 8, 2009 @ 9:13 am

  7. Where do I sign up?!

    Comment by sister blah 2 — October 8, 2009 @ 9:15 am

  8. Okay, so I get that Bro. Skousen may have had some knowledge about the Holy Land, and even a BoM lands tour, but I am wondering about what particular expertise he may have had about South America? Detecting communist agents in the crowds at Carnival in Rio?

    Comment by kevinf — October 8, 2009 @ 9:35 am

  9. “Mr. Skousen is a foremost L.D.S. authority on the Holy Land…”

    1. Was the state of LDS scholarship really that dad back in the 1960s?

    2. Notice that he is “Mr. Skousen.” George Washington Univ will convert his LLB into a JD in the early 1970s and he and his disciples will start referring to him as Dr. Skousen. That a law degree from the 1940s could be considered and academic degree is almost more laughable than the stuff he wrote (though today, many academics do have a law school training, but from a very different environment).

    Comment by Chris H — October 8, 2009 @ 9:44 am

  10. I can imagine all those Mormon retirees having a fabulous and eye-opening experience at Carnival! Fabulous indeed! And breath-taking!

    Comment by Mark B. — October 8, 2009 @ 10:31 am

  11. “Mr. Skousen is a foremost L.D.S. authority on the Holy Land, . . .”

    I think Murdoch Travel’s use of that title (“a foremost L.D.S. authority“) in an LDS publication is, well, a little questionable.

    Or, if the Church let them get away with it, maybe it’s just smart advertising!

    Comment by Hunter — October 8, 2009 @ 11:14 am

  12. Is there anything Skousen wasn’t “a foremost authority” on? I don’t know how this guy found time to get his fingers into all the things he had his fingers into. And still have time for a relaxing cup of Postum with Salt Lake’s finest.

    Comment by Left Field — October 8, 2009 @ 9:02 pm

  13. My guess is that obtaining a law degree from GW law school in the 40’s might challenge even Chris.

    Just thinking the other night about how in the last little while those of each age have tended to consider themselves superior to those of the past period or two. Just how such a conclusion is reached remains mysterious to me. At the moment, it seems to require a leap of faith a reasonable person might find a little challenging.

    As Carroll put it,

    “Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said. “One can’t believe impossible things.”

    “I dare say you haven’t had much practice,” said the queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

    Perhaps if we follow the example of the White Queen’s diligent application, it will become clear to us.

    Comment by S. Taylor — October 8, 2009 @ 10:16 pm

  14. Sorry, I meant no offense to old people. I assume most are not full of crap like Skousen and his followers. If anything, his education taught him how to effectively violate civil rights as SLC police chief.

    I have many friends and relatives who have attended GW law. None of them have used their degree to scam legions into thinking that they are historians or biblical scholars, because they are not…and neither was Skousen.

    Comment by Chris H. — October 8, 2009 @ 11:11 pm

  15. Left Field,


    Uh, let’s see. Skousen was not a foremost authority on liberalism, socialism, communism. He was not a foremost authority on Quigley, nor on the international bankers of the 20th century.

    Comment by Dan — October 9, 2009 @ 4:46 am

  16. nice find, Ardis!

    when I was a new convert, many families here had his series of ‘Thousand years’ books, so until fairly recently all I knew of him was as an LDS scholar. After his death I read some comments which were less than flattering, and started looking more into his life. Wowsers.

    Comment by Anne (U.K) — October 9, 2009 @ 4:51 am

  17. It’s awfully reassuring for an old person like me on a quiet morning in Brooklyn, New York, to discover that at least some people believe that “most [old people] are not full of crap.”

    It would be well to remember that Murdock Travel was trying to sell its tours, and they could say almost anything they wanted in their ad copy. What do you expect them to say: “Cleon Skousen, Tour Guide. Not all that full of crap.”? That’ll move those tickets out the door in a hurry.

    And other even older people, my parents for example, never had any of Skousen’s books and always seemed to think that he was more or less full of crap. Which proves, of course, that my parents were not, and therefore would have got along well with the new generations who thankfully have lived their entire lives completely free from it.

    Comment by Mark B. — October 9, 2009 @ 6:05 am

  18. Sorry about that last comment of mine. I was out of line.

    Comment by Chris H. — October 9, 2009 @ 7:07 am

  19. Skousen always brings out the best in us all, doesn’t he? I just thought you-all would get a kick out of seeing a familiar face in an unfamiliar place …

    … and, like Left Field, perhaps remember the last Skousen sighting on Keepa.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — October 9, 2009 @ 7:32 am

  20. was my last comment moderated?

    [It got caught in the spam filter, sorry. So much spam has been making it through the filter recently that I tightened the security level, and now it’s catching good comments, too. I’ll free trapped comments as soon as i see them.– AEP]

    Comment by Dan — October 9, 2009 @ 7:53 am

  21. It’s ok, Chris. (Of course, I can’t speak for our Dear Leader, Ardis. She may think that your last comment was full of . . . well, you know.)

    And don’t knock lawyers whose LlBs got upgraded by wave of a wand to JDs, and who get called “Doctor.” (Unless, of course, we refer to ourselves that way–then, lower the boom!) I’ve had clients who insisted on calling me that, despite my protests, and I remember Ernie Wilkinson being called Dr. Wilkinson and even his successor was called Dr. Oaks. (My guess he got whiplash looking around for his long-departed father, or his brother, both of whom were physicians.)

    Comment by Mark B. — October 9, 2009 @ 10:45 am

  22. I don’t know who Quigley is, but it certainly appears that Skousen fancied himself “a foremost authority” on just about everything.

    Comment by Left Field — October 9, 2009 @ 2:50 pm

  23. Left Field,

    Quigley is the professor who wrote the book Tragedy and Hope (I think that’s what it was called), which when Skousen read it, apparently opened his eyes to the dastardly secret combinations of elite capitalist bankers running the world, blah blah blah. Quigley had an opportunity to respond to Skousen’s terrible analysis of his book, and it wasn’t pretty. The book in question is the Naked Capitalist.

    Comment by Dan — October 10, 2009 @ 12:04 pm

  24. About half of the comments here are solidly anti-Skousen. None are pro-Skousen. He wasn’t a General Authority or anything, but it still really bothers me to see a thread where everybody just gangs up on someone like this.

    So his understanding of things wasn’t perfect. We get it. But is it appropriate or necessary to focus on that and apparently revel in venting our more “enlightened” spleens at him, and ignore his character and many good contributions? After all, for example, will American citizenship become better or worse with so many people reading The 5000 Year Leap? It may also be imperfect, but it points students of America’s founding in the right direction.

    Might it be a reasonable unwritten rule of civil online discourse that when a thread tends towards universal evisceration of someone, that the redundant back-patting be thereafter kept to a minimum?

    (Sorry for the threadjack, Ardis. Now I’m the one venting my spleen.)

    Comment by Huston — October 11, 2009 @ 5:47 pm

  25. Well ventilated spleens are occasionally necessary to good health, Huston, no? Thanks.

    I realized there was a risk of bashing when I posted this, especially with a title bearing on Skousen’s current events status, but am glad it was as mild as it’s been — really, it *has* been mild compared to other blogs, other threads. I don’t mind candid opinions. I am sorry, though, when a near uniformity of opinion makes it uncomfortable for some readers to express alternate views. I think #13 was a ginger step toward an alternate view, and of course Huston’s is.

    For what it’s worth, although I share the general view of Skousen’s politics, I also remember as a young teenager reading the “thousand year” series and being very excited about it, especially that it was so readable and because he wove a single narrative from multiple scriptural sources. I haven’t looked at those books for 30 years and don’t know how they would appeal to me today, but I remember that it was an important contribution to my early gospel education.

    I don’t know how any of that, along with anything else I’ve ever heard about Skousen, translates to ability as a tour guide, though. It’s that slight sense of the absurd that makes these ads interesting.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — October 11, 2009 @ 6:34 pm

  26. I need to apologize to Chris H. and do so. I should never have named him personally or used the contentious tone I often adopt to my sorrow.

    I never did read much of Skousen’s writing and never shared the enthusiasm of some for it. A talk he gave at the Y in, oh, say, 1970 seemed valuable and candid when he discussed his own experience with habituation/addiction to prescribed pain medication. It was then that I decided I could not share what can only be called distain that many of my friends seemed to express for Br. Skousen.

    The curious point about our present exchange is that most of the commentators stated that they had read nothing or very little of Skousen’s output, but were willing to share very negative opinions about him. I was reminded of something from Czeslaw Milosz wrote in his Unattainablre Earth –

    “I don’t like the Western way of thinking. I could say: the way Western intellectuals think, but then I would pass over the transformation that has occurred during the past few decades. And the transformation (not a sudden one, though suddenly present, like pubescence or senility) consists in the disappearance of a distinction between the enlightened — the knowledgeable, the progressive, the mentally liberated — and the so-called masses. That great schism has ended and we are returned to a unified worldview, as was the case in the Middle Ages when a theologian, a cooper and a fieldhand believed in the same things. Schools, television and newspapers have allied themselves to turn minds in the direction desired by the liberal intelligentsia, and so the victory came: an image of the world which is enforced for all of us, under a penalty equivalent to the ancient penalties of pillory and stake: that is, ridicule.”

    What is now “unmentionable” may desperately call out for public debate. But no one dares address certain areas of public life for fear of public and professional censure of a very real kind.

    One is reminded of the Victorian aversion to public mention of sex or certain aspects of our bodies. One sometimes wonders if our own time is not much different in regards to many critical matters. Most of us have been so deeply indoctrinated in attitudes now considered proper that it now sometimes seems impossible for them to see the world through any other lens, or to shake the sense of moral superiority to nearly every aspect of the past.

    Ridicule is indeed a powerful inducement to conformity and one that has shaped the public mind in a very powerful way. Like any other public fashion or trend (as, consider what seems to me to have been the speculative and smilingly dishonest optimism and chicanery which landed us in our current financial situation), we may be required to wade through what might be a bitter consequence before we can experience recovery.

    Comment by S. Taylor — October 12, 2009 @ 11:09 am

  27. Like Ardis, I read several of Skousen’s “Thousand” year books as a teenager, and enjoyed them. I also remember reading his “Prophecy and Modern Times”, and being a little less entertained, both by what I perceived to be a morbidly pessimistic view, and some liberties of interpretation. Later, after I married, I learned more about Skousen and his politics, which I did not much care for.

    He was a complicated guy, with much of interest that he accomplished, but also scary in his pursuit of conspiracies. He has turned into a whole different case than President Benson, whose politics prior to becoming President of the Church really concerned me, but who I came to love and respect as Prophet for his commitment to the Book of Mormon, and his unique contributions to our faith.

    President Monson spoke about anger in general conference just more than a week ago, expressing his concern over contention and the divisiveness we are experiencing these days. President Hinckley also spoke about anger at length in his last address in General PH Meeting in October of 2007. I may be reaching, but I see a fairly straight line from those two addresses to our current political climate, where many accuse Skousen disciple Glenn Beck of fostering hate and divisive contention. Heck, it’s been at least this bad for the last 17 years, and really only slightly more amped up than I have observed over my lifetime, which covers presidents from Kennedy down to the present.

    I think it is good to look back and learn something from these things. And if that includes calling into question Skousen’s academic credentials as highlighted in these ads, I am okay with that.

    Comment by kevinf — October 12, 2009 @ 11:50 am

  28. Before my mission I really liked Skousen’s talk on The Atonement ( It gave, and continues to give me, much food for thought about the nature of “intelligences”.

    Comment by Rob — October 12, 2009 @ 5:01 pm

  29. Huston: I hardly think that Keepapitchinin is a place known for commentators with gang-like tendencies. To the contrary, I find that most opinions expressed here to be free from a lot of the rancor found elsewhere in the blogosphere. I quite like our quiet corner, and appreciate the fact that commentators seem very comfortable expressing their opinions, whether they are in the majority or not.

    (For the record, I’ve read Skousen’s “5000 Year Leap”, as well as significant portions of his “The Naked Communist.” And thus, I feel like I have the right to have an opinion on Skousen’s writings and claims, but that’s not what this post is really about, though, so I won’t threadjack any further.)

    Comment by Hunter — October 13, 2009 @ 11:59 am

  30. Thanks to all for a beautiful, refreshing, and heartening discussion. I’m so impressed by and proud of my colleagues right now. Hunter, I completely agree; as always, three cheers for Ardis!

    Comment by Huston — October 13, 2009 @ 11:33 pm

  31. Can someone please tell me what the turning point was that changed Skousen from a LDS authoritative leader into what everyone is posting above?

    That would be enlightening, and instructive. I wonder if his fall from grace was political or ecclesiastical. Was there a specific incident? An affair, drug bust, or some other personal failing? Was it a variance from doctrine?

    So what happened: did the Church change its view of Skousen or did Skousen stray outside the views of the Church?

    If the Church could one day wake up and change course back then, it could happen again. That’s a happy thought.


    Comment by William W. Wexler — October 14, 2009 @ 8:14 am

  32. WWW, you’re waaaaaay overdrawing anything that happened, any “course change” by the church, Skousen’s status as “authoritative leader,” and especially in speculating about a faulty moral character.

    First, Skousen was never a church leader beyond the kind of local callings which, in a church with a lay ministry, come to tens of thousands of men sooner or later. His leadership in any formal sense ended with the management of his local congregation. Beyond that, he was a leader only in the sense that any person who claims or develops expertise in a given area can develop a voluntary following. Maybe I consider myself an authority on the correspondence of Brigham Young because of the time I have devoted to its study — that doesn’t mean anybody is bound to respect my claim (although some might), and it doesn’t give me any control over the materials. Ditto for Skousen’s status as a leader or authority.

    There was no “falling from grace” in an ecclesiastical sense — I know of absolutely nothing that impugns Skousen’s character as a good man or a faithful follower of Jesus Christ.

    I know from your comments elsewhere that you are familiar with Skousen’s politics. His politics appealed — still do appeal — to many Mormons, as well as to many, many others. His politics were no doubt informed by his religious beliefs, just as I feel my own politics are so informed. But Skousen’s politics were no more an official presentation of Mormon doctrine than my own politics are. At one point the church did have to issue a statement restricting Skousen’s Freeman Institute from using LDS churches as their meeting sites, and from having their political meetings announced during church meetings — NOT because Skousen or the Freeman Institute were under any sort of church censure, but because they were blatantly political and outside the mission of the church. The same restriction, I am absolutely certain, would have been called for by the church had any other brand of politics sponsored by any other personality been so popular that some church members — a limited number, but a vocal minority — had trouble distinguishing between religion and politics. The Freeman Institute was free to meet elsewhere, and all Mormons were free to join or not, without any repercussions from the church; they just couldn’t meet on church property.

    Many Mormons continue to endorse to some degree the politics espoused by Skousen. Most commenters on this thread do not. The opinions expressed by commenters are purely personal ones and do not in any sense reflect an official church position, any more than Skousen’s own opinions did. Most of our commenters would likely have expressed the same opinion of Skousen and his politics in, say, 1970 as they do today.

    WWW, while I don’t believe you mean any mischief, your comment shows a very faulty understanding of Mormonism’s relation to politics and what constitutes official behavior or authoritative positions. I hope this helps clarify that.

    Most of all, in fairness to Skousen, I repeat that I know of NOTHING about his personal character or moral behavior that calls for speculation about some imaginary “fall from grace.”

    I do not want to host further conversation along those lines, and am therefore closing comments. Thank you for your participation, all.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — October 14, 2009 @ 8:42 am

  33. Re 31: was Skousen ever an “LDS authoritative leader”? I don’t think so. He had strong opinions he was not shy about voicing, which irritated (and, as you will note, irritates) certain groups of people. From what I have heard, he was not extraordinarily elastic about considering opinions which differed from his own. But, as you may observe from some of our comments, that is not a trait unique to Br. Skousen. I note that in the general course of matters, I am most tolerant of divergent opinions at those times when I want to pat myself on the back for not being like a person I would like to label as intolerant, so that I can feel justified in not giving much consideration to what that person has to say. As my grandfather (and, as I recollect, Pres. McKay) used to recite:

    O would some power the giftie gie
    Us to see ourselves as others see us.
    It wad frae monie a blunder free us,
    An’ foolish notion….

    Comment by S. Taylor — October 14, 2009 @ 1:16 pm