Making Peace: Personal Essays
On Bringing Peace To BYU, With The Help Of Brigham Young
[p.65]Suppose that someone acquired the old BYU Academy buildings in downtown Provo and announced that the campus was being restored and developed as a liberal arts college. Suppose again that this person, a graduate of the University of Utah and Stanford, offered the following prospectus:
The central purpose of this college is to improve the minds of its students, to teach them to think clearly and make their own informed judgments rather than depending on tradition, authority, or opinion. To this end we intend to expose them to the thinking and research offered by all branches of human knowledge and challenges posed by all the various scholarly, religious, and moral positions.
We will place before them, so they can actually know by their experience and make their own decisions on a fully informed basis, the main principles concerning truth and error, virtue and vice, that have continually perplexed human beings. We will particularly emphasize the fundamentals of our own language and require facility in at least one additional language, including careful study of the customs, laws, politics, and literature of the people who use that other language, so they can escape the provincial blindness of being bound by one language and culture. We will focus on the great radical thinkers, like Galileo and the early geologists, who have reexamined the received ideas of their culture, even the great discoverers, in art, science, and practical life who have been called [p.66]”fanatic” and “crazy” by their contemporaries.
We will renounce biblical literalism in favor of rational efforts to understand how prophets received and understood the traditions of their fathers. We will renounce puritanic restrictions on students’ dancing, music, and reading but instead encourage them to feel free and unfettered in body and mind.
This prospectus would be greeted with complacent approval by our imaginary founder’s friends at Stanford, perhaps even, by some at the University of Utah, welcomed with a little unholy joy at the prospect of such a challenge to BYU under its very nose. I suspect there would indeed be some apprehension in certain Latter-day Saint circles over such a prospect. But suppose the prospectus continued in this way:
This college will be named Joseph Smith College, in honor of the person who the founders believe has done more for the salvation of humankind than anyone except Jesus Christ. We will strongly encourage all our students to study the life and thought of this prophet of God and also the book he translated by divine power, The Book of Mormon, providing our best teachers and resources to this end. Our purpose in this primary effort is to combat the increasing secular, even atheistic, influences in higher education, and to further Joseph Smith’s vision for building the Kingdom of God on earth by challenging students with the great ideas and patterns for enlightened living that Jesus Christ and his prophets have revealed to us but which are generally neglected elsewhere.
We believe that the study of religion is queen of all the liberal arts and sciences and will hire teachers on the basis of their ability to use the Bible, as well as modern revelation, as a source of critical perspectives on every subject matter; indeed we believe that the best education occurs when nothing, not even computer graphics or nuclear fusion, is taught without teachers and students having an eye single to eternal values and thus being open to the influence of the Holy Ghost.
Imagine the outcry now from this poor turncoat’s friends and colleagues at Stanford and the U—and the rejoicing in BYU’s administra-[p.67]tion building! But wait, the prospectus continues:
We believe that next to development of the mind and eternal spirit, our basic purpose should be to develop practical skills both for self-sufficiency and for service to others. We also believe that the pride that comes from riches and from unequal standards of living, as well as from differences in educational opportunity and academic and social rank, is the main obstacle to learning. We will therefore strive, as a central goal, to build a true community based on the principles of consecration and humility taught by Jesus Christ and Joseph Smith.
Students, faculty, and administration will work together to maintain the school and its properties, all sharing a variety of tasks assigned according to skills and the need for new kinds of experience—sometimes simply jobs that need to be done, however menial. We will develop handicraft projects, farming, light industry, etc., to provide laboratories for practical application of all kinds of knowledge and to help support our community economically, and we will have, as a regular part of our curriculum, participation in service projects for the community of Provo and, where possible, beyond. We will do everything we can to remove the distinctions among most educational communities that are created by rank, titles, and differences in property; we will set salaries and tuition as much as possible by need and by ability to pay.
Now if you will listen in your imaginations, you can hear polite screams of opposition from both the University of Utah and BYU. Here is a vision of higher education that offends across the board. Yet all three of these visions—the liberal, secular one that emphasizes freedom and comprehensiveness; the conservative, almost sectarian one that emphasizes defined religious purpose and order; and the radical one that no one has tried at least since the 1960s—all of these come from the same person: Brigham Young.
The entire prospectus was composed from carefully compiled and only slightly altered statements by Young, statements that are consistent within their contexts and with other statements by him over a thirty-year period. But, you say, they contradict each other. The purpose of this essay is to argue that they do not, that they instead accu-[p.68]rately and consciously reflect a powerful, inherent paradox in the very idea of church-sponsored higher education—a paradox that has productively, if painfully, informed Mormon-sponsored higher education throughout its history.
Brigham Young’s philosophy of education is more sophisticated and ultimately more visionary—and in my judgement more true—than his critics and praisers alike realize. And the most serious challenge BYU faces is not the criticism or pressures of those who can see and value only one part of that philosophy but our own failure to understand completely and then measure up to our founder’s radical vision—in its entirety. He is still the victim, even inside the church, of a stereotype: the tough, practical administrator, energetic but rather simple-minded; an ill-educated, confused, and contradictory, even seriously misleading, thinker. Hugh Nibley has taken Brigham Young’s mind seriously enough to read him completely and carefully, and here is his report:
No man ever spoke his mind more frankly on all subjects; all his days he strove to communicate his inmost feelings, unburdening himself without the aid of notes or preparation in a vigorous and forthright prose that was the purest anti-rhetoric. It has been common practice to dismiss any saying of his of which one disapproves (and he makes no effort to please) by observing that he said so many things that he was bound to contradict himself, and therefore need not be taken too seriously all the time. No view could be more ill-advised, for there never was a man more undeviatingly consistent and rational in thought and utterance … . Granted that Brigham would admonish the Saints to wear overcoats one day, so to speak, and the next day turn around and advise shirtsleeves, the element of scandal and confusion vanishes if we only get the main idea, which is, that it is not the rulebook or the Administration but the weather that prescribes the proper dress for the day. All the other apparent contradictions in Brother Brigham’s teachings likewise vanish when we grasp the main idea behind them.1
It seems to me that traditional histories have idealized the Mormon pioneers’ enthusiasm for education and claimed that enthusiasm was energized by clear prophetic support for whatever kind of education—from liberal to utilitarian to religious—that the historian favored. Historians have explained the 20th century prominence of citizens of Mormon-dominated Utah in various educational categories as a simple result of that pioneer enthusiasm and prophesied a glorious future for BYU on the same basis. On the other hand revisionist historians have detailed a troubled history of what seem anti-intellectual, even suppressive, incidents and policies at BYU; they have tended to see the conflicts operating in BYU’s history—faith versus reason, freedom versus order—as merely a problem to be overcome when enlightened faculty and administrators rid themselves of a backward and limited philosophy of education, rather than as unavoidable and ultimately productive paradoxes. Though I perhaps have not studied the primary sources as thoroughly as Nibley, I have studied them enough to sense that he is right: most of the critics, and the apologists, have simply not grasped Young’s main idea.
To provide a measure of objective support, let me quote from a non-Mormon scholar who has seen that main idea. Ernst Benz, then a distinguished professor of religion at the University of Marburg, Germany, in the mid-1970s studied this issue carefully. He demonstrated considerable insight by discussing Brigham Young’s role in keeping Mormonism from the increasing “false secularization”2 or worldliness that not only threatens Christianity, and all the world’s religions, but diminishes the influence of religion in all areas of modern thinking and behavior.
Brigham Young, Benz asserts, led Mormons in developing, with unique effectiveness, the “positive secularization” of involving the divine in the world. Mormonism invests all of our honorable but mundane activities with sacred meaning by making them part of God’s active penetration into the realities of the world in order to use it to develop humankind, for “building up His kingdom.” But Benz also shows how Mormons have uniquely managed to avoid the dangers of such an approach. All other millenarian groups, as well as openly secular ones, have succumbed to the tendency, after successfully building a literal physical kingdom, to “proceed so far into worldliness, that it comes in the advanced state of it to be an interruption or a loss of contact with [p.70]the original or heavenly source and with the heavenly aim.”3
With rare insight into Mormon theology and experience, Benz points to three basic Mormon concepts which he believes will continue to prevent the ideal of the Mormon kingdom from declining into a “social gospel” effort merely to solve our material problems—concepts which he claims Brigham Young is mainly responsible for articulating and transmitting permanently into modern Mormonism. First, the concept of the “Everlasting Gospel,” a body of truth that Joseph Smith called the “ancient order of things,” which, unlike the usual forms of academic knowledge, does not evolve inevitably—or even through determined effort—but can be lost through neglect, and thus must be revealed again and again from God. This body of truth includes the permanent duty of mission—the divine call and power to spread that gospel throughout the whole earth, by every means, including the schools supported by the kingdom. Second, Benz cites “the permanent presence of the gifts of the Holy Spirit” as guiding and validating elements in all of the activities of the believers as they prepare for the coming kingdom of God. Third, and most important in Benz’s opinion, for keeping Mormons from “false secularization” as they build a literal, worldly, as well as spiritual, kingdom, is their unique understanding of the origin and destiny of humanity—the “incarnation of pre-existing spirits in human bodies” as part of a God-given opportunity “to advance in the grand scale of being, in which he is to move in the eternal worlds”:
Denying his heavenly origin, man would deny himself, would deny the sense of his life, the meaning of the community of man in which he lives, the sense of the universe in which he dwells … . The will of developing this image of God, the will to perfection, the will to reach the end of the development of all his power given him from above, is deep-rooted in man’s life; hope and aim of perfection is a basic element of life itself.4
Benz shows he thoroughly understands President Young’s philosophy of education, which he credits for energizing BYU and motivating its construction under more trying circumstances and greater sacrifices compared to other religious schools, including Benz’s own. He [p.71]shows that this philosophy is consistent with Brigham Young’s understanding of the highest aims of humankind, quoting his early statement: “Intelligent beings are organized to become Gods, even the Sons of God, to dwell in the presence of Gods, and become associated with the highest intelligences that dwell in eternity. We are now in the school, and must practice upon what we receive,” and then commenting:
So his concept of education, and with it his concept of the aim of a university, is included in his concept of perfection, which opens the human mind and fills it with a real love of knowledge and joy of wisdom. In our time, where all kinds of reform programs of education are elaborated all over the world, based on a more or less totally secularized understanding of human nature, I find it quite inspiring to discover in the discourses of the founder of [BYU] words which encourage students, teachers, and scholars to study and learning as an essential element of perfection of man and of human society with its outlook on the kingdom of God, the kingdom of heaven. Let me close with this really ecumenical statement of Brigham Young, underlining the right way of secularization and preserving from its going wrong.
Benz then ends with another quotation from Brigham Young, one that captures perfectly the paradox, the equal and sometimes conflicting values, that the founder of BYU supported:
How gladly would we understand every principle pertaining to science and art, and become thoroughly acquainted with every intricate operation of nature, and with all the chemical changes that are constantly going on around us! How delightful this would be, and what a boundless field of truth and power is open for us to explore! We are only just approaching the shores of a vast ocean of information that pertains to this physical world, to say nothing of that which pertains to the heavens, to angels and celestial beings, to the place of their habitation, to the manner of their life, and their progress to still higher degrees of perfection.5
Benz concludes, “This concept of education is unique for this Brigham Young University and is worthy to be celebrated forever.”6
[p.72]If Benz is right, BYU was founded, very consciously, to further the most intellectually exciting goal a university could have—the full development of individuals in terms of all our possible capacities, now and forever. However difficult to translate into specific curricular arrangements and administrative structures and social rules—however painful to contemplate, and even more painful to experience, the real history of the actual human institution which struggles with those paradoxical possibilities—we would do well to try to catch the vision and engage wholeheartedly in the struggle.
Certainly we have no reason to be dissuaded by those who would polarize the paradox into either a seminary for religious indoctrination or a wholly secularized institution. Neither kind of institution has proven by actual success that it can surpass the invigorating complexity—the inclusion of practical, humane, aesthetic, moral, and spiritual all together—of Brigham’s definition of education which he gave to the territorial legislature in 1850 as they contemplated founding a university only three years after colonizing a desert: “Education is the power to think clearly, to act well in the day’s work, and to appreciate life.”
The academic revolution of the late nineteenth century, which Brigham Young saw at its beginning, diverted the somewhat unified humane questioning of meaning and value on the part of whole faculties to the new and powerful mode of asking pragmatic and finely reduced questions manageable through empirical means. The power of the land-grant colleges and research-oriented universities, and of their faculties as individuals, dramatically increased with the market for their salable knowledge in an increasingly technological world. There have been periodic outcries against the resulting independence and detachment of faculty from their students and from traditional student yearnings for ultimate meaning and moral challenge in their education, and there have been periodic curricular reforms to try to recapture those values. However, all these efforts have essentially failed because of a lack of any truly unifying vision, which in my view must be in some sense religious.
The 1960s marked the most dramatic disillusionment with higher education’s secularization, not only voiced by students but by [p.73]distinguished faculty such as Princeton’s history professor James Billington, who in a widely circulated article in 1968 declared that the “humanistic heartbeat has failed” and as a result “liberal education is largely dead.”7 He cited trivializing diversification of curriculum, specialization by faculty, and loss of passionate commitment to values in the teaching environment and quoted a student at Michigan: “There is a drift towards something worse than mediocrity—and this is absolute indifference. An indifference towards perhaps even life itself.” Many men and women, religious or not, have noted this increasing emptiness in all the whirl of secular higher education. The idolizing of freedom and specialism and detachment has produced mere anomie or at worst a “pagan melancholy” that issues in suicide or barely suppressed violence. The power to reduce human questions to the more accessible limits of the experimental method alone has produced many who have given themselves to what Daniel Bell calls the “religion of science.”8 An increasing number of so-called humanists are seduced by the reductionist techniques of science—to merely providing better and better answers to smaller and smaller, more spiritually void, questions, while neglecting tentative but heartfelt answers to the large questions that impassion and give meaning to our lives.
To succumb at BYU to critics’ insistence that we “grow up,” come into the wonderful twentieth century, and become a “real university” can be one way to sell our birthright for national rankings. It would be to adopt a depreciated, one-sided view of the possibilities of education. One commentator has asserted, “BYU can claim to be a university only if it acts as one and follows a basic rule of inquiry: no truth claim is so absolutely final and certain that it cannot be exposed to the processes of rational inquiry.”9 Despite the trouble some might have with that assertion, I am convinced that Brigham Young would accept it with alacrity. But he would also insist on the other side of the paradox, something like this: “No process of rational inquiry is so certain it cannot be exposed to the challenge of absolute truth claims given from God.” Despite the opposition of modern secularist educators in and out of the church, President Young would insist that a complete higher education, worthy of that name and of the tithing resources of the church must try, however difficult it will always be, to [p.74]maintain both values.
Let me review in his own words some of Brigham Young’s most clear and powerful statements that establish both poles of the paradox as a basis for evaluating where BYU is right now in reaching that complex and radical vision and how we might do better. Probably the first time the title “Brigham Young University” was used was in a letter to President Young from his devoted friend, Thomas Kane, who was not a Mormon but who wrote in terms he knew the prophet would appreciate of hearing that he planned to found an educational institution:
It is impossible to deprecate too seriously the growing practice of sending your bright youth abroad to lay the basis … of their lives on the crumbling foundations of modern unfaith and specialization … . The young fledglings who would resort to our Eastern seminaries of learning—to learn what you will hardly be able to unteach them all their days—should even now be training in the Brigham Young University.10
“Modern unfaith and specialization” seem to me very accurate terms for what was wrong with higher education then and still is. Two years after receiving that letter, in the fall of 1875, Brigham Young deeded property to a board of trustees for the purpose, as he wrote his son Alfales at Michigan law school, “of endowing a college to be called ‘Brigham Young’s Academy of Provo’ … at which the children of the Latter-day Saints can receive a good education unmixed with the pernicious atheistic influences that are found in so many of the higher schools of the country.”11 Recent critics have read this as an excuse for censorship of particular subjects, a clear decision to limit education to purely utilitarian matters and to a set of narrowly defined values. But I think the statement means just what it says, “pernicious atheistic influences,” that is, perspectives limited by a wholly materialistic and utilitarian view of the world.
Brigham Young opposed supporting public schools with the Saints’ taxes, since those schools left Mormons with an education based on a process of inquiry which ignored spiritual values. Some Protestant missionaries pressed for an educational system that was directly inimical to Mormon values. By the same token Brigham Young would today, I believe, oppose our spending tithing monies to subsidize schools merely to gain nothing better than [p.75]the kind of education they could receive in secular institutions which the Saints also subsidize. He would, I think, be particularly scandalized at what seems to me an increasing tendency on the part of BYU students themselves, abetted by some faculty, to substitute for his vision of eternally responsible education the fostering of ambition, status, and wealth. He would, for instance, oppose elitist standards and curricula prescribed, especially in engineering and business, by external and wholly secular professional organizations that in turn influence decisions at BYU about our own academic standards and curricula.
President Young, I believe, would deplore the use of sacred tithing funds merely to make possible for faculty and students a higher standard of living than that available to those around the world who sacrifice to pay for those students’ education and those faculty members’ salaries. If you have any doubt of that, listen to his own voice:
While the inhabitants of the earth are bestowing all their ability, both mental and physical, upon perishable objects, those who profess to be Latter-day Saints, who have the privilege of receiving and understanding the principles of the holy Gospel, are in duty bound to study and find out, and put in practice in their lives, those principles that are calculated to endure, and that tend to a continual increase in the world to come.12
In other words, our chief duty is to achieve what church president Spencer W. Kimball once called, in defining BYU’s central goal, “education for eternity.”13 To fulfill Young’s famous, brief founding instruction to Karl Maeser, “not to teach even the alphabet or the multiplication tables without the spirit of God,”14 is not merely to begin class with prayer or teach religion at one end of the campus or to try to develop a Mormon physics or psychology or literature or a Mormon pedagogy. It simply means that everything should be done for eternal, not worldly, values, for the lasting development of mind and spirit, and for useful service to other people, especially redemptive service and service that is in turn educational, helpful in others’ lasting development of mind and spirit. Brigham knew this would be difficult because, as he said, “There are hundreds in this community who are more eager to become rich in the perishable things of the world than to adorn their [p.76]minds.”15 He was talking specifically about clothing fashions and costs, but he specifically broadened his point to include economic “cooperation” and improving oneself “by every good book and then by every principle that has been received from heaven.” He went on to assert, “It is beneath the character of the Latter-day Saints that they should have no more independence of mind or feeling than to follow after the grovelling customs and fashions of the poor, miserable wicked world.”16
He saw the issue in educational terms: Those who are seduced by the world will therefore not learn; they will “remain fixed with a very limited amount of knowledge, and like a door upon its hinges, move to and fro from one year to another without any visible advancement or improvement. … Man is made in the image of God, but what do we know of him or of ourselves when we suffer ourselves to love and worship the god of this world—riches?”
In a letter to his son Willard, just a year before his death, Brigham deplored the growing tendency in Utah to “teach the false political economy which contends against cooperation and the United Order.”17 It may surprise modern Mormons that that “false political economy” was not socialism or communism but free enterprise capitalism, the lack of which in Utah was being used by gentiles as evidence that Mormons were un-American barbarians in need of the salvation of public schools controlled purely by secular standards.
Brigham Young was not interested in limiting the subject matter of our studies. “God has revealed all the truth that is now in the possession of the world,” he said, “whether it be scientific or religious.”18He advocated teaching every imaginable subject, from agronomy to military science and geology, from law to liberal arts and philosophy. However, he did not see all knowledge as equally or intrinsically valuable: “It matters not what the subject be, if it tends to improve the mind, exalt the feelings and enlarge the capacity.”19 Even the study of religion, by itself or narrowly conceived, could fail to fulfill those purposes: “Shall I sit down and read the [scriptures] all the time? says one. Yes if you please, and when you have done you may be nothing but a sectarian after all. It is your duty to study everything upon the face of the earth in addition to reading those books.”20
[p.77]How, then, could the Saints make certain their education was for eternity, whatever the subject? And what education should come first in a busy life? Brigham Young, believing that “there is an eternity of knowledge before us; at most we receive but very little in this stage of progression,”21 knew that subjects were not the key but rather the development of the mind’s intrinsic qualities and of a moral, eternal perspective on any subject or issue. He saw these basics as connected. Genuine intelligence, because it is a fundamental attribute of God, is intrinsically connected to the spiritual and moral: “If men would be great in goodness they must be intelligent.”22 Brigham clearly saw that one basic reason for this is that the essence of moral development, which is free exercise of agency, depends completely on knowledge: “Every mortal being must stand up as an intelligent, organized capacity, and choose or refuse the good, and thus act for himself … All must have the opportunity, no matter if all go into the depths of wickedness.”23
That is strong doctrine, wholly unacceptable to some who are presently at BYU, but President Young did not flinch: “It would be useless for anybody to undertake to drive me to heaven or hell. My independence is sacred to me—it is a portion of that same Deity that rules in the heavens.”24 He recognized that such freedom would bring disagreements and diversity, but again he did not flinch: “Interchanging our ideas and exhibiting that which we believe and understand affords an opportunity for detecting and correcting errors.”25 And again, “I am not a stereotyped Latter-day Saint, and do not believe in the doctrine. … Are we going to stand still? Away with stereo-typed Mormons!” 26
But, you say, isn’t stereotyping precisely what BYU does to students and faculty, abetted by Young’s narrow vision of “useful” knowledge and of eternal (meaning Mormon-defined) purposes? When I first considered a teaching position at BYU, having taught at state universities and a secularized private university, I was often asked if I might not find BYU lacking in freedom and diversity. It is sponsored by a church with a strong central authority and definite, even dogmatic, beliefs, they would say, as if the consequences should be obvious. Already familiar with Brigham Young’s vision of independent thought, I did not expect such an environment, and I have indeed found, as I had hoped, [p.78]that Brigham Young’s university allows me greater freedom in my teaching and challenges me with greater diversity of student and faculty thinking than any other place I have taught, including Stanford and the University of Utah. That is because I am free here (as are my students) to explore the rich, diverse, and positive issues of religious and moral faith as well as the questions and challenges and skepticism that predominate elsewhere.
Brigham Young had no illusions about the superior wisdom and morality of secular institutions. He was grateful that the Saints had not been “educated in the devilry and craft of the learned classes of mankind,”27 to hold them back. They could, in the words of Apostle Parley P. Pratt that Brigham admired, “receive and extend that pure intelligence which is unmingled with the jargon of mystic Babylon.” Brigham Young shared the understanding of his younger contemporary, Herman Melville, who, writing about the time of Brigham’s death in 1877, praised Shakespeare for being “so advanced a modern” that he was “utterly without secular hypocrisy, superstition, or secular cant.”28
However, we have enough problems trying to work through the paradox of Christian higher education that we need not point fingers at secular institutions. I am, indeed, grateful to our recent and future secular critics for pointing to our problems, but they need to be somewhat patient while we continue to work on those problems, which are not, given the conflicting but important values at stake, at all simple. In my view the critics actually need to be more radical in their criticism. Brigham Young’s vision provides a much more demanding standard than that provided by secular universities. He would not worry as much (though I trust he would be disappointed) about occasions of spying and pressure on faculty at BYU as he would that we are not finding inventive ways, through cultural and institutional change, to help our younger faculty and administrators solve the increasingly terrible dilemma of contemporary couples: how to achieve genuine equality of opportunity for self-development and service, maintain a reasonable standard of living, and still be nurturing and responsible parents. I think he would be less worried about the occasional bouts with censorship as he would that we are not aggressively and creatively working to [p.79]find ways to fulfill a central principle of his vision:
There is not, has not been, and never can be any method, scheme, or plan devised by any being in this world for intelligence to eternally exist and obtain an exaltation, without knowing the good and the evil—without tasting the bitter and the sweet. Can people understand that it is actually necessary for opposite principles to be placed before them, or this state of being would be no probation … we cannot obtain eternal life unless we actually know and comprehend by our experience the principle of good and the principle of evil.29
If the complexities of that paradox are such—given the tenderness of young undergraduates and the concern of our largely conservative constituency for their protection—that Brigham Young’s ideals cannot now be fulfilled through direct confrontation of ideas and actual experience, then we must find ways to use the power of art, literature, film, and drama, where experience is less direct because it is filtered through a moral imagination, to achieve those crucial purposes having to do with salvation. We could more thoroughly prepare students, with both aesthetic and ethical training from our best teachers, to deal with difficult and challenging movies and books and plays, in a closed environment where the non-university public, with its own unprepared perspective and often politicized agenda, would not be invited. This is already happening to some extent in the International Films program and the dramas presented only in the small, experimental theaters at BYU. But we need a more thorough preparation and discussion of works of the kind that would educate us morally and in terms of our salvation in the ways Brigham suggests.
I think President Young, given his broad, paradoxical vision, might be worried that we welcomed General Westmoreland and Howard Ruff on campus, without serious debate of their very controversial values, but were uneasy about having the head of the Soviet Supreme Court here, merely because he was a communist, or about allowing a visit from Christian pacifist Jean Hutchinson, merely because she has been arrested (like Joseph Smith) for peacefully advocating her beliefs, or about having Pulitzer-prize-winning historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich [p.80]speak to us, apparently because she is a feminist. I think President Young would be less worried about the comparatively more expensive education we give potential lawyers and entrepreneurs than whether, as he put it, law and business students are led “to study the decisions and counsels of the just and the wise, and not forever be studying how to get the advantage of their neighbor.”30 I think he would be less worried about whether we should sponsor a medical school than whether we should have the courage to discuss the profound moral issues that increasingly confront the medical profession.
Finally, Young would be less concerned about whether our critics, or we at BYU, agreed about these judgments I have just made than that we continue working with the paradoxes that stimulated them, and that we do so in a spirit of respect and cooperative adventure. I am afraid that at BYU, an institution of “higher learning,” differences of opinion make people uncomfortable. Too many students and even faculty hunger for the devil’s bread of easy and final answers without disagreement or struggle. Some, both conservatives and liberals, excommunicate one another in their hearts over differences of approach or perception. Too many of us fall far short of the spirit and vision of our founder, who understood the Greek myth of the Bed of Procrustes better than too many current Ph.D.s:
The world is before us, eternity is before us, and an inexhaustible fountain of intelligence for us to obtain. Every man, and more particularly my immediate associates who are with me daily, know how I regret the ignorance of this people—how it floods my heart with sorrow to see so many Elders of Israel who wish everybody to come to their standard and be measured by their measure. Every man must be just so long, to fit their iron bedstead, or be cut off to the right length: if too short, he must be stretched, to fill the requirement.31
Brigham Young cared about BYU and, I believe, continues to watch over it. He is patient, perhaps amused by our struggles, hoping we can slowly come up to his vision. I have learned that despite his close supervision of the building of the St. George temple, he was not its designer and disliked the small original tower which offended his [p.81]carpenter’s eye as badly out of proportion. He did not embarrass the local craftsmen by directly insisting on a change, but on August 16, 1878, about one year after his death, his voice was heard. The tower was struck by lightning and, though the temple was miraculously preserved from burning, the tower was damaged. It was replaced by a much larger one.
Also in 1878, not long after Brigham Young’s death, he visited Karl Maeser in a dream and took him on a tour of a large building with many rooms and a spacious assembly hall. Maeser, on waking, drew the floor plans for the building in some notes about the dream and put them away until six years later when the old building on Center Street was destroyed by fire. He remembered the notes and used them to design the new Academy Building32 that became the center of BYU for fifty years. These are parables for those with ears to hear.
Let me close by turning again to Hugh Nibley:
Brigham Young’s educational concepts stand out in brilliant contrast against the background of everything that is practiced and preached in our higher schools today. But … as administrative problems have accumulated in a growing Church, the authorities have tended to delegate the business of learning to others, and those others have been only too glad to settle for the outward show, the easy and flattering forms, trappings and ceremonies of education. Worse still, they have chosen business-oriented, career-minded, degree-seeking programs in preference to the strenuous, critical, liberal, mindstretching exercises that Brigham Young recommended. We have chosen the services of the hired image-maker in preference to unsparing self-criticism, and the first question the student is taught to ask today is John Dewey’s golden question: “What is there in it for me?” … Whether we like it or not, we are going to have to return to Brigham Young’s ideals of education; we may fight it all the way, but in the end God will keep us after school until we learn our lesson.33
1. Hugh Nibley, “Educating the Saints—A Brigham Young Mosaic,” Brigham Young University Studies 11 (Autumn 1970): 61-87; reprinted in Richard Cracroft and Neal A. Lambert, eds., A Believing People: The Literature of the Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1979); the quotation is from p. 62.
9. Fred Buchanan, “Education among the Mormons: Brigham Young and the Schools of Utah,” paper given at the Pacific Coast History of Education Society, May 1979, and the American Educational Studies Association, Nov. 1980; copy in my possession.