Are we all agreed?

Published June 18, 2006 12:00 am
BYU firing: Other points of view
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2006, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

"Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering."


When I read that Brigham Young University had fired a part-time philosophy professor for the grievous sin of disagreeing - in print - with the leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, my reaction was probably the same as yours.

That's not because our reaction is correct, yours and mine, or because it is the prevailing view. It's because people who believe otherwise may not be reading this. And that's the problem.

It has ever been thus, of course. And it is only more so as the Internet and narrowcasting and blogging and other terms I haven't learned yet have made it that much easier for people to communicate among their own kind - ethnically, ethically and politically - reinforcing the view that we are right and they are wrong.

For a very narrow fraction of human history, the fraction just ending, the mainstream media moved away from the openly partisan or ideological approaches they had always had and attempted to be a common forum for all views.

Before that, including the period in which the Founding Fathers enshrined free speech and a free press in the Constitution, the idea of a fair and balanced press was as foreign to the educated minds of the time as were black holes and nuclear fission. The point to them was not that a publication would be open to all points of view, but that the overall marketplace of ideas would be.

We are now emerging from that period of public commons media into a new colonial era of more narrowly aimed cable networks and Web sites - though our Editorial Board blog, Plato's Cave [http://blogs.sltrib.com/editorial/] hopes to retain some mainstream media inclusiveness. And it is in that context that we should consider the decision by those who run BYU that there is no room in their inn for Jeffrey Nielsen.

He's the devoted member of the LDS Church whose conscience compelled him to go public, on these pages, with his view that his church's official call for a federal constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage was not just wrong, but flat immoral. His dismissal, which came as no surprise, only took a few days, not even long enough to get a death pool going.

My first reaction was that the firing was wrong, nothing that should be done by any institution of higher learning, certainly not the kind of university I would want to send my child to.

My second reaction was that my children were not going to attend BYU anyway. It's the LDS university, paid for by the LDS Church, attended by LDS students who want to be there, or were at least sent by LDS parents who want that particular kind of education for their offspring. What makes BYU look bad to people who didn't have anything to do with it anyway is the very philosophy that makes others view it as a blessedly safe haven from an increasingly hostile world.

And any clear-eyed look at the situation would have to grasp, if not empathize with, the feeling that the world is, indeed, hostile. It certainly is changing.

The very real concern that such change is not for the better is clearly not limited to LDS leaders. It is shared by the Vatican and branches of Protestant, Orthodox, Jewish and Muslim faiths.

Rapid changes have frightened good, decent, intelligent and open-minded people throughout time. It is no slam against adherents of any faith to note, with understanding, that a core function of religion is to give people grounding and strength as the world bounces and churns around them. If good people did not need that, in the core of their being, religion would have died out a long time ago.

People will make their own choices about what faith they follow, and what changes that faith will accommodate. For those who don't share any particular faith, or any faith at all, the challenge is to avoid saying and doing things that will encourage our neighbors to circle the wagons even more tightly, to hold their hands over their ears and sing "Polly Wolly Doodle" even louder whenever we think we are defending our basic core principles.

Which are, you and I know, the correct ones. Polly Wolly Doodle.


http://blogs.sltrib.com/ editorial/

Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
comments powered by Disqus