Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Daily Universe: Letter and Response

This was printed in today's edition of the school newspaper:

BYU vs. BYU-Idaho

Brigham Young University-Idaho and Provo are both Church schools, yet they differ nearly as two different worlds. After two years at BYU-Idaho, I transferred to BYU and I have been both pleased and disappointed. The new academic pressure to be successful flourishes within the walls of each building on campus. Yet the “Spirit of Ricks” that enchants and supports the students of BYU-Idaho does not exist here as clearly as in Rexburg. The standards of living are not held to such high regard and practiced with such strictness here at BYU. Though many people strive to do their best in maintaining the Honor Code, I believe the students here at BYU would benefit from working a little harder at raising the bar.

Girls, watch your skirts and clothing. It is essential to the sanity of our young men and to the dignity of womanhood that you are modest. Young men, you are priesthood holders. It has been asked of you to be clean in your appearance. Also, it is time to work together and keep curfew. The contents within the Honor Code have been set up by prophets, therefore, Heavenly Father has asked us to live a little different from the rest of the world. Great blessings and unity thrive at a university that is living a strict honor code together. I believe it is time for BYU to wake up and recommit to keeping the Honor Code. It does not restrict our lives but enriches our lives.

Chelsea Jamison
Spokane, Wash.

My riposte:

The Honor Code is a fine document, but we should be careful not to stray into the realm of fanaticism in its application. Letters like Tuesday's "BYU vs. BYU-Idaho" skirt the line. Suggesting that "the contents [of] the Honor Code have been set up by prophets" is somewhat misleading. It did not come down from the mountain with Moses, scrawled on the back side of the Decalogue. Those interested in the history of the Honor Code (and the many and varied permutations that have occurred over the years) should avail themselves of the free copy of "BYU: A House of Faith" online: http://www.signaturebookslibrary.org/byu/chapter3.htm#honor>. More to the point, the Honor Code has value only insofar as it helps us to live the gospel. Increased strictness for its own sake is actually counterproductive. Hugh Nibley, one of BYU's most celebrated scholars, wrote: "The worst sinners, according to Jesus, are not the harlots and publicans, but the religious leaders with their insistence on proper dress and grooming, their careful observance of all the rules, their precious concern for status symbols, their strict legality, their pious patriotism. Longhairs, beards, [etc.] come and go, but Babylon is always there: rich [and] respectable.... [T]he haircut becomes the test of virtue in a world where Satan deceives and rules by appearance" (from "Approaching Zion," emphasis mine). If a BYU education has taught me anything, it is the frightening ease with which we swallow camels, while distracted by ultimately irrelevant gnats.

Nicholas Sherwood
Granby, Missouri
To be perfectly honest, I am rather proud of my restraint. I was pretty tempted just to say: "Hell, if you really liked Auschwitz North that much (and the frozen wasteland that surrounds it), I'm sure the reindeer will take you back if you ask nicely."


Ashlie said...

Hahaha! I almost wish you put the last line in, but I was very impressed with your restraint. Well written, once again!

Heather said...

I am laughing out loud. You should have posted your last comment.

Andrew Sparhawk said...

I think both letters have valid points. Obeying the Honor Code, whether a more strict code at BYUI or a more relaxed code at BYU brings a spirit of obedience.

To me, it isn't that if a student wears flip flops and shorts he/she is less worthy than another who doesn't, but rather it is that the student is living up to a commitment they made. Depending on the Honor Code you signed, you gave your name that you would obey it. When a promise is broken, a portion of the Spirit is lost.

So, I guess the question comes down to your signature... what is your name worth?

Latter-Day Guy said...

Hmmm. While I agree with the essence of your comment (i.e.: we should honor our commitments), it relies on fuzzy theology.

"Obeying the Honor Code ... brings a spirit of obedience."

What does this mean exactly? Do you mean "spirit" here in terms of "mood" or "atmosphere"? In what way is "a spirit of obedience" any different than a "culture of compliance"? Why is it desirable en se?

More broadly, I suspect that part of the raison d'ĂȘtre of the Honor Code is to be broken. Much of it is a "hedge" or buffer placed around the law. To suggest that it is part of the Divine Will is really no different than the many other ways we are all tempted to amend our own thoughts with "thus saith the Lord," as though our personal opinions had been granted some kind of divine imprimatur.

So should students keep their commitments? Yes. Should BYU take the time and effort to extract these promises from all students? Maybe; I think that the Honor Code does tend to conflate a lot of rules of vastly differing value, and so––unintentionally, I'm sure––sends less than clear messages about morality. Would a stricter code be helpful? No, I really do not think so. We avoid coffee and tea as LDS people, but if I decide never to drink hot chocolate either, do I have more of the Spirit? Is greater ascesis automatically better? No, it can actually be a detriment, turning our obedience into an idol and so stripping it of whatever value it had, making an asset into a liability.