09 May 2006


Last week we walked at BYU's graduation ceremonies. Though we wont officially graduate till after the completion of course work at the University of Cambridge later this summer, the history and tradition of graduation merits participation. Besides the usual graduation advice, the graduation ceremony harks back to a time when it was more than a changing of the tassel. Even today, instructors at institutions like Oxford and Cambridge wear their doctoral gowns as they teach.

At the Friday Convocation ceremony, retiring history professor, Dr. Frank Fox gave the main address. The following is a selection from that speech:
The unexamined life,” said Socrates, “is not worth living.”

Much of what you have acquired at BYU are the tools of examination. We have taught you how to examine the spatial world, the temporal world, the world of human relations, the world of thought and feeling, the world of ideas. And we have imparted gospel insights for keeping perspectives clear and priorities straight.

Yet it would surprise you to know how rare the examined life still is. Many of your predecessors have gone forth as pilgrims, never really examining anything, simply putting one foot ahead of the other, receiving whatever is offered by friends, by neighbors, by authorities, by the media, by those who are but pilgrims themselves—the blind leading the blind.

A few months ago, you put thousands of hard-earned dollars into a ponzi scheme that confidently promised to earn you 12% per day on your investment. Such are the wages of the unexamined life.

Others fall prey to different scams. Much of the academic world has embraced a view of life that asks only about gender, class or ethnicity—the things that divide us—ignoring the things that unite us, such as our common moral sense. A distinguished professor of bioethics recently stated that he saw nothing wrong with the killing of full term infants and the harvesting of their organs—yet saw plenty wrong with the eating of animals. The unexamined life strikes again!

The examined life literally examines everything. It questions everything—not in the corrosive manner that weakens faith but in the constructive manner that strengthens faith and gives it surer footing.

The examined life favors reality over appearance. Substance over style. Fact over opinion. It prefers universals to the partial, the fleeting, the fashionable—and the relative. It seeks to learn those truths which will in fact make us free.

It asks hard questions—and demands good answers. With the examined life it is never enough to say: “because someone told me so.”
Too much of what is presented in class, the news media, film, the books we read, etc., is accepted as fact. Skepticism and examination, critical thought and analysis are of the utmost importance. But they should not be mistaken for cynicism or pessimism. Cynics and pessimists produce nothing. They add nothing to the debate or discussion.

Skeptics--these are people who question the status quo. When they see a problem, they find a solution. Skeptics are not cynical or pessimistic. They are optimists.

A history degree teaches a good many things. It teaches one to read and write and think. But it does not require a degree in history to recognize and understand one surpassing truth. Optimists and skeptics shape history and make the world better, not cynics and pessimists.

1 comment:

the narrator said...

Leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints did not "speak out against" homosexual marriage or homosexuality.

Ummm. The Church has repeatedly spoken out against the two. While the rhetoric against homosexuality has been toned down (Packer used to preach that gays were selfish for being gay), the work against gay marriage has been quite strong. When I was in Hawaii, the church donated $40,000 to the fight against gay marriage.

If anything the teachings of the church speak of loving acceptance and understanding of people who struggle with this tendency.

Again, this is a recent trend. The church wasn't so nice a decade ago.

In addition, the express purpose of the Constitutional Amendment currently before the U.S. Senate is not to prohibit homosexual marriage, it is to define and protect marriage between husband and wife.

What's with the semantic games? It's clear to most everyone that this is about gay marriage. I was watching the senate hearings on c-span. The senators discussing the issue sure seemed to know this was about same-sex marriage.

Marriage between a man and wife and their family unit is the basic foundation of successful society.

This seems to be the appeal most offered against SSM, however such an argument is based on faulty sociological studies that haven't (and can't) study the long-term effects of a family headed by a married homosexuals.

Despite what some tortured couples may say, marriage is a privilege.

What do you mean by "tortured couples"? Is this the name-calling that you are falsely accusing Nielsen of?

What do you mean by "privilege"? Besides the rhetorical effect, how is a right distinguished from a privilege in context of SSM?

In liberal-democracies it is the right of the majority to decide how those privleges are disbursed.

Luckily, our constitution was written to protect minorities from the power of the majority - think racial discrimination, women's rights, slavery, relgious intolerance, etc.

Furthermore, wanting to protect traditional marriage does not make one a bigot. Calling those who oppose gay marriage bigots is just another logical fallacy Mr. Nielsen may be familiar with--ad homonym.

Apparently you don't know what an ad-homonym argument is. An AH appeals to a claim about the character of a person to attack their argument. Nielsen does not commit such a fallacy. Nielsen is drawing a conclusion (that they are bigots) from certain premises. The bigotry is found in the repeated claims by those that oppose SSM that they honor freedom, while denying others that freedom; and that they are fighting for the "time-honored" and "traditional" form of marriage, while at the same time fighting against the "time-honored" and "traditional" practice of polygamy. The LDS hierarchy is especially guilty of this bigotry when the church's history of polygamy is considered.

he launches into a scientific explanation of homosexuality,

I agree that Nielsen was a bit hasty in appealing to biological processes. Such an appeal is unnecessary.

Mr. Nielsen continues by vaguely mentioning and summarily dismissing every argument in defense of traditional marriage. Tradition is bad because historically we descriminated against African Americans and women.

You are missing his argument. He is pointing out that you cannot appeal to tradition for tradition's sake.

It is the first and foundational relationship of the whole of Judeo-Christian theology.

The state-religion seperation of our constitution prohibits the appeal to a particular religion for creation of law. Furthermore, LDS theology once placed polygamy as the first foundational relationship of our society. (It's that bigotry thing again).

Western democracy--especially our system of laws--is founded on Judeo-Christian principles.

Our founding fathers were deists. Our country was founded on principles of slavery, inequality among religions, inequality of sex, etc. - all supported by Judeo-Christian principles of the time. Luckily, we've progressed past those.

Every major religion and successful society was founded on the basic familial unit--mother, father, children.

Wrong. Most relgions and societies were founded on ownership units. Man, wives (property), concubines (more property), and children (male - inheritors of property; females - exchangable property).

The nature and purpose of the family is two-fold: to produce offspring and provide for their care and upbringing.

Should infertile homosexuals be banned from marriage? If not, then your apeal fails.

Changes (mutations, really) that alter the very definition of marriage are an attack on the institution itself.

"Attack" is just meaningless rhetoric. I'm sorry but gays getting married do not attack marriages. Economic policies, interolerance, infidelity, and pressured heterosexual marriages attack marriage.

Tomorrow, most assuredly, we will be asked to give legitimacy to relationships between minors and adults because it is their "right."

This is not just a slippery slope. It is a fallacious slippery slope. There is a huge difference between consenting adults and a consenting adult with a child. Either way, Utah law was (and may still be) that a child can be married at 14 with parental consent. Heterosexuals have broken that line long ago.

We would be willing to bet that homosexual marriage is a development that would have been opposed by a vast majority of society some 30 years ago.

Just like prohibiting slavery, racial discrimination, women's suffrage, etc, right?

Mr. Nielsen is clearly ignorant of the relgious underpinnings of our laws and the Constitution.

As I already mentioned, our founding fathers were deists. Despite Arnold Friberg's ahistorical depiction of Washington praying, the nation's founding fathers did not believe that God played an active role after the creation.

Polygamy is fundamentally different from homosexual marriage in that it provides for the fulfillment of the basic responsbilities of marriage as outlined above.

You did nto outline any "basic responsibilities" that cannot be fulfilled by a married homosexual couple.

. This is not to be misinterpreted as an endorsement of polygamy,

What's the fear in endorsing polygamy?

but polygamy does allow for procreation and provides for the care and upbringing of children.

1. Homosexuals have the plumbing to procreate. 2. Homosexuals can adopt. 3. Thousands of children are being successfully raised by gay couples. Your argument fails.

Just because the church has it in its historical roots does not preclude its members from opining on the morality or legality of homosexual marriage or keep its leaders from making prophetic pronouncements.

But it does show them as bigots in the process.

As a history student who has read and studied church history extensively, we absolutely disagree with Mr. Nielsen's statements about the church's supposedly less than candid treatment of its history.

Here is what Richard Bushman had to say about LDS history. "I believe the disconnect can damage young Latter-day Saints who learn later in life they have not been given the whole story on Church history."

It is well known among LDS historians that there is an effort among many of the church leaders (especially Packer) to block and hide certain aspects of LDS history. Read Leonard Arrington's "Adventures of a Church Historian".

You began your post with a claim that Nielsen was guilty of a straw-man argument, but failed to ever say what this argument was. Perhaps his supposed straw-man was your straw-man you have just spent your time dueling with.