Friday, December 15, 2006

My experiences (so far) as a Mormon in Higher Education

I was talking with my good friend Clay Larson last night about the sensational email I received from Baylor earlier in the week. We both commented on how we, as LDS professors, are viewed by others because of our religion. We decided that their are five essential groups:

#1 Secularists, Agnostics, Atheists

#2 Non-denominational believers

#3 Catholics, Jews, and other less-conservative believers

#4 Protestans, Evangelicals, Baptists

#5 Other Mormons

Our experiences have been remarkably similar. Let me elaborate a little on how each group has generally viewed our faith as it relates to us, our studies, and professional competence.

#1 I used to feel, and sometimes still do, that people that claim to be open-minded can be very closed-minded. I've known some colleagues, especially at Georgia Tech, that were incredulous that I would choose, of my own free will, to limit myself morally. That I was a virgin by choice astounded them. That I chose not to drink coffee, tea, or alcohol seemed ridiculous to them. My experience here at Tulane has been decidedly different. My colleagues here are the most tolerant, curious, and open-minded people that I have ever known. Any personal practice that doesn't impinge the rights of someone else, or that doesn't view another as inferior for innate unchangeable reasons, is tolerated and accepted. I couldn't have come to a better place for my PhD.

#2 This group is just happy that there are other people in academia that believe in God besides themselves. They feel safe talking openly with me about God, that their beliefs won't be mocked or disparaged as superstition. I love this group.

#3 This group beliefs that their doctrine is the only correct one, but they don't care that you also believe the same thing about yours. Very tolerant and interested in social justice for all. Their work and efforts usually are influenced by a higher purpose. Fr. Francis Ferrie is a great example of this group. He is a good, good man.

#4 This group can be hit or miss. Some colleagues that are religious never want to talk about religion with you. Some ask barbed questions about "how can you believe that?" I do not understand the hostility towards my faith from this group. Not at all. Other from this group are just as tolerant as anyone from the other groups. No tiene sentido.

#5 When people from the other groups view me, especially #s 1 & 2, I am a dyed-in-the-wool conservative. Most Mormons in my profession (The Humanities) are really very moderate politically. Problem is, those Mormons not in the Humanities view us as bleeding-heart liberals. People question whether we should be able to hold a temple recommend, as if voting for a Democrat somehow offended God and the Holy Ghost. The LDS Church has a strict policy of political neutrality. You will NEVER EVER hear one of the church leaders advocate for a candidate. My political beliefs are very very moderate, for example:

A. I think that abortion is wrong. I cannot advocate for it, and I think that no one should have one. However, the law of the land is that they are legal, and we've wasted over three decades now bickering about it. We should start dickering about how to reduce to total number of abortions. If there were some way to encourage adoption in return for something (without creating a baby mill), we should work towards that. If abortion were considered the last option, we could reduce the total number. I don't think it's worth going to war over, so we should stop fighting. It's not like Pro-Choice people are pitchforking babies. They don't want babies to die. They just want a woman to have the right to choose. Now, while there are any number of moral issues that we could argue about in that phrasing, I think it's more worthwhile to work together to reduce abortions as a whole. Protesting outside of a clinic does little good. I'd much rather have someone have a legal one and have the chance to repent, than to die from an illegal one. I truly believe that any unborn child will have another chance to come to Earth.

B. Taxes. While I think there is a delicate balance between paying a fair share and freeing up capital so that the wealthy can use it to create more jobs, I think the wealthy should have to pay more taxes. When we hear the politicians talk about taxing the poor, keep in mind that a family of four has to make close to $27,000 to pay any federal income taxes. The poor actually get more back from Earned Income Credits than they pay. It's the middle class that pays an unfair portion of tax. The flat tax is preposterous and benefits the rich. Plus, a flat tax would put most accountants out of work.

C. The draft. I don't care how much it costs, bring back the draft. Offer three options: 2 1/2 years military service, 3 years Civilian Conservation Corps, or 3 years Americorps or Peacecorps. If every citizen had to serve his or her country, we would all benefit. If you went to college first, that would be allowable, but everyone should have to serve at some point before age 26. The cultural benefits would be enormous. The government could use the youth to do all kinds of projects. The military would be filled with sort-of volunteers as it is now.

D. Welfare should exist, but you should have to work. No able-bodied male should ever draw welfare. No able-bodied woman without children should draw welfare. Food stamps should be a supplement to people that can't afford nutritious food, that work. If a mom can't work because of children, we should create a system that will allow for child care. However, if you have a child out of wedlock once, fine. More than once after you start drawing benefits, you should be cut off. Our current welfare system encourages the uneducated to have children so they can draw benefits. Anyone who claims I'm an uninformed WASP should get their ass to New Orleans and see what I've seen in my five years here. I have heard teenagers tell me how they've got "it all figured out," how they will have their kids and then get "set up." I am not kidding. Poor education encourages this postmodern enslavement. A system set up to aid the poor actually makes them poorer.

E. I think that universal health care is a great idea, but will be difficult to administer efficiently and would ultimately degrade the quality of healthcare available to the general public. If the government instead wanted to pay for people to attend medical school and then require them to work for four years in government run hospitals (after their residency) that charged money for everything but the doctor's time (supplies and medicine and such) that might be a better solution to the system. I do think that we should have universal health coverage for ALL children under age 19. No parent should ever have to make a decision about their child's health based off how much they can afford. Adults are different, but children should receive our very best.

My five opinions above would draw the ire of half the Mormons at BYU. The most intolerant group of Mormons in academia are Mormons not in academia themselves. At least in my experience. LDS members should be sure to not isolate themselves from the world, and become so "peculiar" that they wind up polarizing the world even more.

There's more than one way to do something.....especially politics.

This nations needs a Third Party.


darlamay said...

I haven't the time to elaborate, but wanted to say that I enjoyed reading this post and I agree with you.

Tara said...

I don't think your ideas are liberal, even for a Mormon. I agree with you (maybe slight differences on the taxes thing), and most of the LDS people that I know would to.