More Brigham Young on Education

Chapter 14

More Brigham Young on Education*

I have
been asked to speak on the subject of Brigham Young and Education. Brother
Sidney Sperry and I used to talk long hours about education in the Church,
both because our offices were side by side and because we agreed on everything.
I have assembled statements by Brigham Young on education before this, but
recently, talks by Brothers Boyd K. Packer, Arthur Henry King, Thomas Rogers,
Noel Reynolds, and others have brought to the fore matters which we have never
discussed and on which Brigham Young had a good deal to say. So this is "new"

The keynote
of all Brigham Young’s thinking and preaching was the wonder and glory of
the gospel against the background of a lost and distracted world. Here was
the race of mankind living lives of quiet desperation in a lone and dreary
world which they firmly believed would eventually pass away and "leave
not a rack behind." Into this world of frustrated, restless, unhappy
creatures there came one who told them who they really were and bore ample
credentials to the bona fides of the great revelations he brought them. The
news was overpowering, almost too good to be true—from now on everything
was going to be different: who could keep such news to himself? Certainly
not Brigham Young. He shouted hallelujah all the day long and joyfully urged
everyone to come and see. His whole concern was to learn all there was to
know about this marvelous message and then pass it on to everyone he possibly
could reach. "There was more or less of a gloom over my feelings from
the earliest days of my childhood that I have in any recollection, until I
heard the everlasting Gospel declared by the servants of God."1
"The secret feeling of my heart was that I would be willing to crawl
around the earth on my hands and knees, to see such a man as was Peter, Jeremiah,
Moses, or any man that could tell me anything about God and heaven. But to
talk with the priests was more unsatisfactory to me then than it now is to
talk with lawyers."2 Then:
"When I saw Joseph Smith, he took heaven, figuratively speaking, and
brought it down to earth; and he took the earth, brought it up, and opened
up, in plainness and simplicity, the things of God."3 "Under that preaching the gloom vanished, and has not
since troubled me for a moment."4 Nothing else mattered:
"I gave away what I had, and I started to preach the Gospel. I was obliged
to do it, for I felt as though my bones would consume within me if I did not,
consequently I devoted my time to preaching."5

So there
you have it: "Outside of the religion we have embraced, there is nothing
but death, hell and the grave."6
What an educational project lay before those who accepted the glad message!
The gospel is knowledge and its recipients had first to acquaint themselves
with it as quickly and as fully as possible and then disseminate it with all
possible skill and speed. "Put forth your ability to learn as fast as
you can, and gather all the strength of mind and principle of faith you possibly
can, and then distribute your knowledge to the people."7 "We are here to live to spread intelligence and knowledge
among the people. I am here to school my brethren, to teach my family the
way of life."8 "Remember, too, the great principle
of improvement. Learn! learn! learn! Continue to learn, to study by observation
and from good books!"9

That was
the assignment: "What are we here for? To learn to enjoy more, and to
increase in knowledge and in experience."10 Eternity begins here and now: "’Education is our motto.’
This will be my text. We are here that we may learn to improve."11 The curriculum, of course, is unlimited:
"We should not only learn the principles of education known to mankind,
but we should reach out further than this, learning to live so that our minds
will gather in information from the heavens and the earth until we can incorporate
in our faith and understanding all knowledge which is useful and practicable
in our present condition."12

This concept
of education is implicit in Mormonism. Once we categorically assume a career
of eternal progression, no other way lies open. For the course ahead absolutely
requires sustained, progressive, ever-increasing mental power and exertion.
To be alive is to be conscious, and to be conscious is to think, and to think
is to think about something: "The brain craves for information as the
body craves for food."13 The
gospel not only requires such application of the mind, but facilitates and
guarantees it.

     There is no position a man can occupy in this world . . . wherein
he can learn so much of that which is truly valuable and worthy of acceptation
as that of an elder in the Church of Jesus Christ in the active discharge
of his calling. The present is the day of your opportunities, to mold your
characters, to strengthen your faith, to develop your powers of mind and thought.14

For Brigham
Young, knowledge was what Aristotle calls a good of first intent, a thing
good and desirable in itself, needing no argument or excuse for its existence.15 Goods of secondary
intent are good for something else. A hammer, a watch, a pair of shoes, a
ladder, a knife—each is good because it helps us get some other good thing
we are after; but there are goods whose value does not depend on anything
else but is intrinsic and immediate, and knowledge is one of them. Joseph
Smith feasted on knowledge. He said it tasted good to him.16 Paradoxically, things of primary intent
are actually the most useful goods—in fact, the only useful ones in the long
run. We can and do get along without many of the goods of secondary intent
and never really miss them; as Brigham Young said many times, life without
them may be inconvenient, but it is always possible. Without goods of primary
intent, on the other hand, life is by no means possible: without them we wither
and die. They are incorporated in our very nature:

     The things of this world add to our national comfort, and are necessary
to sustain mortal life. We need these comforts to preserve our earthly existence. . . .
But those things have nothing to do with the spirit, feeling, consolation,
light, glory, peace, and joy that pertain to heaven and heavenly things, which
are the food of the ever-living spirit within us. . . . This
I know by experience. I know that the things of this world, from beginning
to end, from the possession of mountains of gold down to a crust of johnnycake,
makes little or no difference in the happiness of an individual.17

The poor man’s johnnycake is no more to be prized than the rich man’s gold.
"Nothing is calculated to satisfy the mind of an intelligent being, only
to obtain principles that will preserve him in his identity, to enable him
to increase in wisdom, power, knowledge, and perfection."18 "Truth cleaves
unto truth, because it is truth; and it is to be adored, because it is an attribute of God,
for its excellence, for itself."19

     Will education feed and clothe you, keep you warm on a cold day, or enable
you to build a house? Not at all. Should we cry down education on this account?
No. What is it for? The improvement of the mind; to instruct us in all arts
and sciences, in the history of the world, in the laws of nations; to enable
us to understand the laws and principles of life, and how to be useful while
we live.20

Brigham Young often repeated the maxim " ‘Mormonism’ embraces all truth
that is revealed and that is unrevealed, whether religious, political, scientific,
or philosophical."21 But we cannot cross the bounds of knowledge into new territory
until we’ve traversed the expanse of ground that lies between us. "We,
as a people, have in the future to excel the nations of the earth in religion,
science, and philosophy."22

But to
surpass them we must first catch up with them! In short: "This is the
belief and doctrine of the Latter-day Saints. Learn everything that the children
of men know, and be prepared for the most refined society upon the face of
the earth."23

But Brigham
Young is known before all else as a solid practical, common-sense man, a pragmatic
genius. And this leads us to the common fallacy of classing one kind of activity
as practical by nature and the other as impractical by nature. Brigham Young
has been accused of inconsistency in insisting that knowledge should be sought
for its own sake on one hand but primarily for its practical application on
the other. Inconsistent he is not. He knows that the person who does not regard
the most practical task primarily as a mental exercise is going to botch it;
he’s going to be a waster, and a bungler, and not do it properly. He says,
"You will almost invariably find that people who are industrious in the
common pursuits of life, are industrious in improving their minds as far as
they have opportunity."24 Intelligence
is not a monopoly of a particular kind of work, or a particular class or age
or stage of advancement. A smart baby is far more edifying company than a
stupid dean. I’ve spent many hours in the company of both. Consider this quotation:

     And while you delight in raising flowers, &c., do not neglect to learn
how to take care of the cream, and how to make of it good wholesome butter,
and of the milk good healthy nutritious cheese; neither forget your sewing,
spinning, and weaving; and I would not have them neglect to learn music and
would encourage them to read history and the Scriptures, to take up a newspaper,
geography, and other publications, and make themselves acquainted with the
manners and customs of distant kingdoms and nations, with their laws, religion,
geographical location on the face of the world, their climate, natural productions,
the extent of their commerce, and the nature of their political organization;
in fine, let our boys and girls be thoroughly instructed in every useful branch
of physical and mental education. Let this education begin early.25

Now in a passage like that, try to separate the book learning from the other.
It can’t be done. For Brigham Young it is all practical, and it is all a wonderful
adventure of the mind.

On "Sunday,
August 12th, President Brigham Young addressed the people from the stand.
He observed that our business was with the things immediately before us, and
not with the glories of the eternal worlds."26 Again he says, "The Kingdom we
are talking about, preaching about and trying to build up is the Kingdom of
God on the earth, not in the starry heavens."27

     My mission to the people is to teach them with regard to their every-day
lives. I presume there are many here who have heard me say, years and years
ago, that I cared very little about what will take place after the millennium. . . .
My desire is to teach the people what they should do now, and let the
millennium take care of itself. To teach them to serve God and to build up
His Kingdom is my mission.28

Yet this is the man who tells them: "Instead of reflecting upon and
searching for hidden things of the greatest value to them, they [the Latter-day
Saints] rather wish to learn how to secure their way through this world as
easily and as comfortably as possible. The reflections [upon] what they are
here for, who produced them, and where they are from, far too seldom enter
their minds."29

For Brigham
Young what was practical was the task at hand, the thing that had to be done
right now, whether it was praying, bathing, dancing, sleeping, or shoeing
a horse—all were equally practical, including dancing, but they are practical
because each one at the proper time helps us on the way to our objective—always
the same objective for all of them. There are indeed two categories of goods,
but the distinction is not between the practical and the impractical; they are both practical and
both spiritual; there is no difference in spiritual and temporal labors—all
are one.30

is teaching the Saints how to climb Jacob’s ladder—how to do it in a sensible,
practical way, grasping firmly the next rung above, and not grabbing wildly
for something up near the top; and thus proceeding carefully and surely step
by step, line upon line, and precept upon precept. This does not mean, as
many suppose, that he is telling them to forget the ultimate goal, the Spirit,
the Millennium, or the eternities, and come down to earth and devote themselves
to the common-sense everyday activities of life. No—that is an entirely different
ladder. Brother Packer’s figure of the ladder is a very instructive one: how
we go about climbing the ladder is important, but even more important is which ladder we choose to climb.31 Both ladders, the one to heaven and
the one to the executive suite, are to be climbed in the same way. The rules
of success are the same in business, the arts, science, crime, and the military—but
the ladders are by no means the same. Brigham Young never allowed the Saints
to forget which ladder they were climbing.

     This is the lesson we should study. The powers of our minds and bodies should
be governed and controlled in that way that will secure to us an eternal increase.
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 this, and in the world to come.32

"And thus we teach the people how to live. This is our business. If
you do not learn to live here, how can you live hereafter? If you do not understand
the things of this life, how can you understand the things pertaining to the
life to come?"33

All business
must be undertaken with an eye to the eternities, but how rarely do we take
that view! I remember how disturbed my mother was when a visiting General
Authority at our house (we lived in the mission field and were often visited
by them) announced at the dinner table that it was more important for a girl
to learn how to make a pot of soup then to recite Shakespeare. As he saw it,
the one thing was practical and the other was not, and no girl could do both.
Actually both belong to the building of the kingdom and need not be mutually
exclusive: the girl has learned to make soup by the time she is ten years
old, and if that is all she does for the rest of her life, she doesn’t even
have a ladder. If people insisted on thinking in such terms, however—if it
must be a matter of soup or Shakespeare—for Brigham it was the soup that
would have to go.

     Make good houses [soup]; learn how to build; become good mechanics and business
men, that you may know how to build a house, a barn, or a storehouse, how
to make a farm, and how to raise stock, and take every care of it. . . .
On the other hand, the neighbourhood or community that adorns its city, farms,
gardens, and supremely loves and sets its affections upon these things, had
better never have seen or had anything to enjoy.34

If it is a choice between Mary’s work and Martha’s, there can be no doubt
what the Lord recommends (Luke 10:38—42). Again and again statements of Brigham
Young that seem to be as solid and earthy as a handbook on gardening end up
pointing us to the stars and the eternities:

     We cannot marvel at a man’s talking about paper rags in a religious meeting,
and saying that it is the word of the Lord or at least the word of wisdom
that we should save our rags. . . . When the Lord has gathered
together a people to be a chosen people to him, he has always begun to educate
them by instructing them in the little things pertaining to life.35

If paper rags were a spiritual quantity, Shakespeare was no less a practical
one, and MacBeth and Hamlet saw the Saints through more than one hard winter
in the valleys. "Instead of trying to find out how God is made, or how
angels are made, I wish you would try to learn how to sustain yourselves in
your present existence, and at the same time learn the things of God—the
things that await you, that you may begin to prepare to dwell to all eternity."36 "Then what is
this earth in its present condition? Nothing but a place in which we may learn
the first lesson towards exaltation, and that is obedience to the Gospel of
the Son of God."37 "[The
things of the earth] are made for the comfort of the creature, and not for
his adoration [i.e., they are of second, never of first intent]. They are
made to sustain and preserve the body while procuring the knowledge and wisdom
that pertain to God and his kingdom, in order that we may preserve ourselves,
and live for ever in his presence."38

knowledge is any knowledge that is put to use, as all knowledge should be.
A favorite teaching of Brigham Young was that we should use everything we
have: money is meant to be spent, not stored in a vault;39 food is meant to be distributed and
eaten, not hoarded for speculation. Remember what happened to the manna that
some far-seeing Israelites stored up as a business investment—it promptly
became foul and stinking (Exodus 16:19—20). Mere accumulation of anything
is the act of the miser, the most miserable of men, who has so little faith
in God that he must ever build up walls of security around himself. "Keep
[your] riches," cries Brother Brigham, "and with them I promise
you leanness of soul, darkness of mind, narrow and contracted hearts."40 All knowledge must be put to use if only to beget more knowledge.
Why? To fill a need—constant, urgent, and vital. Remember, "the brain
craves for information as the body craves for food,"41 and if true knowledge is withheld from it, it will manufacture
all manner of false doctrine; without a steady diet of learning the person
sickens and withers, being false to his own nature. What we need is constant nourishment for both body and spirit, not terminal

But we
treat knowledge today exactly as we do precious metals and negotiable papers
which, as Brigham Young often reminds us, are in themselves not only worthless
but most pernicious in their effect. We exchange knowledge for tokens—marks
on paper, punched holes in cards, impressions on tape, and then we lock them
up in a safe like a Swiss bank, and make a law that no one may even see our
transcript without special permission! The bank then gives us a token, a doctor’s
degree, which we wear publicly at all times. We never let our fellowmen forget
for a moment that we are sitting on all that knowledge, but make careful provision
that they shall never take too close a look at it or ask us to draw upon it
at short notice—that simply is not done.

This sort
of thing is, of course, death to knowledge. For intelligence, the glory of
God, is a moral quality. It is defined by the psychologists as "problem-solving
ability." And how do you solve any problem? The first step for me is
to discover what I do not know about it—I must search out the weak and defective spots in my knowledge,
for that ignorance is what makes the problem. The next step is to find out
the next things in order that I do not know but should; and thus I move forward in my quest,
progressively laying bare dark new areas of ignorance, looking for the blank
spaces on the map, the areas of which I know nothing, or where I have been
deceived, where my vanity or enthusiasm have led me astray. It is a humiliating
experience, and the checks, corrections, revisions, deletions, weary retracing,
and new beginnings never end. There is no terminal degree. Only the truly
humble can take it; in fact, it is the very sort of thing that our institutional
bookkeeping, poker-chip credits, and computed degrees are designed to avoid.
The first words I ever heard spoken in a class at BYU (the only class I ever
took here) was the opening statement of a professor at the old Aspen Grove
Summer school, way back in 1927. He had just come from the coast with his
brand new doctor’s degree, and he introduced himself to the class by reporting
how the chairman of the committee a few days before had shaken his hand at
the conclusion of his oral exams with the ringing congratulation: "Now
you will never have to take another examination as long as you live!"
And he firmly believed it! Degrees, honors, appointments, awards, emoluments,
offices—all are forlorn attempts to give a sense of enduring value to what
Brigham Young calls the "grovelling things of earth," which have
nothing in common with the gospel.42

     That Spirit, with the Gospel of Christ, interrupts the whole world in their
common career, in every capacity of life. That Spirit does not chime in and
harmonize with any earthly kingdom or government, either in their political
or religious institutions; but it seems to put a check upon every thing, to
throw into disorder the best laid plans of the wise and far-seeing among men;
in short, it turns the whole current of earthly calculations back upon the
world, and deluges it in the dark waters of confusion.43

"We expect to be a stumbling block to the whole world, and a rock of
offence to them."44 "And to the natural man we are taking an unwise, an unnatural
course, wherein our religion is obnoxious to the Christian world. . . .
They can see nothing more than natural things; they do not understand the
ways of God; they are unacquainted with His doings, with His kingdom, and
with the principles of eternity."45 Having
made their choice, the Latter-day Saints should forget the ways of the world:

     But to see a people who say, "We are the teachers of life and salvation,"
and yet are anxious to follow the nasty, pernicious fashions of the day, I
say it is too insipid to talk or think about. 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 a poor,
miserable, wicked world.46

So there are at least two ladders, and you cannot climb them both. We have
been hypnotized into thinking that there is only one, the conventional ladder
of success, but for Brigham that is out:

     No one supposes for one moment that in heaven the angels are speculating,
that they are building railroads and factories, taking advantage one of another,
gathering up the substance there is in heaven to aggrandize themselves, and
that they live on the same principles that we are in the habit of doing. No
Christian, no sectarian Christian, in the world believes this; they believe
that the inhabitants of heaven live as a family, that their faith, interests
and pursuits have one end in view—the glory of God and their own salvation,
that they may receive more and more. . . . We all believe this,
and suppose we go to work and imitate them as far as we can.47

"Instead of reflecting upon and searching for hidden things of the greatest
value to them, they [the Latter-day Saints] rather wish to learn how to secure
their way through this world as early and as comfortably as possible. The
reflections [upon] what they are here for, who produced them, and where they
are from, far too seldom enter their minds."48 Such is the ladder the Saints are
inclined to choose, and it is the wrong one: "We are engaged in a higher-toned
branch of business than any merchants or railroad men, or any institution
of an earthly nature."49 "He [Abraham] obtained the promise
that he should be the father of lives. In comparison with this, what did Abraham
care about machinery, railroads, and other great mechanical productions?"50 We remember that "railroads and telegraph lines and cables
. . . will increase our facilities and accelerate the progress of
the work of the Lord."51 We also remember that
they are only temporary and are not justified on any other grounds. To his
son, John W. Young, Brigham wrote, "I will . . . not tear and
wear my strength and life to shreds promoting any private enterprise."52 "I have never
walked across the streets to make a trade," he said. "I do not care
anything [much] about such things."53 This attitude set him off sharply from his competitors in the
gilded age. He comments on this in a letter in 1870 to his son on a mission
in Switzerland:

     We are constantly receiving communications from the elders laboring in the
States, but how different is their testimony with regard to the work of God
there. There is a coldness in the minds of the people, a total indifference
to the gospel and its glorious truths and the whole sum of their inquiries
[is] how and where we can make the most money. Of course there are a few exceptions,
but what a condition of things does this indicate! Every species of wickedness
is on the increase. . . . The people are fast ripening for
destruction. And why is this? The gospel door was opened on this land, . . .
but these ordinances have been held in derision, the truth has been rejected,
prophets and apostles have been slain for the testimony of Jesus, and now
the people have become hardened in iniquity and are led captive to the will
of that evil power they prefer to serve.54

A good summary of Brigham’s attitude toward what we call education for success
is given in one of his many statements on the study of the law, i.e., specialization:

     It is hard for a man to study law without forsaking the spirit of the Gospel.
This proves that there is a lack of sound knowledge in the individual who
permits himself to be thus led away. There are many among the inhabitants
of the earth who . . . can only look upon one thing at a time [not
for the moment but during an extended period of interest and activity]; and
they forsake the contemplation of everything else for the one idea which occupies
the mind [this is the whole secret of success set forth in the how-to-get-rich
books!]. There are some of our Elders who will argue themselves into false
doctrine by giving an undue preference to one scripture and passing over others
equally as important. [This is what President J. F. Smith called "Religious
Hobbyism."] This same lack of comprehensiveness of mind is also very
noticeable at times with some men who happen to accumulate property, and it
leads them to forsake the Spirit of the Gospel. Does it not prove that there
is a contractedness of mind in those who do so, which should not be? . . .
How contracted in mind and short-sighted we must be to permit the perishable
things of this world to swerve us in the least degree from our fidelity to
the truth. It shows that we lack knowledge which we should possess.55

He puts his finger on the spot as he comments on the unbridgeable gulf that
lies between the search for knowledge and the search for success.

     How difficult it is for our Elders to go forth and contend with the learning
of the age. . . . When a false theory has to be maintained,
. . . it requires study, and learning, and cunning sophistry to
. . . give it the semblance of truth, and make it plausible and
congenial to the feelings of the people [i.e., to sell it]. . . .
A child can tell you the truth, in child-like language, while falsehood . . .
requires a scholastic education to make falsehood pass for truth. . . .
Men are educated to promulgate and sustain false theories to make money. . . .
But if the profession of a lawyer is chosen, . . . he needs to be
educated in all the learning of the age to be successful—. . .
to make things appear what they really are not.56

Let us recall that "making things appear what they really are not"
is Plato’s definition of Rhetoric: making false appear true and true appear
false by the skillful use of words.57 With the recognition of the profession
of Rhetoric of Public Relations as a legitimate activity, any civilization
proclaims its moral bankruptcy.

It was
natural that the Latter-day Saints should gravitate toward "education
for success." Brother Brigham knew his people only too well. For him
the purpose of education was to take the measure of the world, but for the
poor Saints who had lived their lives among the ignorant and oppressed, its
great promise was to find a place in the world. Being human, the Mormons followed
the course of least resistance and defined success like everyone else as getting
what you want, which in its ultimate terms means power and gain with fame
and popularity as a bonus—all of which are exactly the things which God has
categorically forbidden us to seek. The Saints were not yet ready for the
higher school.

Young knew the material he had to work with: "We gather a few scientific
and learned men, but the great majority are the poor and the ignorant."58 "Very few of the learned or of
those who are high and lifted up in the estimation of the people receive the

     In the due time of the Lord, the Saints and the world will be privileged
with the revelations that are due to them. They now have many more than they
are worthy of, for they do not observe them. . . . If guilt
before my God and my brethren rests upon me in the least, it is in this one
thing—that I have revealed too much concerning God and his kingdom,
and the designs of our Father in heaven. If my skirts are stained in the least
with wrong, it is because I have been too free in telling what God is, how
he lives, the nature of his providences and designs in creating the world.60

been given great knowledge, the Saints were in constant danger of underestimating
their own ignorance. It was necessary to remind them again and again that
if God’s gifts are treated lightly they will be lightly withdrawn. The Mormons
have constantly slipped into the dangerous complacency of the student who
feels superior because he has the only answerbook in the class. Had they been
given too much light? When would they be ready for more?

A year
before his death, the Prophet Joseph wrote:

     I could explain a hundred fold more than I ever have of the glories of the
kingdoms manifested to me in the vision, were I permitted, and were the people
prepared to receive them. The Lord deals with this people as a tender parent
with a child, communicating light and intelligence and the knowledge of his
ways as they can bear it. The inhabitants of the earth are asleep; they know
not the day of their visitation.61

And Wilford Woodruff recalled: "His mind was opened by the visions of
the Almighty, and the Lord taught him many things by vision and revelation
that were never taught publicly in his days; for the people could not bear
the flood of intelligence which God poured into his mind."62

And Brigham
himself: "This people have not received, improved, grown, and enlarged
in their capacities as fast as they should have done."63 "We may look upon ourselves with
shamefacedness because of the smallness of our attainments in the midst of
so many great advantages."64 "It is mortifying that the children
of this world should know more about these things than the children of light. . . .
The lack of knowledge manifested by us as a people is disgraceful."65 The trouble was that the Latter-day
Saints were insistent on combining Zion and Babylon in a new concept of success.
This combination as we have frequently seen is utterly impossible. To try
to combine the ways of the world and the law of the gospel can only lead to
disaster, as Brigham Young often noted:

     The man or woman who enjoys the spirit of our religion has no trials; but
the man or woman who tries to live according to the Gospel of the Son of God,
and at the same time clings to the spirit of the world, has trials and sorrows
acute and keen, and that, too, continually. This is the deciding point, the
dividing line. They who love and serve God with all their hearts rejoice evermore,
pray without ceasing, and in everything give thanks; but they who try to serve
God and still cling to the spirit of the world, have got on two yokes—the
yoke of Jesus and the yoke of the devil, and they will have plenty to do.
They will have a warfare inside and outside, and the labor will be very galling,
for they are directly in opposition one to the other.66

So we are forced, whether we like it or not, to take up our position on one
side of the line or the other. The conflict between the two projects is summed
up by Brigham Young in a powerful passage:

     What do you love truth for? . . . Because you think it will
make you a ruler, or a Lord? If you conceive that you will attain to power
upon such a motive, you are much mistaken. It is a trick of the unseen power,
that is abroad amongst the inhabitants of the earth, that leads them astray,
binds their minds, and subverts their understanding. Suppose that our Father
in heaven, [or] our elder brother, the risen Redeemer, the Saviour of the
world, or any of the Gods of eternity should act upon this principle, to love
truth, knowledge, and wisdom, because they are all powerful [i.e., for what
they could get out of them], . . . they would cease to be Gods;
. . . the extension of their kingdom would cease, and their God-head
come to an end.67

Why should
concern for the economy be especially pernicious to the cause of education?
Aristotle’s famous formula gives us the answer, ou to zein alla to eu zein:
our object is not to stay alive but to live as we should. Our real interests
and concerns begin where the economy leaves off. Dogs, mice, cockroaches,
elephants, and oysters have through the long ages managed to solve the problem
of staying alive and reproducing, the problem of survival. So far God has
always provided. He has also promised to provide for us as for the sparrows.
The question of how much will I get paid is the last question any student
should ask, so with us at the BYU it is invariably the first. In the words
of Samuel the Lamanite, "Ye do always remember your riches" (Helaman
13:22)—always the economy, the economy, all the day long. Young Brigham with
his Puritan upbringing knew as much about the work ethic as anybody, and he
despised it. Again he insisted it’s the objective that’s contemptible. Commendable
zeal should not be wasted on the wrong ladder. We admire the billionaire who
takes his lunch to work in a paper bag. He is seeking to project the image
of the true work ethic, while all his life’s goals belie it. The real work
ethic is dedicated to a life of austerity and plain living and high thinking
precisely because its goal is not to accumulate substance. "Work less,
wear less, eat less, and we shall be a great deal wiser, healthier, and wealthier
people than by taking the course we now do. . . . Our artificial
wants, and not our real wants, and the following of senseless customs subject
our sisters to an excess of labor."68 "But you find
the mechanics that can go to with an old three-cornered file, a jack-knife,
a spike-gimlet, and an inch augur, and build a waggon in a workmanlike manner,
and you would say that he is a superior workman."69

This is
the type of economy and resourcefulness that Brigham admires, not that aimed
at the accumulation of a lot of stuff to have power over others. The work
ethic is only a method. The objective is the important thing. Which ladder
are you climbing? "After suitable rest and relaxation there is not a
day, hour or minute that we should spend in idleness, but every minute of
every day of our lives we should strive to improve our minds and to increase
in the faith of the holy Gospel."70

This is
the typical Brigham Young twist: what seems to begin as the typical routine
admonition of the millionaire on "the secrets of success" turns
out to be a call to the improvement of the mind. "If we all labor a few
hours a day, we could then spend the remainder of our time in rest and the
improvement of our minds."71 That
is the real work we are called to do and the real wealth we are to accumulate
individually. "The laboring man, the ingenious, industrious and prudent
man, the man who lays himself out to advance the human family in every saving
principle for happiness, for beauty and excellency, for wisdom, power, greatness
and glory is the true benefactor of his race; . . . he is a civilized

A measure
of the avoidance of real work in our day is the universal surrender to kitsch.
What is kitsch? It is a more established international term for what we also
call corn and camp. Kitsch is the lowest common denominator in art and style,
what is supposed to have the widest popular appeal and therefore the widest
market. The ultimate in kitsch is the "commercial." Applied to the
gospel, kitsch puts everything on the telestial level, easy of access to all,
no effort required. But kitsch runs counter to everything the gospel stands
for, for it seeks to escape the impact of reality by limiting our vision to
safe and familiar objects. Every close view of eternity has a terrifying effect
on mortals, who must always be reassured by visiting angels whose presence
makes them "sore afraid." To the extent to which the gospel influences
a creative artist, something of this culture-shock carries over. This means,
paradoxically, that there is something to be said for kitsch where the gospel
is concerned.

In the
study of early Christian and Jewish art, it is notable that the nearer one
gets to the pure primitive community of Saints, the clumsier and less beguiling
their art becomes. At the same time, however, it becomes ever more symbolic.
It is as if they knew perfectly well that the fourth dimension that gives
the gospel its power and its glory simply cannot be captured in any two- or
three-dimensional medium. Any attempt to depict celestial glory in any of
the limited media at the artist’s disposal is doomed to be a dismal failure.
Religious art and music reached their height in the Baroque, and even then
all is painfully artificial, contrived, forced, theatrical, operatic—Theatrum
was Bernini’s expression to describe
his own work. For the real gospel that will never do. It is better not to
try to depict the glories of the eternities than to fall flat on one’s face
and make them ridiculous. The Egyptians perhaps had the answer. They made
no attempt at realism or impressionism but presented a carefully thought-out
arrangement of symbols, mere abstractions, but symbols so intimate and familiar
to the beholder that the sight of any of them had a direct impact on his mind
and his emotions. The greatness of a presentation would have to be all in
the beholder’s eye. The avowed purpose of kitsch is to settle for the safe
and commonplace—music, art, science, literature, religion, all-for-family
fare, G rated: the kiddies must enjoy it as much as you do.

It is
Joseph Smith who puts his finger on the spot when he says, "Our spirits,
our conferences, our councils, our meetings, our private as well as public
conversations [have been] too low, too mean, too vulgar, too condescending
for the dignified characters of the called and chosen of God."73 Condescending is what kitsch is. Webster defines the verb as "to
come down; descend; accommodate one’s self to an inferior." Dale Carnegie’s
maxim, "If the customer says ‘ain’t,’ you say ‘ain’t,’ " is not
an index of humility or a common humanity but merely a trick to get money
from people. Kitsch is out for the general market and deliberately chooses
to appeal through the commonplace, ordinary, conventional, things that disturb
nobody. In art it is realistic, obvious, shallow, sentimental, ordinary, insipid,
requiring the least possible amount of effort to produce a predictable reaction.

Young, on the other hand, insisted that the Saints should stretch their minds
and work hard at cultivating taste, never settling for kitsch. "Let us
. . . show to the world that we have talent and taste, and prove
to the heavens that our minds are set on beauty and true excellence, so that
we can become worthy to enjoy the society of angels."74

     We enjoy because we have sensibility. Promote this sensibility, seek to
get more and more knowledge, more wisdom, and more understanding. . . .
This will give us greater sensibility, and we shall know how to enjoy, and
how to endure. I say, if you want to enjoy exquisitely, become a Latter-day
Saint, and then live the doctrine of Jesus Christ.75

"The greatest and most important labour we have to perform is to cultivate
ourselves."76 "Our senses, if properly educated, are channels of endless
felicity to us, but we can devote them to evil or to good."77

It is
an Article of Faith (No. 13) with the Latter-day Saints that the world has
good things to offer and that the Mormons possess no monopoly of taste.

     If there is anything that is great and good and wise among men, it cometh
from God. If there are men who possess great ability as statesmen, or as philosophers,
or who possess remarkable scientific knowledge and skill, the credit thereof
belongs to God, for He dispenses it to His children whether they believe in
Him or not, or whether they sin against Him or not; it makes no difference.78

     This is the belief and doctrine of the Latter-day Saints: Learn everything
that the children of men know, and be prepared for the most refined society
upon the face of the earth, then improve upon this until we are prepared and
permitted to enter the society of the blessed—the holy angels that dwell
in the presence of God.79

What could
be more foolish than to reject such gifts because they are found outside the
Church? Just as the King James version of the Bible is worthy of our reverent
attention until the day when we can excel it, so it is no disgrace that the
Church has not produced a Bach, Michelangelo, or Shakespeare—the whole world
has hardly produced a handful of such men in a thousand years. We should receive
their gifts with gratefulness before we presume to supplant them with our
own poor talents.

     Many think that all which was taught them by their fathers and mothers,
school teachers and priests, ought to be removed, laid aside, dispensed with,
and that they should begin anew to learn every principle of civilization.
This is a great mistake. . . . Some imagine that they must
begin and unlearn the whole of their former education, but I say, cling to
all the good that you have learned, and discard the bad.80

no Latter-day Saint can be justified in setting up standards of taste until
he has had the widest possible experience. Brigham comments on the well-known
phenomenon of the young Latter-day Saint who had no inkling of how great the
gospel is and how much it offers until he goes out in the world and makes
extensive comparisons:

     Our children do not know the greatness of their blessing and privileges. .
. . They do not know that they possess the light of the Holy Spirit until
they go out into the world and learn the great contrast. . . .
They hear their fathers pray, and they hear the Apostles and Prophets preach,
but they cannot know that "Mormonism" is true for themselves until
they have had the privilege of being placed in circumstances to exercise faith
for themselves, and to pray to God for themselves for testimony and knowledge.81

It was
this absorption in the larger scene that drew Brigham toward the stage as
a vehicle of culture, though his Puritan ancestors would have been horrified
at the thought.

     The Lord knows all things; man should know all things pertaining to this
life, and to obtain this knowledge it is right that he should use every feasible
means; and I do not hesitate to say that the stage can, in a great degree,
be made to subserve this end. . . . Can we not even make the
stage of a theatre the platform upon which to exhibit truth in all its simple

But this
was no mere holding up of the mirror to society as the stage depicted it.
The great geniuses of art and literature are timeless; but to heed the voice
of fashion is another matter entirely. He wanted the Saints to create what
he called a "style of our own."83

     To me a desire to follow the ever-varying fashions
of the world manifests a great weakness of mind in either gentleman or lady.
We are too apt to follow the foolish fashions of the world; and if means were
plentiful, I do not think that there are many families among the Latter-day
Saints but what would be up to the highest and latest fashions of the day.84

     If I do not say much about such customs and fashions, I shall probably skip
over some naughty words. In my feelings they are positively ridiculous, they
are so useless and unbecoming. . . . I take the liberty of
saying that these fashions are displeasing in the sight of truth, mercy and

could be more retrograde to this philosophy than the present-day practice
of combining the splendor of the gospel with the lowest fashionable idiom
of the day, the kitsch of the Broadway stage, as a means of selling inferior
compositions in the Church market. The facile, sentimental Broadway melody
tolerable in its place is set to equally mawkish words and exalted to the
realm of high art simply by assigning it the subject of the First Vision or
the Temple. This is definitely hitting below the belt. It is like trying to
raise the standard and status of a school simply by giving it the cheap and
easy title of "the Lord’s University." Indeed, when that expression
was first used about 1950, some of the General Authorities found it foolish
and offensive—clearly a case of claiming the prize before one has earned
it. When Laman and Lemuel affected superior virtue by pointing out that they
and their friends were the Chosen People, Nephi rebuked them sharply: "Behold,
the Lord esteemeth all flesh in one; he that is righteous is favored of God"
(1 Nephi 17:35). Wherever the honest in heart seek knowledge that is the Lord’s

The very
essence of taste is that it is not to be prescribed by any authority. It is
one of those things in which every individual is required to exercise his
own judgment. "We are not disposed," said Joseph Smith, "had
we the power, to deprive anyone of exercising that free independence of mind
which heaven has so graciously bestowed upon the human family as one of its
choicest gifts."86 Brigham Young spoke
often on this theme: "Ladies and gentlemen, I exhort you to think for
yourselves, and read your Bibles for yourselves, get the Holy Spirit for yourselves,
and pray for yourselves."87 "The catalogue of man’s discipline," says Brigham Young,
the sound psychologist, "he must compile himself: he cannot be guided
by any rule that others may lay down, but is placed under the necessity of
tracing it himself through every avenue of his life. He is obliged to catechise
and train himself."88

no attention to what others do, it is no matter what they do, or how they
dress."89 Brigham deplored the
idea of following fashion for fashion’s sake no matter who said it: "I
am not a stereotyped Latter-day Saint," he cried; "away with stereotyped

Yet he
knew that there is no stronger temptation at all levels of authority than
to prescribe taste—which is under no circumstances a leader’s prerogative:

     It is no more natural for your lungs to expand and contract in breathing
than it is for you to wish others to be like yourselves. . . .
All of these classes act according to their faith and traditions, and each
one of them says, "If you are not as I am, you are not right." This
is just as natural as it is to breathe vital air. I wish this trait in the
Saints to be done away. I want the Elders of Israel to learn to take people
as they are.91

If decisions must be made in such matters he recommends the broadest base
of communication:

     When it becomes our duty to talk, we ought to be willing to talk. If we
never exhibit the knowledge within us, the people will not know really whether
we have any. Interchanging our ideas and exhibiting that which we believe
and understand affords an opportunity for detecting and correcting errors
and increasing our stock of valuable information. I have frequently thought
that I should be very happy if I could hear the Elders of Israel speak their
feelings and impart their knowledge pertaining to their fellow-beings, to
earthly things, to heavenly things, to godliness, and God.92

Thus we are to advocate our ideas, but never force them on others:

     No person has a right to say to another, "Why do you eat wheat bread,
corn bread, or no bread at all? why do you eat potatoes, or why do you not
eat them? why do you walk, or why do you sit down? why do you read this or
that book? or why do you go to the right or the left?" . . .
If the Elders of Israel could understand this a little better, we would like
it, for the simple reason that if they had power given them now they manifest
the same weaknesses in the exercise thereof as any other people.93

If we do not prescribe to others in matters of taste, neither may we depend
on them to prescribe for us: "Now those men, or those women, who know
no more about the power of God, and the influences of the Holy Spirit, than
to be led entirely by another person, suspending their own understanding,
and pinning their faith upon another’s sleeve, will never be capable of entering
into the celestial glory."94 Granted "there never was and never will be a people in heaven
nor on earth, in time nor in eternity, that can be considered truly and entirely
independent of counsel and direction."95 Still the law of agency requires them only to follow the counsel
they ask for and accept: "If they do not believe in my advice, teachings,
and counsel, they are at perfect liberty to disbelieve them, and I will not
find one word of fault with them for so doing."96 "We have history enough to prove that when [men] have the
power their motto is, ‘You shall.’ But there is no such thing in the economy
of heaven."97

Of course
we run the risk of being confronted by all manner of false doctrine and ideas,
if left thus to ourselves, but that is part of the plan. Brigham Young’s son,
Willard, very shrewdly observed in a letter to his father in 1876 that his
friends who had left the Church did not do so because of "instructions
they got that misled them, so much as the want of proper instructions."98 The trouble was not that they had heard too much but that they
did not hear enough.

In short,
Brigham’s teaching "breathes that spirit of liberty in the pursuit of
knowledge characteristic of the work of God in the last days."99 Everyone was free to go his own way:
"’To mind your own business’ incorporates the whole duty of man."100

Let me
conclude at last with a sentimental journey which I took the other night.
It began when I found in my overstuffed mailbox (alas for the forests of America!)
an impressive flyer from the BYU Travel Study—an elegantly inscribed Hebrew
version of Orson Hyde’s prayer dedicating the Holy Land in 1841, along with
an invitation "to be instructed more perfectly . . . of things
both in heaven and earth." "What better way to be instructed,"
said the flyer, "than by a scholar from the Church Education System while
standing on the Mount of Olives where Orson Hyde’s dedicatory prayer was offered."
With this the customer was provided with a list of almost twenty experts to
chose from; the question arises: which of these could best read and interpret
the Hebrew prayer? Can all of them?
Can any of them? I leave it
to you to discover.

by this, I went over to the Travel Study office for more information, and
as I left was attracted by an impressively drawn placard announcing a series
of courses in a certain department in which I could choose to take "Primitive
Pottery," "NRA Hunter Safety," or "Interim classes."
Having been long at the BYU, I was neither shocked nor surprised by this sort
of thing, which I have seen a thousand times—the impressive facade with nothing
behind it is the rule, not the exception, with us. I was reminded of the announcers
over KBYU speaking with oh-so-cultured accents as they elaborately mispronounce
all the proper names they are reading off from the record covers. As I left
the place I picked up another brochure inviting the public to enter into a
great "Adventure into Learning"—this surely is the real thing:
I opened the brochure and was challenged to extend my questioning mind through
courses in Slimnastics, Cake Decorating, Auto Maintenance, and A More Feminine
You. From there I passed to the bookstore and was reminded both of what Brother
King has recently said about it (a vulgar place and a monopoly), and of the
fact that for upwards of 100 years Provo has been a university town without
a single bookstore. What on earth could the students have been doing all the
time? To find out, listen to their conversation among themselves, as I have
for the past thirty years: one thing you would never guess from such conversation
is that you are at an institution of learning. The subjects are (1) jobs
and money, (2) cars, and (3) social activity—religious and romantic. Quite
recently Brother Thomas Rogers, speaking from a higher and more official level
of observation, has announced the same verdict: BYU students simply are not interested in things of the mind. From the bookstore by a natural transition
I passed to the library, where without the new addition we already have shelf-space
for over a million volumes; but here any thought of serious research is out
of the question, because the officials, to save themselves time and trouble
and make room for new acquisitions, simply took all bound periodicals earlier
than the year 1970 and locked them up in a warehouse. Now the heart of any
program of serious study in almost any field is the periodical literature
of the past century—but can you make a librarian see that? Never mind—the
books will not be missed: that became apparent to me as I left the library
late at night and walked home through an empty and deserted campus, as I have
done thousands of times in the past—the lights do not burn late on Temple Hill; they never have.

the steps that take me home, I remembered President Harris and his interest
in making a lovely natural preserve on the south side of campus: now what
we have is the carefully manicured, groomed, trimmed, regimented landscaping
where nothing is allowed to grow in its wild or natural state. Nature must
observe our dress standards—the look comes first; nothing else really matters.
I noticed as I always do the smoke pouring from the power plant and asked
myself again: What is it we produce that is worth the price of all that pollution?
Certainly not knowledge. I was reminded that most of our smartest students
are now working with computers: they are not discovering or absorbing knowledge,
but simply processing it, neither producers or consumers of the precious stuff,
but middlemen, dutifully attendant on machines. And if knowledge, then not
character; Woodrow Wilson said that character is a by-product, the by-product
of hard work well done.

So I have
come full circle. My first day in Provo, thirty years ago, President Joseph
Fielding Smith was on the campus and made a remark to Leroy Robertson that
I have never forgotten: "We are rapidly coming to be known as a mediocre
people." Why must this be? In a letter written just 100 years ago, Brigham
Young clearly states his purpose in founding the BYU at Provo:

     We have enough and to spare, at present in these mountains, of schools where
young infidels are made because the teachers are so tender-footed that they
dare not mention the principles of the gospel to their pupils, but have no
hesitancy in introducing into the classroom the theories of Huxley, of Darwin,
or of Miall and the false political economy which contends against co-operation
and the United Order. This course I am resolutely and uncompromisingly opposed
to, and I hope to see the day when the doctrines of the gospel will be taught
in all our schools, when the revelation of the Lord will be our texts, and
our books will be written and manufactured by ourselves and in our own midst.
As a beginning in this direction I have endowed the Brigham Young Academy
at Provo and [am] now seeking to do the same thing in this city.101

The purpose
of the BYU, then, is to challenge the reigning philosophies of Darwinism and
what today is commonly called Social-Darwinism (see Alma 30:17)—not to forbid
their teaching but to present the gospel alternatives to it. Instead of which
we still embrace both with uncritically open arms, and as a result remain
to this day "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?"102

I pray
that the Lord may enlighten all our minds with a fuller understanding of his

*   This text was originally presented
as the Sperry Lecture at the Joseph Smith Auditorium of Brigham Young University,
11 March 1976.

JD 8:129.

JD 8:228.

JD 5:332.

JD 8:129.

JD 16:69.

JD 10:352.

JD 8:146.

JD 8:282.

JD 19:64.

JD 14:228.

JD 12:238.

JD 12:172.

Nigel Calder, The Mind of Man (London:
British Broadcasting Corp., 1970), 33.

Dean C. Jessee, Letters of Brigham Young to His Sons (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1974), 158.

Aristotle, Metaphysics V, 2, 1—3.

TPJS, 82—83.

JD 7:135.

JD 7:202.

JD 1:117.

JD 14:83.

JD 9:149.

JD 12:122.

JD 16:77.

MS 31:571.

JD 9:189.

Elden J. Watson, Brigham Young Manuscript History 1846—1847 (Salt Lake City: Watson, 1971), 120.

JD 10:328—29.

JD 12:228 (emphasis added).

JD 7:282.

JD 13:270 reads: "It will be hard for any divine
that now lives to draw the line between the law of carnal commandments and
the law of divine commandments."

Boyd K. Packer, "The Arts and the Spirit of the Lord," Brigham
Young University Studies
16 (Summer 1976):
576, says, "There are many who struggle and climb and finally reach the
top of the ladder, only to find that it is leaning against the wrong wall."

JD 2:91.

JD 12:261.

JD 8:289.

JD 10:26.

JD 8:68.

JD 14:232.

JD 8:135.

JD 1:254; for example, Brigham Young says, "If a
man comes in the midst of this people with money, let him use it in making
improvements, in building, in beautifying his inheritance in Zion, and in
increasing his capital by thus putting out his money to usury. Let him go
and make a great farm, and stock it well, and fortify all around with a good
and efficient fence. What for? Why for the purpose of spending his money."

JD 12:127.

Calder, The Mind of Man, 33.

JD 2:124—25; cf. JD 10:266, "grovelling things of this life";
13:151, "grovelling things of the world."

JD 1:190.

JD 4:77.

JD 5:53.

JD 13:4.

JD 17:117—18.

JD 7:282.

JD 15:34.

JD 8:63.

Jessee, Letters of Brigham Young to His Sons,

Ibid., 121.

JD 12:219.

Jessee, Letters of Brigham Young to His Sons,

JD 11:283.

JD 11:214—15.

Plato, Phaedrus 267A.

JD 13:148.

JD 14:75.

JD 8:58.

TPJS, 305; HC 5:402.

JD 5:83—84.

JD 8:134.

JD 12:192.

JD 11:105.

JD 16:123.

JD 1:117.

JD 12:122.

JD 8:353.

JD 13:310.

JD 19:47.

JD 10:359.

TPJS, 137.

JD 11:305.

JD 18:246—47.

JD 10:2.

JD 9:244.

JD 11:123.

JD 16:77.

JD 3:203—4.

JD 11:215.

JD 9:243.

Cf. JD 14:16.

JD 14:16.

JD 15:161—62.

TPJS, 49.

JD 11:127.

JD 6:315.

JD 15:162.

JD 8:185; cf. 13:153.

JD 9:121, 123.

JD 6:93.

JD 14:94—95.

JD 1:312.

JD 10:19.

JD 8:11.

JD 14:95.

Jesse, Letters of Brigham Young to His Sons,

HC 4:234.

JD 11:107.

101.   Jessee, Letters of Brigham
Young to His Sons
, 199.

JD 10:266—67.