Saturday, November 24, 2012

Academic Acceptance

One of the more sobering pronouncements of Nephi, at least for those in academia, is in his account of his vision that explains his father’s dream: “Behold the world and the wisdom thereof,” says the angel, pointing to the great and spacious building” (1 Nephi 11:35-36). What makes this sobering is not only that the building falls (1 Nephi 11:36), but that “as many as heeded [the multitude that did enter into that strange building], had fallen away” (1 Nephi 8:34). A careful reading of the Book of Mormon indicates that in general, the secular academy will not accept those who hold fast to the rod of iron (1 Nephi 8:30), meaning “the word of God” (1 Nephi 11:25), most will, in fact, “point the finger of scorn at” those who do (1 Nephi 8:33).

Another description of the great and spacious building also is enlightening: “it stood as it were in the air, high above the earth” (1 Nephi 8:26). This suggests that the structure lacks any foundation.

Two now somewhat dated events bring Lehi’s and Nephi’s descriptions to mind. They involve disciplinary actions against academics for misconduct. On the one hand the Chronicle of Higher Education  fired a blogger for doing what she was ostensibly hired to do. On the other hand, a professor at Arizona State University was exonerated for misconduct even though everyone agrees that passages from his published work were lifted straight from Wikipedia without attribution.  Not too long ago, plagiarism and academic fraud were the only things that the academy would censure. That is no longer the case. Together these, and similar incidents suggest that academia has no real standards and that their acceptance and rejection rests largely on whether what is being asserted fits in with whatever fad they currently accept. It reminds me of an argument I once had with one of my professors in graduate school. I pointed out that a certain book was heavily dependent on forged documents, to which my professor replied: “It does not matter, because I like it.”

For those of us who take the scriptures of the Latter-day Saints seriously as the word of God, it is highly likely that the academy will, by and large, point the finger of scorn at what we do. From that quarter, we expect no respect. To think otherwise is not to take the Book of Mormon seriously. As Elder Maxwell said: “The LDS scholar has his citizenship in the kingdom, but carries his passport into the professional world—not the other way around.”[1] In the end, though, the opinion of academia does not matter, all that does matter is whether, when all is said and done, we hear the words: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21).

[1] Neal. A. Maxwell, “Some Thoughts on the Gospel and the Behavioral Sciences,” Ensign 6/7 (July 1976).