A “hostile environment” makes the U the better fit for LDS students

Utah offers a better experience for student members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints than its rival, church-owned BYU.

Having been a U fan most of my life, I could come up with a number of reasons why Utah is superior to the school down south. But most of those reasons are old clichés. Divisive talking points — which inevitably boil down to religion, such as BYU’s Honor Code, or Utah fans’ drunken classlessness — always lead to the same black-and-white generalizations. So instead of stating the obvious — that BYU is a good school for Mormons and that Utah’s a good school for everyone else — I am making the case that the U is, ironically, a better fit for LDS students.

During his presidency, Abraham Lincoln was known for filling his cabinet with his political opponents so he would be surrounded by alternative ideas. This is what is missing at BYU, aside from caffeinated sodas, of course. Although there is some variation in political beliefs, 99 percent of the students are LDS, so there is almost no variation in religious beliefs. The result is a giant comfort-zone of ideological hegemony in which students’ beliefs are never seriously challenged by their classmates or their professors.

Former President of the LDS Church and U graduate Gordon B. Hinckley once shared an analogy in which he compared faith to the muscles in his arm. “If I use them, they will grow stronger. If I put them in a sling, they become weaker,” he said. By going to school in an environment such as BYU’s, LDS students are not putting their “faith muscles” through as much of a workout as they can at the U. They don’t have as many chances to defend their beliefs or convictions because no one questions them. They don’t have to turn down a beer because they’ll likely never be in a situation where one will be offered to them. They don’t often have to answer questions about church policies because they are rarely questioned.

At the U, however, LDS students have chances every day to exercise moral courage by standing up for the things they believe in, in environments much more critical than that of BYU. I, for one, enjoy being in class with students who have a diverse range of opinions and beliefs and who respectfully challenge and question some of the things that I taught growing up. It gives me a chance for introspection, to ask myself, “Do I really believe what I say I do?” It is in answering such questions that one exercises their “faith muscles” most effectively.

If memorizing verses of scripture or church history facts are your thing, then BYU and its required religion courses would be a great fit. But for those LDS students who want to strengthen their faith by testing it as an ambassador of the church in “hostile” territory, this is the place for them.

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