What value are the humanities?

It is not uncommon these days to hear doubts expressed about the value of a humanities education. In difficult economic times like these, there is increasing pressure to convert that value into monetary terms. Will they or will they not make a difference in employment after graduation? … [Read more...]

Prejudice and its Discontents


I recently traveled to Germany, a country where I spent six months of my life when I was in college in 1988. I had not been back since. Any trip to Germany inevitably raises the specter of Germany’s shocking and sickening past. My son Sam and I went to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin, and as we wandered through the museum and saw fragments of faces and letters, snapshots of individual lives and families in particular contexts, the weight of the entirety of those murdered a … [Read more...]

The Enchanted Landscape


The sociologist Max Weber once described scientific understanding as leading to a disenchantment of nature. This is a paradox, of course, since a sense of amazement is vital to an ethic of care and preservation, and yet we cannot expect to take proper care of land without understanding it works. Weber’s point was perhaps overly simplified, since as writers such as Annie Dillard and Marilynne Robinson have made clear what we gain in understanding about the workings of the world can help to in … [Read more...]

Climate Change, “Free” Markets, and Politics


BYU sponsored a conference on Europe this week, and one of the panels was devoted to a discussion of energy and environment. The speakers included David Long, a BYU professor of Electrical Engineering, who has done extensive work on remote sensing that has played a key role in gathering evidence of the climate’s warming patterns; Günter Hörmandinger, the Environmental Counselor for the European Union delegation in Washington, DC; and Michael Mehling of the Ecologic Institute, also in DC. What was … [Read more...]

Poetry and Politics, again

October-November 2006 223

Mark Strand recently read his poetry on campus at BYU. In the question and answer session, he made a stunning remark that is worth consideration. He wondered out loud what kind of a different world we would have if heads of state gave some time to poetry in their lives. This is a topic that has garnered the attention of some of Western civilization’s greatest thinkers, of course, and is a debate as old as that between Plato and Aristotle. I won’t pretend to rehash all of that here. What struck me … [Read more...]

Civility and the Possibility of Community

At the risk of repeating what I have already said about community and about politics, in this season of political bickering I wish to reiterate a few principles. I do this because I am centrally interested in the meaning of community, and I have always believed that community is not possible without the foundational practice of forbearance and charity. I have also been inspired recently by two speeches, one by Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles who spoke last week at a … [Read more...]

“And now I know that man is nothing”


I confess to feeling my utter insignificance. Even when I imagine my life as having realized its maximum impact on the world, it doesn’t take much imagination or realism to acknowledge that one’s life becomes insignificant in the long term with only a turn or two of the years. And what does it matter anyway? Why feel the need to leave a mark, to be remembered? What could possibly motivate this other than some kind of romance about immortality, about mattering in the hearts and minds of those to c … [Read more...]

Family Relationships and the Outdoors


Recently I was asked to be on the Mike Townsend show at KBYU Radio. Mike is a specialist in family relationships, and he wanted to talk about the value of getting our kids outside. I don't consider myself an expert in child psychology nor do I think I have managed to get my kids outdoors with exceptional frequency. But I have strong feelings about the importance of experiences in nature that shape us from an early age. … [Read more...]

Environmental Stewardship and Mormon Belief


I will be speaking next week at a fireside in a neighboring stake. The topic is “Environmental Stewardship and Mormon Belief.” I have written and spoken about this topic for 14 years. I don’t suppose I can talk about it enough. I believe that the gospel of Christ contains all truth, that all topics are relevant and important to consider. There is almost no topic I am not interested in reading and talking about with others, especially when it concerns the fundamental principles of Christ’s teachin … [Read more...]

The Huckabee Paradox

If you care about the religious values of a political candidate, it is because you believe there is some direct correlation between how and who they worship and what policies they would espouse. Even more specifically, it is because you have a theory about the reliability of that correlation. What is your theory?My experience tells me there is little evidence that what one believes or does not believe about the nature of God or how one chooses to worship and serve provides any kind of … [Read more...]