As in worshipping a false idol.
Several years ago, a mother and daughter came into my school office for help resolving a conflict: mom wanted her daughter to go to BYU, and the daughter just wanted to go to a school as far away as possible, a school that was not BYU. Mom’s argument was simply that BYU was where you send your kids so that they’ll finish growing up spiritually safe. I didn’t overtly contradict her naive perception, but I definitely worked them towards a compromise.
Her simplistic devotion to what she’d assumed BYU stands for is not an individual error: it is a deep-seated error in thinking among the Latter-day Saints that BYU is not only a special school but a better school, and the one for which good Mormon kids and families should strive.
In the earliest days of the Church, converts were encouraged to gather into the main body of the population, but as the 20th century progressed, “the First Presidency specifically admonished the missionaries to cease preaching emigration; the converts in foreign countries could do more to build the kingdom if they would remain in their own lands.” (“Growing With A Living Church,” Arnold K. Garr, Ensign, October 1996). Or, as Bruce R. McConkie put it, “we have gathered, from their Egyptian bondage as it were, the dispersed of Ephraim and a few others, initially to the mountains of America, but now into the stakes of Zion in the various nations of the earth.”
If that principle is true of where we physically build our homes and raise our families, why would some assume that it isn’t true of where we send our children to school? Where does anyone find in the teachings of any Church leader–anywhere–ever–the idea that righteous families should set BYU as the goal for their children? Has the Church set up and sustained an awe-inspiring system of global Institutes of Religion at hundreds of college campuses because they would prefer people to ignore them?
Attending BYU has become for far too many people not an aspiration to quality education (which it certainly is), but a security blanket, a status symbol, and a lazy accessory of cultural comfort. In short, a false idol.
Now, I didn’t go to BYU, nor could I have gotten in if I’d wanted to, so cynical critics will quickly sell this complaint short as sour grapes. I can only protest my honest motives: I have no interest in defaming a great school, only in deflating the incorrect ideas that send people there for the wrong reasons.
There are dozens–no, hundreds–of amazing schools out there for the serious, spiritually-minded Latter-day Saint. Just getting on the bandwagon and focusing your tunnel vision on BYU is not appropriate–not for the global Church of the future, not for the equally wonderful schools that are getting neglected, and not for the students who think having those three letters on their resumé will automatically make them a better person.