Saturday, September 19, 2009

Religion and Culture in Utah

I live in Utah. I surprisingly like living in Utah. I am not a member of the predominant faith here, however. That has at times caused some amusing and some irritating issues.

Not usually for me, as I tend to get along with everyone, and those that don't like me I really don't waste my time being concerned with their sentiments towards me.

My family is Catholic and we try to be pretty devout. It is my wife, Mrs. Paine, and my youngest daughter that have had more conflicts with members of the Mormon faith than I have. My wife, while acknowledged, was often on the outside looking in while working at her previous job because 95% of the people there were Mormon.

My daughter, as one example, had made a friend in elementary school when we first moved here years ago and they became fairly close. One day, when my daughter wore her cross necklace to school, the friend in shock and dismay learned the fact that we were an "apostate family" and not of the "true faith" as Joseph Smith had defined it. The friend was no longer allowed to play with my daughter after that. I thought this to be sad and definitely not a very Christian attitude. Why ignorant people think that by shunning those not of your faith will make them want to convert to it is really baffling to me.

Now I have a lot of very good friends that are devout Mormons of whom I respect, admire and love, even though I definitely do NOT accept the doctrines of their faith or the legitimacy of the Book of Mormon. And that is fine. If I did accept it, then I would logically have to become LDS myself. It ain't gonna happen folks. (As an aside, as a member of our parish's team, I and my family have helped well over 100 people, most of them previously Mormon, to convert to Catholicism via the church's Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults program, however.)

That does not mean that we Catholics and Protestants cannot learn much from our Mormon brothers and sisters. We definitely can! Their sense of zeal for the Lord is indeed great, although misguided by their spiritual texts, in my humble opinion. Their overall sense of community, caring for one another, and just plain old family values are excellent and above reproach. They also preach, if not always execute in practice, frugality, self-dependence, and taking care of their neighbor. Even smart things in LDS culture such as being prepared for disasters by having months of food storage and emergency items on hand make great sense.

This aspect is so ingrained in Mormon culture that most homes in Utah are built with often-concrete-constructed rooms in the basements just for emergency food storage. Our realtor, when we were looking for a home here, knew we were not of the LDS faith and said we could do as he did and use this room as a wine cellar.

I also have some friends that are similarly not Mormon too. Often they will gripe about their ostracization from the community because of their lack of "belonging to the faith". While this does indeed occur, it is becoming less so in Salt Lake County as it becomes less homogeneous with the influx of all types of Americans from elsewhere in the country over the years. The more rural counties often still exhibit the ostracization tendencies, however.

Utah is a beautiful state and has some of the most majestic scenery in the world contained within its borders. Many National Parks and Monuments are here such as Zion Park, Bryce Canyon, Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Capitol Reef National Monument and the Grand Escalante Stair Case, just to name some of them.

I can understand the attraction for people living here for that reason alone. Add on to this the fact that the state is governed in a more conservative fashion than most other states (Clinton came in 3rd to Bush Sr. and Ross Perot in '92) which has resulted in a lot more stable economy and typically lower state taxes overall. (Our current unemployment rate here is around 6% versus a national rate of 10% and a California rate of 15%.)

With all of this being said I find it amazing that people move here not of the Mormon faith and then get frustrated that they cannot have things done "just like the state where they came from". If I were to move to Rome, I would assume that the Catholic faith would predominate and all aspects of culture would be influenced accordingly because of that. Same thing if I were to move to Tel Aviv if I were not Jewish. Why should Utah be different? The Mormons founded the state and by and large it was their pioneers that settled here and built the infrastructure and communities here.

I think we should try to love our brother as our self, just as Christ commanded, regardless if the person is a Jew, a Samaritan... or a Mormon. The bottom line is if you cannot accept their predominance in the state of Utah, then maybe another place to live would be in order. Let me know if that is the case as I know a good realtor to help you sell your home with the built-in wine cellar! :)


J. Marquis said...

A female friend of mine opened a new office for Qwest in an mostly Mormon town in eastern Idaho. There were always people coming to her house and trying to sell her on their faith and then they basically ran her out of town because they felt like it would be more appropriate if it was managed by a Mormon male.

I don't think any one religion should ever be allowed to control the culture and laws in an American state.

T. Paine said...

While I have heard similiar stories from others, and I strongly suspect that the same probably holds true for many of the small hamlets and towns in the rural areas of Utah, I would hope that this is becoming a thing of the past more often than not, these days.

Marquis, I agree that no one religion should have complete control over an entire state to the detriment of those in the minority's own rights. What happened to your friend was deplorable accordingly.

My point, however, was that if you come to a Mormon town and you don't like the way Mormon's do things, then you probably should expect to be unhappy until you find a place to live where your religion/ideology/ethnicity etc has the dominant influence on the culture.

Mormons will always tend to vote for and support Mormon candidates in this state because by and large they are mostly in agreement with how things should be run according to their faith and principles.

That certainly doesn't give them the right to harrass or intimidate others not of their faith though and laws are and should be in place to prevent such discrimination.

Any group of people will always have its detractors. I have found most of my Mormon friends and neighbors to be wonderful people and I am lucky and proud to have as my friends. Whether I would have their support should I run for office as the local dog catcher... well, I don't know. But the majority rules in such elections and rightly should, as long as the minority is not subjugated to that majority in their rights.