Monday, November 24, 2008

Loving / Hating Utah

There are many vicious divisions in our world--Red state vs. Blue state, pro-this vs. anti-that, Kirk vs. Picard--but the Latter-day Saints live with a great chasm separating them from each other far more polarizing than any difference based on race or income. It's their ultimate skeleton in the closet, their elephant in the room, and it threatens to rend asunder the very fabric of their community.

Mormons from Utah and Mormons from everywhere else in the world will forever share a religion, but quietly harbor deeply contrary opinions about the Beehive State.

Mormons from Utah actually base their lives on Utah: it's like the hidden 14th Article of Faith. This elite subset of old-guard members will regale you well into the evening [9:30 -Ed.] with stories of their Scout camps in Utah, their family reunions in Utah, their grandpa's cabin in Utah, their uncle's farm in Utah, etc. Even if said Mormons no longer actually live in Utah, rest assured that they will find excuses to return for visits more often than most of us visit the bathrooms in our own homes.

Carefully observe a casual exchange between two such Utah-based Mormons, and note the secret code words passed between them as signals to each other that they're part of an uber-brotherhood. When one LDS adult male asks another what he's doing for any given holiday, the correct answer is always to nod and laconically state, "We're going back up to Utah."

For a Mormon with Utah roots, the thought of questioning the inherent holiness of that bastion of heritage is tantamount to asking them to consider that the sky is actually orange, which is to say, ridiculous. Utah Mormons might assume that, even as a global church with more members outside the U.S. than within, the level of righteousness in the church is strongest in Northern Utah, with lessening degrees of spirituality radiating out in concentric circles, like a pebble dropped in a pond of worthiness.

Those generations of Latter-day Saints converted, or born and raised, outside the borders of Deseret, however, are more likely to see the great state of Utah with a more jaundiced eye: commercialized, worldly, comfortable, stagnant. Multiple objective surveys demonstrate that the majority of church members without strong ties to Utah will just shake their heads and roll their eyes when a "legacy" member tosses off a reference to yet another profoundly spiritual Utah-based memory about skiing, renting out another real estate property, or duck hunting.
This neutral researcher, however, logs this entry in our study of the Latter-day Saints without taking any position on the controversy.

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