I drive by the tidy, white-grey spires of the Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City, Utah. Like a focal point, all city roads are arranged in a neat East to West and North to South grid around it. All directions and addresses are described in relationship to the temple itself. It is a colossal emblem of pious tyranny.
Salt Lake City is a very strange city. Skipping over the long history (as in thousands of years long history) of Native American settlement (namely Shoshone, Paiute, Goshute and Ute) it was officially settled by the Mormons and founded by the Church President Brigham Young. The first continental railroad brought a great migration of settlers here. Salt Lake City is the headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Nestled in the valley and foothills of the Wasatch Mountains, it is a small city that glints against a backdrop of steep granite mountains and stands proud to the east of a vast lake that is the largest salt water lake in the western hemisphere. The Great Salt Lake happens to cause lake effect snow during the wintertime, which accounts for the unbeatable snow conditions in the area.
Salt Lake City is divided into two distinct types of people… Liberal and Conservative. And the neighborhoods are segregated accordingly. In fact one of the most startling things about Salt Lake City is that one area of the city can feel like one thing and another area of the city can feel like the opposite thing (like avant-garde and narrow minded). Polarization is extreme here, which is the case in any area where there is a dominant belief system. Wherever there is religious oppression there is a counter culture. The counter culture in Salt Lake City is alive and thriving. By virtue of their resistance, the Mormons in Salt Lake Valley have ‘created’ a city with the largest number of gays (per capita) in the nation, even more than in San Francisco. And now, less than 50 percent of the inhabitants of Salt Lake City are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Which is why one cannot judge Utah by Salt Lake City. In fact, I like to joke to that if you are non-Mormon, life in Utah is very easy, just do not drive your car outside the city limits of Salt Lake City or Park City.
The dominant negative vibration of Salt Lake City is: Denial. The conservatives (mostly religious conservatives) In Salt Lake City live in an attitude of denial. They refuse to acknowledge anything within themselves that they have previously deemed unacceptable. This sets a very ‘shady’ tone to the city. Like everyone is hiding something. Practically everyone is doped up on prescription pills to keep the aspects of themselves that are ‘unsavory’ suppressed. There is a mission to keep all unpleasant truths buried. This state in general might as well be the capital of spiritual bypassing. They do not know their true selves because they are so desperate to act like what they believe they are expected to act like in accordance with what is acceptable to the culture they are part of. Utah has one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy and teen suicide and it boasts the highest number of online porn subscriptions because so many people are sexually repressed. But the attitude is… Go ahead and watch porn in secret and feel guilty about it, just never admit to it and condemn others who do it.
The liberals in Salt Lake City are not much better. They live their lives in a seemingly never-ending climate of rebellion. By being in rebellion, they cannot actually be their true selves; they are in denial of who they really are. Their personalities are simply a reaction against something rather than something genuine. And they are in denial about anything that causes them to acknowledge their hurt or vulnerability, especially relative to the conservatives. Basically, denial is like a porcelain veneer that covers the energetic blueprint of the Salt Lake City and all the other Utah cities and towns. It creates an unsettling ‘dualistic’ feel that is easily perceived by people visiting the city who are not accustomed to the vibration of façade or dualism.
The dominant positive vibration of Salt Lake City is: Interest. Interest being attention, concern and curiosity being particularly engaged in something. Salt Lake City is not an idle city. It is full of people, both conservative and liberal, who have special interest in spades. Those interests compel movement and perpetual ‘doing’ and ‘seeking’. It is VERY hard to find someone in Salt Lake City that does not have a serious interest in something specific. It is very easy to become an expert in a field with interest. And Utah boasts many experts in various fields because of it. Interest, which resides in the people here like a subtle force, makes the city feel involved. But that vibration of ‘involved’ is a compilation of so many people’s various interests that one cannot tell what Salt Lake City is involved in exactly.
One of the most common interests among people in Utah (both liberal and conservative) is the outdoors. The great outdoors is one of the main reasons people move to Utah and Stay in Utah. In fact it is even the thing that drew my own family here. Utah is one of the most aesthetically beautiful states in the nation. I would even say it is one of the most visually striking natural places in the world. Tourists come from all over the world to see the landscape here and enjoy the many outdoor activities that you can do here. Hiking, horseback riding, backpacking, camping, rock climbing, fishing, mountain biking, kayaking, caving etc. and who could forget skiing? The skiing is so good here that I am finding it hard to pry myself away from the state despite being ready to leave. I can honestly say as a die-hard skier that Utah snow is the best snow on earth! There is so much untouched wilderness here it boggles the mind. There is almost nothing ‘going on’ in Utah except for outdoor activities. I go so far as to say there is no reason to live here unless you have a particular outdoor recreation that you love.
The culture in Salt Lake City is nothing like the culture in the more rural towns of Utah. Rural Utah culture is like an inbred, religious flavored mix between the movie Stepford Wives and the movie Brokeback Mountain. Most of Utah belongs to Mormons. They own the state, governmental institutions and all. Growing up in rural Utah, people do not ask you what religion you are because it is assumed. A non-Mormon is like a kind of rare alien species. Honestly, as is the case with any dominant religious area, being a non-member of the predominant religion can feel like being a fish in shark-infested water. The Mormons in Utah are famous for a special breed of ‘fake sugar cookie niceness’ that compels them to do all kinds of nice things for you when they are attempting to convert you and enhance their own sense of divinity. But after attempts to convert you fail, many close their doors to you entirely and you are ostracized and shunned from the greater community. It was explained to me numerous times growing up by Mormons in the community that Mormons believe there is one excuse for a person not converting to the church: They haven’t been exposed to the gospel. To give everyone the opportunity to transcend obscurity and darkness as well as to give them the opportunity to reach the highest kingdom of heaven, they send missionaries all across the world to deliver the gospel. In essence, they believe that once a person is exposed to the gospel, they will instantly receive the spirit of revelation that the church is true. So, if someone is exposed to gospel and does not convert, it means they are “one of Satan’s recruits sent to tempt members of the church off the path”. It is sort of like some Mormons believe exposure to gospel is a litmus test for evil. So, once they realize you are not going to convert, they cease their kind efforts and you are treated with distrust, confusion and disgust like you are something to be eradicated.
I could go into all the bizarre aspects of Mormon Culture and all the details of Mormon beliefs and this blog would be five miles long. But I will simply assert that like nearly any religion, there are some beautiful spiritual truths inherent within the gospel itself. However, religious doctrine and religious culture are not one in the same.
In November 2005, in Ensign, the Church President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “I think forgiveness may be the greatest virtue on earth, and certainly the most needed. There is so much of meanness and abuse, of intolerance and hatred. There is so great a need for repentance and forgiveness. It is the great principle emphasized in all of scripture, both ancient and modern. Somehow forgiveness, with love and tolerance, accomplishes miracles that can happen in no other way.”
I leave Salt Lake City with a prayer for the people of Utah to hear those words and practice them.