Pilgrims and Pioneers

by | Sep 3, 2007

Salt Lake Tribune looks at that city’s race for mayor and in doing so questions my good friend D.K., also known as David R. Keller, associate professor of philosophy at Utah Valley State College and director of the Center for the Study of Ethics.

DK, a native, envisions a vibrant, modern Salt Lake City.

“The real issue that transcends the sky bridge or the mayoral race is the fundamental question: What kind of city should Salt Lake be?” Keller says. “A celestial city or a cosmopolitan city? A city that reflects the values of one particular social group or the value of pluralism, which is fundamental to the American experience? The latter option is more economically viable, and, more importantly, interesting.”

Of course, pluralism requires a “live and let live” mindset and that’s not where members of the LDS Church are coming from. Proof of this can be found in the church-mandated worldwide proselytizing/recruitment efforts. And in the state’s arcane liquor laws.

Having lived in Salt Lake City twice, I will say it’s a great place with great people. Yet, I could never quite get comfortable there. The reason I could not has everything to do with the fact that the Mormons can’t quite get comfortable with me, and those like me, living among them as neighbors.

D.K. and I have talked before about the difference between a place settled by pilgrims and a place settled by pioneers. Salt Lake was settled by pilgrims—those with a religious agenda. Yet, we expect Salt Lake as a Western frontier city to embody the pioneer spirit. But that’s not the case. Salt Lake embodies the pilgrim spirit, much like the New England states once did.

As in most arguments about American culture, the debate eventually winds its way to an economic answer. For pilgrims, like pioneers, both share a love of American money. The Mormons have become more adept than most at gathering this money. Thus, the fundmental question is: Will Salt Lake’s desire to become even wealthier than it already is, lead the LDS Church to embrace pluralism? In the short term I don’t think it will, for the simple fact that the economy in Salt Lake has been, and remains, quite strong. Hence, there’s little incentive to change.