Last week our Molly daughter, Lolly, said she’d heard a Church speaker wish the concentration of Mormons along the Wasatch Front and in and around Mesa, AZ could be split up to “leaven” the rest of the country. Interesting idea—and I immediately saw the benefits to the Mormons involved. Isolation from other cultures, which is how most Mormons in concentrated areas live, leads to stagnation. History shows that nations that come into contact with other cultures through conquest or trade make great leaps forward in their own culture. Ideas, like hybrid plants, benefit from cross-fertilization.
But the hubris of the notion that the rest of the country needs the “leavening” of Mormons troubles me. How will spreading more Mormons around solve the ills our nation currently faces? Problems like political polarization, unemployment, poverty, violence, drugs, immigration, and education declines.
Certainly, if Utah had solved all these problems, we might have hope that spreading Mormons around would benefit the whole country. As things now stand, I’m not sure that exporting more right-wing Republicans from Utah would solve the country’s political polarization. The Church employs a lot of people in Utah, but isn’t large enough to extend that employment benefit to other states. Likewise, the Church welfare system isn’t large enough even to help all Mormon Utahns in need of food and shelter—and certainly not with health care. Utah divorce rates are about the same as those of other states. Plenty of Mormon single moms and their kids live in poverty. Violence and drug abuse are high in Utah—even among active Church members. The Church has taken a humane position on illegal immigration—but a sizeable number of active members oppose the Church position—and the state legislature passed a harsh immigration bill this year. Education attainments in Utah schools are now challenged by budget cuts and the ongoing call for privatization by legislators with financial stakes in the issue.
Possibly Utah and Mesa Mormons are the ones needing the leavening effect of exposure to people of other faiths.
I live in Utah, a Red, Red state, with isolated patches of blue—if you know where to look. I’m sort of a dusty green myself. I mesh with Reds and Blues about as well as a toad trying to look appealing on a pastry cart. From my observation, Reds and Blues inhabit parallel universes—and not just on politics. Now some similarities exist between the groups, although both would deny it. Reds and Blues are equally certain their beliefs are right and equally vitriolic to those who disagree. Both groups excel at denouncing moral weakness in political leaders of the opposing party while excusing “little mistakes” from their own. About the same number of Red and Blue women work outside the home. Both sides are equally likely to be divorced. From my point of view, the key lifestyle choices separating the groups are:
- Transportation: Reds love SUVs and large pick-up trucks—even military surplus tanks if they can get them. Blues favor Subarus—less fuel efficient than my Taurus, but a whole lot trendier. Both are lousy drivers. Reds believe they have a Constitutional right to speed, tailgate, and run red lights. Blues are too busy meditating for peace or griping about big cars carrying big families to pay attention to traffic. In Utah, neither group is particularly crazy about my mode of choice—public transportation.
- Food: I’ve learned not to plan lunch dates for Red friends at cozy Tea Shoppes that don’t serve soda. Reds also tend to favor chain restaurants so they know what they’re getting. Reds descend on case-lot sales like magpies on road kill—carting home cases of canned good to nourish their families during the upcoming Apocalypse. Blues daintily select organic food and $3.00 “natural ingredient” cookies at Farmers’ Markets to feed their families for the day. I prefer tanking up on forbidden foods at Costco where I can snack the sample tables without the guilt of actually purchasing fat/sodium laden goodies.
- Reds abhor movies with graphic sex, but don’t mind graphic violence—so long as the good guys win. Blues abhor violent movies but don’t object to sex—so long as it’s between consenting adults. Personally, I like Desperate Housewives–sex, violence and humor with one flick of the remote.
- Reds and Blues both prefer “unbiased news.” Reds get theirs from Fox while Blues view MSNBC. Reds shiver at Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh’s warnings that America is going to hell in a hand basket. Blues chortle at Jon Stewart’s and Stephen Colbert’s warnings that Beck and Limbaugh are carrying the hand basket in which we’re all riding to hell.
- Reds are significantly more likely to attribute natural disasters to the “last days” or see them as punishment for the wicked. Blues blame global warming. And Ma Nature does her best to accommodate the fears of both.
- Reds are more likely to spend Sundays at church wishing they were home watching TV, walking the dog or washing the car. Blues are more likely to actually be at home watching TV, walking the dog, or washing the car.
Hope for reconciliation, even friendship between Reds and Blues is about as wistful as looking for ripe tomatoes the day after setting out plants in May. It’s not just politics—it’s deep core values. Really, a tea drinker and a cola drinker have nothing in common—except in our family. George is pretty adept at quaffing a diet Coke from his right hand while nursing a cup of tea in his left.