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Nine Moons » Blog Archive : Is Utah our Mecca? » Is Utah our Mecca?

Is Utah our Mecca?

Christian J - January 10, 2007

A few years ago a Muslim friend of mine made a pilgrimage to Mecca, birthplace of Muhammad and site of the holiest shrine in the Islamic world. This journey is expected of all able Muslims at least once in their lifetime and was highly anticipated by my friend. He knew I was a Mormon and asked me about sacred sites that we have and pilgrimages that we make. Thoughts of Palmyra and the sacred grove, the Kirtland Temple and Nauvoo filled my mind with pleasant and spiritual thoughts. But it was Utah that gave me mixed feelings.

The majority of my family joined the church in Wales and settled in Southern Idaho. Though I was born in Moscow, Idaho where my father attended college I spent the first 10 years of my life in Utah. Because of my father’s employment, we moved to the east coast in the late ‘80s where most of us still live until this day. The move was difficult for us at first but we soon learned to love living east of the Mississippi. My father attributes the move to saving his testimony and lifting him out of the rut of complacency. I appreciate the many different kinds of friends I have gained and feel better able to understand different cultures and viewpoints. What began as a real struggle to adjust to life outside Mormon country developed into a sense of pride in our new found home. My father, the architect of the great exodus, has enjoyed the diversity of political affiliation and the many different job opportunities while my brothers and I have mostly attended eastern universities and began raising our families here. My mother who vowed to return to the West for her retirement years has now accepted the fact that none of her grandchildren will be there. What has developed in my family is not a hatred for all things Utah (we all still root for the Utah Jazz) but an attitude that what we want out of life can be found elsewhere. My wife has declared that she would never want to raise her children in Utah. A member friend of mine was recently transferred to Utah because of his job and at the end of an email wrote, “…but they told us that we would only have to stay for a short time.” In addition to these feelings by my friends and family, I often hear it from others. When asking where new ward members come from, the response is often, “Oh, just Utah”. I also hear the disclaimer response, “I’m from Utah but I lived in (insert cooler state) until I was 12. Unlike Muslims who long to return to the land of Muhammad, or Jews who wait for the day they gather in Israel, I increasingly hear of Mormons who cannot flee the Wasatch Front fast enough. What is it about Utah that repels so many of us?

p.s. If this post is a little too anecdotal for you – blame Rusty.


  1. Well, I have been told by visitors that they go around and around SLC trying to get parking at temple square. Not quite the same, but does it count?

    Comment by clark — January 10, 2007 @ 11:02 pm

  2. Because it’s not our real Mecca. It’s our sad consolation till we go back to Jackson County and it just doesn’t measure up at all.

    Comment by Bret — January 11, 2007 @ 12:33 am

  3. Because Utah sucks?

    JK. I’ve been there once. It was cold, I didn’t like being that high up in the mountains without an ocean nearby, and that’s about all I remember.

    Comment by Susan M — January 11, 2007 @ 7:53 am

  4. As far as I know, there is no pilgrimage requirement – just an expectation to go to a temple and get ordinances performed.

    Maybe the Sacred Grove could be a site of pilgrimage.

    Comment by danithew — January 11, 2007 @ 7:57 am

  5. I love Utah. The land is simply beautiful. I miss it a great deal. Living near the mountains bordering the Denver metro area is some consolation, but there is a quiet familiarity and spendour about the plateus of south-central Utah, the grand sweep of the Wasatch Range, punctuated by occasional sandstone marvels. I left my heart there.

    But I couldn’t bear to be around the thoughtless, close-minded, self-righteous, smug, ignorance and complacency of the people there.

    Don’t get me wrong! I’m not saying the people in Colorado, or New York, or Japan (my mission) are any better.

    But they aren’t my people. Utahns are my people. I understand them, I grew up with them. They are family.

    And I can’t bear to watch these things in my “family” any longer.

    So I left.

    Comment by Seth R. — January 11, 2007 @ 8:24 am

  6. Having known many saints who have made the pilgrimage, I think the trip to Independance to Nauvoo, to Kirtland, culminating in the Sacred grove in Palmyra would clearly be the Mormon Mecca.

    Comment by Doc — January 11, 2007 @ 8:32 am

  7. danithew-
    I would go further and say that the Temple is our “Mecca”. What better place to be than to be so much closer to our “HOME” than in the Temple? I’ve never felt a desire to pilgrimage to Nauvoo or Kirtland, or Jackson County, and especially not Utah (I live here), but wherever I am, I always feel a need for the sanctuary of the Temple.

    Comment by cheryl — January 11, 2007 @ 8:34 am

  8. The Mountains and gray sky make me claustaphobic in Utah. Plus there is a certain false expectation there that leads to disappointment.

    Comment by Matt W. — January 11, 2007 @ 8:58 am

  9. I always have thought of Salt Lake City as the Mormon equivalent of Vatican City rather than Mecca.

    Also, Matt W., the sky is one of the things I miss the most about Utah. I don’t think of it as gray at all, but big and expansive and blue, especially when you get out into open country.

    Comment by Chris Williams — January 11, 2007 @ 9:24 am

  10. I grew up and lived somewhere else for over 30 years, then moved to a small town in Utah. I love a lot of things about it here. I think Utah is a gorgeous place – at least compared to my original home, and we enjoy the mountains, the skiing, the hiking, all of the wonderful outdoor activities. People here are friendly and kind. I’ve never had so many positive experiences with strangers as I’ve had here. I like the shared values, for the most part. I feel good about what our community values are, for the most part. My kids have a safe neighborhood and a safe school to attend.

    Still, I’m going a little bit crazy here in our little town. Things others have mentioned – the close mindedness, everyone being so tightly packed into predefined roles, the conformity… Not just the pressure to conform, which is common in a lot of social classes, but the religious pressure behind it – do this, be this, not just because everyone else is, but because it’s what’s RIGHT, and if you don’t, you aren’t righteous. Viewing anything that doesn’t conform 100% to the ideal as a sign of unrighteousness. Feeling pressure to explain choices you’ve made as a family. Women viewed as valuable in their role as a mother only. Lots of judgement because everyone feels that they know what is right, so anyone deviating from that path is a sinner. Gah!

    Still, I think about moving back to our old community and shudder.

    Comment by Sue — January 11, 2007 @ 9:28 am

  11. Some great thoughts. Just what I was looking for – the good and the bad. danithew and cheryl brought up a great point about the temple being our Mecca and I love that thought. Many people do wait many years to attend the temple and sacrifice much to get there. Its a very beautiful thing. Maybe the post should have been “Why the Temple is our Mecca”

    Comment by CJ Douglass — January 11, 2007 @ 10:50 am

  12. This “Mecca” discussion reminds me of a funny experience. I was moonlighting as temple security in Nauvoo during the construction and into the first year of operation. As the open house began, tourists naturally began to flow into town. One night, I was making my rounds at about 1:00 a.m. Two women, a mother and daughter aged about 60 and 40, pulled up behind the temple site, got out of their car, and pressed their faces up against the fence in awe of the beautiful, brightly-lit temple. I chatted with them a bit, and found they were from Utah. I made a good-natured joke that I’d “heard of that desert out west,” and the daughter laughed. The mother was highly offended, and exclaimed loudly, “It’s BLOSSOMED like the ROSE!!” The daughter and I both grinned at each other. Then, moments later, the daughter made a comment that will forever represent the Utah point of view in my mind:

    “Imagine,” she said, “finding part of OUR culture, out HERE!!!”

    I still laugh when I remember it!

    Comment by Nick Literski — January 11, 2007 @ 11:07 am

  13. Sue in #10 said it pretty well for me. I went to college there and own a business in “Happy Valley”, but I thank God I moved and raised my family in Spokane. What a wonderful place the “mission field” is, it made great kids!

    Comment by Don Clifton — January 11, 2007 @ 11:31 am

  14. Don,
    I failed to mention that I served my mission in Utah. One of the biggest problems I had were members who called outside of Utah \”the mission field\”. The same place I was serving and teaching and baptizing I guess is not the mission field. That cuts deep Don. And I was just starting to really like you:)

    Comment by CJ Douglass — January 11, 2007 @ 11:43 am

  15. Regina, Saskatchewan, is my Mecca, and I try to get out here every year. We made it as far as only Cypress Hill last year though.

    Comment by Kim Siever — January 11, 2007 @ 12:38 pm

  16. What is it about Utah that repels so many of us?

    Maybe because both my mom and my sister left the church because of how members treated them while they lived in Utah, while I was away on my mission. Yeah, Utah is not my Mecca. Never will be.

    Comment by Dan — January 11, 2007 @ 2:09 pm

  17. I think Utah is splendid in many regards, but I do not think of it as Zion in terms of a city. (Zion is probably the most equivalent concept to Mecca, don’cha think?) While the scriptures are very clear about Zion being the pure in heart, they are also perfectly clear about a gathering place in America, i.e., the New Jerusalem, etc.

    Modern revelation indicates the center place to be Independence, MO. While we can’t be certain of all things, I for one believe. And I believe it will be quite different than Utah (in general). Specifically, however, I think it will be quite similar to Temple Square, in many regards, in that it will be a *new* place, a place where the arts will flourish (Zion must increase in beauty), where people will be good to each other (Zion must increase in holiness), etc. I can even imagine it becoming a center for everything quintessentially American, as radical a concept as that may seem.

    It is difficult to predict, but I do not consider Utah to be Mecca in the long haul. Still, there is the whole Conference thing and Church headquarters. What kind of world event would cause us to uproot and move to Jackson County? I can’t possibly imagine.

    Comment by Rhapsidiomite — January 11, 2007 @ 11:40 pm

  18. i adore utah and would move there in a heartbeat, but then again, i also talk about holing my kids up in the mountains of idaho and not letting them off the compound till they’re 40, so… yeah. my husband is of the “i’ll never raise my kids in utah” ilk. i’d be up for missouri, though. we spent some time in adam-ondi-ahman while taking a self-guided church history tour and “felt” something there. what was the name of the town we stayed in… g…? gal…? “felt” something in far west, too. and another “but then again,” i also talk about turning amish, so… yeah. take it for what it’s worth.

    Comment by pick a name, any name... — January 14, 2007 @ 9:45 pm

  19. I find it interesting how some of us who grew up in “Zion” (which for me means a small Mormon community in Idaho just 10 miles form the Utah Border and 100 miles from SLC. I also spent 11 years in the Salt Lake Valley when starting my career.) are glad to be gone. Some of this has to do with my political persuasion and some of it has to do with finding the rest of the world even more interesting. And then at the same time, some church members who have lived there formative years in “the mission field” (sorry CJ Douglass) have a great desire to live in Utah, sometimes even despite their differences politically and socially with the predominant thinking in Utah. As far as the term Mecca, I’ve never really considered Utah such a place. I like the suggestion that the temple could be considered Mecca, especially for those who have had to sacrifice much to get there. I also wonder, however, if our church isn’t so different, certainly than the Islamic religion and even other Christian religions, in our emphasis on the family. A family reunion with every family member present, especially for large Mormon families, might be an event that is just as rare and just as sacred as CJ’s Muslim friend’s pilgramage to Mecca.

    Comment by lamonte — January 16, 2007 @ 6:03 am

  20. I have lived all over: Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Spain, the East coast, and traveled extensively. I was primarily raised in Utah, in Provo. My husband is from Florida and Pennsylvania. We love life in Utah so, so much. The other half refuses to move even though we could make a lot more money living someplace else.

    I have met people from all over the world while living here. I love that in my neighborhood we have families from Korea, Japan, Uganda, Brazil, Ecuador, Scotland, and half a dozen other countries.

    I love that you don’t have to be scared to send your kid to public school. That my child’s principal will probably not be shot to death or his teachers regularly stabbed (as my husband’s were.)

    I’ve never lived any place with a better selection of radio stations. I can choose any cuisine I want for dinner. I can pick up fresh tortillas from Tenoch market, dulce de leche at the Argentinian store, rice noodles and fish sauce from the Asian grocery, or grab a burger from Brand X. I can get fry sauce in a restaurant.

    I’ve never been to a monster truck rally or hunted animals. I can’t remember the last time we ate jell-o salad. We don’t own guns but we do own lots of modern art–and we vote blue.

    Some of the most amazing people I know have proudly called Provo home. They are educated, involved in community and the world around them. I know as many people who married in their 30s as their teens or 20s. I was married six years without kids and never had a single busybody ask me when we were going to have them. I’ve never had people comment on the fact that we only have one child and are in our 30s. I work outside of the house and so do other moms I know.

    I have noticed that people who move to Utah either come with a set of poorly conceived notions of what Utahns are or aren’t, or, come with a set of unrealistic ‘holy’ expectations about the people and culture.

    Every place on earth has their judgemental idiots; every location has its bad sides. I’m just so happy that I can recognize the beauty of living here. Utah is what you make of it.

    As for Mecca, I might call a general conference or a trip to Temple Square as close to a locational Hajj as we get. I think I will agree with other comments that as a true pilgrimage, a trip to the temple fulfills a pillar of our faith and is closet to a spiritual Hajj.

    Comment by Carina — January 16, 2007 @ 10:55 pm

  21. Carina – thanks for your thoughtful words. You obviously live by the motto that every place we choose to live has its positive elements and we should spend great effort in trying to find them. My experience in Utah was not as positive as yours has been. As I look back on those years I am convinced that it had as much to do with my own attitude as anything else. I did not experience the diversity you have obviously discovered and I often felt stuck in the middle – between the active church members who sometimes acted like they never learned any lessons about the persecutions experienced by their ancestors and the non-members who spent most of their time whining about the big, bad, oppressive Mormon church but who would never think of moving elsewhere because the lifestyle was so nice in Utah. When I return to the west to visit family and friends my initial reaction is that I could never return to live in the desert among the homogenous Mormons. But after just a few days there my thoughts begin to change and finally, when it is time to say goodbye, I wish I could stay longer. Then I board the plane and return to the East coast and eventually end up in my neighborhood and I feel at home again. My life is different here and my “testimony” is so much stronger. For me it had to do with having to defend, or at least seriously consider, my religion for the first time in my life. And that fact changed my life.

    This past October I was able to attend General Conference at the Conference Center for the first time in my life. Even while living in Utah I never attended at the Tabernacle. But that was mostly because I didn’t make any attempt to do so. That visit in October was sort of a pilgrimage for me and I was overwhelmed by the experience. It might be difficult to find an experience in our culture that matches the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca but as to our feelings about where we live, I think we all must find our “home” and then make the most of it. Carina, you have obviously done that.

    Comment by lamonte — January 17, 2007 @ 5:43 am

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