The Mormons of Utah

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The Mormons of Utah
The Mormons of Utah

During one of my visits to the United States I visited Salt Lake City the capital of Utah and spent three days there. I was fascinated to learn about its historical evolution as the centre of the Mormon faith Temples and Churches. Tourists from India normally do not visit Salt Lake City and only visit well known cities like New York, Chicago, Houston, Dallas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Las Vegas. This is also true of students going to America for pursuing higher studies as well as people seeking employment.

The Mormons established Salt Lake City as the cradle of their faith. According to their beliefs, apostles of Jesus became disillusioned with the Catholic Church and hid the Book of Mormon in America until a true disciple emerged. Even today the Mormons believe that they are the true followers of Christ and their leaders are the “Latter day saints”. Joseph Smith was this ‘chosen’ leader and the Angel Maroni appeared in his dream and led him to the spot where Jesus appeared and asked him to establish his kingdom on earth. The Mormons were persecuted by the Traditional church sects and the Mormon pioneers fled west from the east coast. They were finally allowed to settle in Utah territory, which also included parts of Nevada, Arizona and Idaho. They quickly established impressive edifices with distinctive new-gothic architecture in Salt Lake City to convey the power of the church. One of these buildings is the tabernacle building with a distinctive all metal roof. The acoustics of the building with its all metal roof allow sermons to be held for thousands without the need for microphones or speakers. The drop of a single pin can be clearly heard all the way at the back of the building! Mormons donate 10% of their income to the church. This is called the “tithe” (one tenth). The Mormons practised polygamy in their early years and fiercely resisted outside influences. Even today, many Mormons live their entire life within the state of Utah except for serving a two year mission worldwide where they seek to convert people to their faith. In return for being granted statehood in the early 1900s the Mormon church disavowed polygamy, though small splinter sects still practice it today. One of these is the fundamentalist church of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) church, whose founder Warren Jeffs served a prison sentence is Texas for forcing underage marriage.

Thanks to two major universities (univ of Utah and Brigham Young university), the presence of major IT centres for financial institutions like American Express and Goldman Sachs as well as an Intel micron chip factory, there are over now about 1000 Indian families in the salt lake valley, which boasts a population of approximately one million people. The area has one of the highest population growth rates in the USA.

The people of Utah share the western pioneer values of strong libertarianism- that is the role of government in shaping daily life should be very small and limited to matters of security and finance (currency and banking). Hence their aversion to regulation and governmental interference, and a slant towards the Republican Party today. This is also shared by neighbouring states like Wyoming, Montana and Nevada.

A large portion of the first great novel of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle involving Sherlock Holmes “A Study in Scarlet” is based in the Salt Lake Valley (in what is now Utah). Two characters, a man and an young girl who are the only survivors of a party of the early pioneers lie down to die due to exhaustion from dehydration and hunger near a rock.

They are discovered by a party of Latter-day-saints mentioned above. The Mormons rescue them on the condition that they adopt and live under Mormon faith. The man, who proves himself to be an able hunter, adopts the girl and is given a large land for raising a farm after the party of pioneers constructs Salt Lake City.

However when Doyle published his great novel there was some adverse criticism that he had painted the Mormons in a derogatory manner.

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