Saturday, December 12, 2015

Scraping Away the Thin Veneer

I made a terrible mistake. It took me a long time to think about it. It was that in  my pre-blogging days I wrote a guest opinion piece for the Salt Lake Tribune in which I celebrated the signing of Obamacare (no, that wasn't the mistake) and went on to challenge modern Mormons on their wrong-headed beliefs in States Rights (no, that wasn't the mistake either) arguing that many seem to cover their political beliefs with a "thin veneer of religion" to justify them.

That was very offensive to some in my family who expressed it to me in no uncertain terms. They let me know that they are guided by their deeply held religious beliefs that frame their politics. The odd thing is, so am I.

Recently, a person of significant public and private trust who shall be unnamed here proposed a new perspective to me. He said that the sometimes extraordinarily odd and conservative political views of Utah did not represent the true nature of its people. He said something to the effect that if you "scrape of the veneer," and I think he used that word, the "veneer" of politics, that people of Utah really were good at heart.

Church policies, fleeting as they may be, to the side, I thought a lot about that. It is true that Utah is ranked very high on volunteerism and charitable giving. Sure, some say that's a requirement to fit in with the dominant culture (i.e., institutional LDS Church). But Utahns not of the dominant culture and even LDS people do so much more than what the church requires by any particular assignment.

I know the LDS people. I am one of them. And while my politics are in the minority, they are valid and honored officially by a Church that promotes agency, individual responsibility, and Political Neutrality. There is no political test to be a faithful Mormon.

And I am sometimes pleasantly surprised when the people of Utah make really progressive moves. Sometimes they are encouraged and supported by the Church. And sometimes they go against the prevailing grain of current conservatism.

The other day I heard a great story on NPR about how the State of Utah had reduced its chronic homelessness by 90% and is still improving. It seems that a former Church Welfare employee, now a State employee was trained in the social concept of "housing first" meaning that the mentally ill, addiction-challenged, and chronically poor homeless needed their own space to get themselves organized to address their individual issues. And providing a basic home is much less expensive to the government than the inevitable incarceration or emergency medical services that are the destiny of most homeless. So he got Utah to adopt the program and with state, federal, and LDS Church (oh, yeah) support, the program has been very successful as a model to the Nation as touted on the progressively oriented "All Things Considered."
And then there's our Republican Governor Gary Herbert. Not that I ever voted for him, but, boy, he made me proud yesterday! He is welcoming Refugees fleeing Daesh turmoil in Syria and Iraq contrary to pretty much every other Republican Governor and even some Democrats. Read this praise by the Deseret News Editorial Board.

Governor Gary Herbert of Utah doing the right thing
I don't think the good people of Utah are accidentally doing progressive good in the world. I think it is who we are once you scrape off the veneer of oddly conservative politics.

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