The Future of Religion in Provo, Utah

Forging onward, ever onward.

Provo is beautiful. Photo by Devin Justesen.
The Provo River Trail. Photo by August Benjamin.

Somewhere in my family line my pioneer ancestors left their Protestant beliefs and took up Mormonism, disappointing family members and friends in the process.

At some level, I’m involved in this same journey. I’m currently less connected than I have been to mainstream Mormonism, but more connected to my pioneer ancestors. Like them, I’m looking toward the horizon.

Being decent can’t happen in theory. It can’t happen in solitude. It requires community.

I write this vision with the hope that it resonates with a handful of readers who share an interest in what I explore here. Sacred community has a power that many other forms of organizing doesn’t have. It represents one way forward—a way that calls to me. I want to start a conversation about values, stories, and community and then, if anything here resonates with you, work together to turn these ideas into a reality.

1. Getting Specific About Values

For the past several months, my family and I have spent family home evenings brainstorming about our values. What values do we want to develop and nurture in our community?

Flowers blooming in Provo. Photo by Aubrey Rose Odom.

Physical health

  1. Nutrition — Eat real, nutrient-rich food. Consume mindfully.
  2. Exercise — Commit to regular endurance, strength, and flexibility training.
  3. Sleep — End the day deliberately (not mindlessly looking at a screen). Get enough sleep.

Spiritual health

  1. Wisdom — Reflect daily on sacred texts from the world’s wisdom traditions.
  2. Stillness — Find time each day to be still. Live in simple, clean surroundings.
  3. Nature — Commune with nature, both in the sense of trees and flowers and also in the sense of the divine.

Intellectual health

  1. Humility — Admit you’ve been wrong and will be wrong again.
  2. Curiosity — Stay hungry for learning. Question your assumptions, especially your most tightly held assumptions.
  3. Grit — Develop the intellectual rigor of an academic. Reject pseudoscience, particularly in medical, spiritual, and religious circles. Read difficult texts. Read the classics.

Social health

  1. Family — Care about the evolving needs of each family member. Love them where they are, on their level.
  2. Friendship — Invest in friendship and sacrifice for friends. Enjoy your time with them and be fully present when you’re with them.
  3. Compassion — Feel the pain of those who suffer most, including ancestors and descendants, and use your heart and head to know what you can do to alleviate that pain.
Big Springs Park, Provo. Photo by James Brown.

2. Searching for Stories of Meaning and Purpose

Of course, listing values can ring hollow, like an empty self-help strategy. To add gravity, values must be part of a bigger story — a story that explores existential questions about where we came from, why we’re here, and where we’re going.

Where We Came From

We came from our ancestors, going back to primitive humans, the apes, small mammals, reptiles, multicellular life, and even single-celled life. We came from the mountains and rivers and soil. At the deepest level we are our ancestors, and they are us.

Why We’re Here

One purpose of life is to experience it completely. This requires tuning into the deep satisfaction that can come from simply being. As Mr. Rogers repeatedly sang, “It’s such a good feeling, to know you’re alive.” We must learn to be in tune with that good feeling — an ordinary experience that’s always present (and felt once we notice it).

Where We’re Going

As we evolve, our species will eventually become like the gods, acquiring superhuman intelligence. Whether it happens in 1,000 years or 10,000 years or longer, this is inevitable (as long as we don’t destroy ourselves and the planet in the process). Just think of how godlike—in the best and worst sense—contemporary civilization would seem to humans 10,000 years ago. Our reaction to what our species will eventually become will almost certainly be similar.

“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments...“ — George Bernard Shaw

Just as with my list of values above, these stories about where we came from, why we’re here, and where we’re going could possibly work for those inside, in between, and outside of Mormonism.

3. Pioneering the Future of the Sacred Community

When I talk about the future of religion, I’m not talking about rallying people together behind someone who claims to speak on behalf of an omniscient being. That model of religion was something for an earlier time—a time of kingdoms rather than democracies.

BYU campus. Photo by Aubrey Rose Odom.
  • Brings reverence to holidays. I personally feel disenchanted during most holidays, which seem like exercises in accumulating commodities and candy. Why not gather for a meditation on death in the fall? Or gather for a festival of life in the spring? I want to bring back a sense of the sacred to the turn of the seasons.
  • Creates an open, sacred canon that pulls from the world’s wisdom traditions. No privileging of any one tradition, but instead a celebration of beauty wherever it’s found.
  • Keeps the fatherless and widows, the orphans and the imprisoned, close at heart. I want a sacred community that nurtures face-to-face, heart-felt service the way Mormonism does at its best.
  • Honors our ties to the past — and the future. Just as we have an obligation to remember the past, we also have an obligation to organize and fight for the future. I want a community that recognizes we cannot consider ourselves decent if we harm our descendants.

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