The writer Alain de Botton had just published his book Religion for Atheists, and he knew one thing for certain: He wasn’t going to visit Utah on his book tour.
After all, why would Mormons care about a book specifically for nonbelievers? Why would they buy a book that says atheists should embrace the positive aspects of religion? Mormons already have religion. They wouldn’t want to read about it from the perspective of a nonbeliever.
His book simply wouldn’t sell in Utah.
Imagine de Botton’s surprise when he discovered that book sales were eight times higher in Utah than in any other state.
In a radio interview, de Botton explained his theory for the booming book sales. He suggested that there are people in Utah who love parts of Mormonism but struggle with many of its public stances and truth claims. Often these people are so unsettled that they leave the fold, distancing themselves from friends and family.
This trend is a major source of cultural tension in Utah right now, as well as throughout the global Mormon community. For the most part it’s happening behind the scenes, but as sales of Religion for Atheists suggest, the tensions are more widespread than we may think.
I’ve wrestled with these tensions myself.
My wrestling started more than a decade ago, while I served as a Mormon missionary in California. Through conversations with investigators, I learned things about church history I hadn’t known before — that Joseph Smith looked into a hat to translate the Book of Mormon, that he had nearly three dozen wives (many young, many married), and that his translation of the Book of Abraham differs completely from the papyrus on which it was based.
If I didn’t know these facts about the church, what else didn’t I know?