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Utah: The nation’s most responsible state?


Utah: The nation’s most responsible state?

Jun 11, 2024 | 3:30 pm ET
By Robert Kimball Shinkoskey
Utah: The nation’s most responsible state?
U.S. Park Ranger Gordon Bartow with Newark Vocational High School students tour the Statue of Liberty on June 16, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Eugene Gologursky/Getty Images)

Promoters pitched “The Statue of Responsibility” to Utah lawmakers recently. Envisioned as a companion to the New York City landmark, the statue would rival the Statue of Liberty at 305 feet tall and would cost $350 million to build.

The project reminds of a proposal to build the “World’s Tallest Flagpole” in the little town of Columbia Falls, Maine.

For a Bible nerd like me, these two proposed projects recall ancient Babylon, where wealthy folks got together to build a skyscraper with a similar patriotic intent and economic motivation. The biblical text reads, “Let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.”

Small states tend to get lost in the shuffle of big American states doing large things almost every day. That is why Utah was so thrilled to land the 2002 Winter Olympics. That is why we want an NHL team and a major league baseball team. Utah wants to belong.

Our ardent desire to become a big boy state may even play a tiny role in why The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints builds so many temples here, there, and everywhere.

The Tower of Babel was intended to make the local culture visible, unified, and strong, but it yielded the opposite result. Babel lost its language, and became weak, disunified, and scattered.

What if Utah’s proposed project doesn’t produce the “responsibility” it sets out to inspire? The 2002 Olympics yielded some $5-6 billion . . . but the state’s feel-good Olympic legacy did not alter Utah’s longer-term trend toward economic greed, divisive politics, and social disintegration.

One supporter of the Statue of Responsibility opined, “They are going to be mesmerized by its audaciousness.” That is what the Pharaohs thought when they built the pyramids and Romans thought when they built the Colosseum. Both civilizations came crumbling to the ground, but the rich had a good time right up to the end.

Will a theme park like this tend to support meager local family incomes or hurt them? Is it wise to spend so much money on a non-functional building? Can it house the homeless? Will it provide education, exercise, or solutions to local community problems? Or will it line the pockets of out-of-state entrepreneurs and become a modern-day pillar of salt?

We are betting it will attract visitors to Utah and benefit local businesspeople, which it might to a degree. But what if the “responsibility” theme is too pedestrian for an America hyper-focused on a radical libertarian agenda where anything goes, and accountability is left begging everywhere? Would we be erecting a statue to something that doesn’t exist anymore, and trying to convince ourselves that it does? Will a symbol of responsible living be too moralistic to attract fun-loving vacationers? Snow in the canyons does that, but will a giant sculpture in the desert do it nearly as well?

Wouldn’t it be better to teach responsibility in family, church, and school settings rather than have folks make a pilgrimage to worship it like a deity? Is this project envisioned as a finger-in-the-dam substitute for the hard work of ethical education that we are neglecting every day in America?

Will the statue provide anything like the draw Mt. Rushmore does to Montana, the Golden Gate Bridge does to San Francisco, or the Statue of Liberty does to New York City?

The symbolism of the Statue of Liberty is tied culturally, politically, and economically to the long and productive history of the nation and all its generations of people. This new statue would be tied to the moral and business philosophy of Utah, as if it were an independent territory or nation. What’s next after the Statue of Responsibility? A statue to Chastity? Partisanship? Charter schools? Vacation? Screen time? Marvel heroes? Will recreational theme park visitation save Utah any more than professional hockey and baseball will?