Thursday, May 12, 2011
The Book of Mormon Musical: An Afterthought
So about the same time I posted my reaction to the soundtrack of The Book of Mormon musical, I came across someone else’s reaction. He called the show “pure garbage” and was mystified at how “some so-called ‘Mormons’ and supposedly ‘Active Members’” could praise it.
He also said “The fact that so many people, including members of the church, have given it such glowing reviews simply manifests how desensitized these people are to vulgarity and blasphemy, and how far their hearts are from God.” He called the message of the show “Anti-Christ” and said there was “absolutely nothing uplifting, edifying, or virtuous to be gleaned” in seeing or listening to it. He called it “spiritual anthrax” and “anti-Mormon.”
He said that “Latter-day Saints should distrust anyone, member or not, who praises such wicked doggerel.” (“Doggerel” is such a great word.)
I agree with other points in his diatribe, such as the way the names of our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are thrown about so casually in the musical makes me cringe or that the song “Baptize Me” is offensive because it contains innuendo that equates baptism with the first time two people have sex. There is also a lot of language and situations that are offensive. However, to say that the show has absolutely no redeeming value at all, I think, is a bit disingenuous. I also don’t feel the show is anti-Mormon. If anything, I think the creators have a certain amount of amazement and admiration for Mormons even if they are completely bewildered by them and their beliefs.
I think in order to appreciate the good qualities of the show, one has to step outside of oneself and try to see the musical from the creators' points-of-view. I think Matt Stone, Trey Parker, and Robert Lopez all think organized religion is a bunch of bullcrap, but I also think Stone and Parker have a certain admiration and maybe even envy for how people (Mormons, in this case) can believe in crazy stuff (in Stone and Parker’s view) and yet how it can change people’s lives for the better.
I had a dear college friend who was an atheist who was absolutely perplexed by my sure knowledge that God existed and loved each one of us individually. Some of the Mormon beliefs he found absolutely weird or wrong. At the same time, he admired the fact that my belief was so sure and strong and even envied it in spite of the fact that he didn’t fully understand it or know how to achieve it himself. I kind of get the feeling Matt Stone and Trey Parker are coming from a similar place. (Side note: my friend, while still unclear on who God is, now does believe in a higher power of some kind).
Yeah, I do think one of the messages of the show is that religious beliefs are absurd and crazy and probably made up, but that if it does good, isn’t that a good thing? But I also think that’s the place that Trey Parker and Matt Stone (and possibly Robert Lopez) are coming from, and so I think it can be valuable to see the world from their lens, from their point-of-view.
Having served a mission myself, I knew people just like Elders Price and Cunningham; the former being the cocky missionary who thinks he knows it all and is going to change the world, and the latter being the green guy who’s thrown into a world he doesn’t understand and is unsure of himself.
While I fully agree that the musical is filled with a lot of filth and obscenity, I also think it portrays Mormons as good people, full of optimism, spirit, and good works (and, yes, maybe some naivety and over-assuredness). The actions they do bring good to the people whose lives they touch (even if, yes, those actions are the result of some falsehoods – but I think that’s part of the point: since Stone and Parker think religion is kind of a crock, they’re simply illustrating that what they regard as fantastical and far-out beliefs can still alter people’s lives for good).
Yeah, the show makes fun of Mormons and Mormonism, but don’t Stone and Parker mock everybody? I think they're equal opportunity offenders. And disagreeing with the writer of the blog post I refer to, I do think Stone and Parker do have positive feelings towards Mormons even while mocking them, so I think it’s a stretch to say that the show is anti-Mormon. After all, the Mormons are the heroes of the piece. In the end, they win out. Elder Cunningham gains confidence, Elder Price overcomes self-doubt, and the Ugandans’ lives come out better because of the Mormon missionaries’ influence in their lives.
And while there are some blasphemous passages in the show, I do think it also contains passages that celebrate Mormons’ sure knowledge in what they believe and touches on Joseph Smith’s martyrdom in a manner that even pays tribute. In the song “I Believe,” none of the doctrines Elder Price claims to believe in are doctrinally incorrect. The history of the LDS Church in the song “All-American Prophet,” while seen through the skeptical and mocking lens of Stone, Parker, and Lopez, is pretty accurate as seen from an outsider’s point-of-view. And we also know in the song “Making It Up,” that the stuff Elder Cunningham is espousing is not actually the stuff Mormons believe.
My biggest complaint with the blog writer’s post is how judgmental he is of those who could possibly find anything redeeming about the show. He can’t fathom that somebody who likes aspects of the show could possibly be a believing, faithful member of the Church. Of course, by his qualifications, my opinion doesn’t matter anyway; after all, I’ve been excommunicated going on almost two years now. But then, in his words, someone like me is “desensitized” and my heart is “far from God.” I don't feel that way about myself, but the blog writer seems to have a monopoly on righteous judgment, so who am I to believe myself (tongue firmly planted in cheek, by the way)?
Don’t get me wrong; there is a lot about the show, based on my own listening of it, that I don’t care for. There is much about it that is offensive and blasphemous. But to say that there is “absolutely nothing uplifting, edifying, or virtuous to be gleaned” from the show seems very biased. All I’m saying is that from an outsider’s point-of-view (or even an “insider” Mormon who actually has a sense of humor about himself and his religion), one might actually find something of value in it. Who knows? The show may even get people who know nothing about Mormonism to explore the religion further. I don’t know. But if it does, is that a bad thing?
My general assessment is that there are things about the show that make me cringe and are uncomfortable, but I do think the show makes some accurate points in a satirical way, and I do think that although it may make fun of Mormons and what they believe, it also considers Mormons to be good people even if they seem weird. And after all, aren’t we a “peculiar people?” I still maintain that it’s a “love letter” of sorts to Mormons from two atheists.