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.


Sara and Av said...

I really liked this post. I haven't seen the show, flipped through the music a little after your last post.

I think my view of LDS members is similar to Stone and Parker's. What I like is that I'm glad you can understand that point of view and even appreciate it - that ok, we don't believe in the religious stuff, and think all religion is kinda wacky, but see good in what comes out of it, and can admire and joke at the same time. I wish more people of faith could see that. I saw an interview with them - and I think they do respect Mormons as a particular American subculture - and being intrigued and wanting to look into the culture/religion/worldview is a form of loving, teasing respect.

CentralParkWesterner said...

Because I had never had the experience of hearing language used and conclusions reached about Mormons and Mormonism, I was actually stunned when I saw the show on the famous electric night of March 25 (the night after the opening) with about 50 other Mormons (or ex or post, etc).

I was even quoted in the NYTimes a few days later (the anonymous one who feared for my job because I was born Jewish/work at a Jewish college and I would then hit the glass ceiling if I identified myself as the Mormon convert) as having felt that it was sacrilegious. Why? Because I had been surrounded by men like our offended poster for the years I lived in American Fork. Because I have unknowingly surrounded myself live and on-line with LDS friends. And because I work 14 hour days, I don't really go out here in NYC.

So a LOT of the offended one's reaction is actually understandable to me. With the torrent of F-bombs, with the stunning sarcasm (remember, in married Utah County life, that genre almost never shows up), and with the power of superb lyrics/music, I, too, almost shut down, racing around in my mind as to the collateral damage that I was experiencing. (Yes, my suspension of disbelief which was a large part of my conversion at age 31 was completely rocked, leaving me with this amazing feeling that my "testimony" was unraveling before my eyes by the end of Act I - thank goodness for a lecture the following day at the Book of Mormon Stories conference which helped me to gain a new foundation based on utility rather than validity).

So, the play IS powerful. And it IS possible to be really thrown by the show. This man, apparently, walled up. I had a hugely different reaction. The key is that BoM Musical is a lot of things besides an exceptional Musical Comedy. So, don't be surprised if some people are hit so hard that their circuitbreaker goes off!

Jettboy said...

Who is "We" as you have been ex-communicated. That hardly makes you a Mormon anymore (other than in your own mind).

Jettboy said...

Who is "we" here as you have been ex-communicated. That makes you no longer Mormon (other than in your own mind). Now if you are to repent for what got you ex-communicated and then re-baptized, then you can again call yourself Mormon. Not until then. They say the Church is for the sick along with the healthy, but what if the sick don't want to be healed? What then, is the use of the hospital?

Sean said...

The Seattle reviewer had rather positive comments while obviously the show pokes at Mormonism. I think the issue that some stalwart members have is to show that the church, its members, and leaders are like all the rest of us... flawed human beings and creations.

No religion, regardless of how well followed dogmatically, will make one perfect... But the organization, or religion in general. should make people and life on this little planet better. Its only if it fails to meet that humble measure should anyone be concerned.

Gay LDS Actor said...
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Gay LDS Actor said...

Thanks, Sara and Av. I, too, think Stone and Parker have both a fascination and a certain respect for Mormonism even if they think it's kind of wacky.

CentralParkWesterner, I too can understand the offended's point-of-view, but I also feel like I can see things from Parker, Stone's, and Lopez's even though I very much believe in God and still hold many Mormon values and teachings dear to my heart. I guess a show like this can cause one person to put up a wall and another to embrace it and find good in it. And I guess that was one of my points: to say there is absolutely no good to be found in the show seems closed-minded to me. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Jettboy, ah yes, there is that minor technicality that I am not a Mormon, and I thank you in your very Christ-like and nonjudgmental way for reminding me that I no longer belong to the club.

However, while I am not officially a Mormon and while I suppose it is true that, as such, I cannot claim to speak for Mormons, I still consider myself very much a Mormon in my heart and if I want to call myself a Mormon, there's not much anybody can do to stop me.

I'm not being sly about it. I clearly state in the post that I have been excommunicated, and anybody who takes the time to read this blog can see exactly where I stand in my relationship with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Even if not a Mormon on record, I still live my life very much as a Mormon might (well, except for the gay sex) and still attend church and do many of the things Mormons do. My church leaders and fellow members have been very welcoming and kind, so you'll forgive me if I still identify myself as a Mormon.

But you're right, I'm not a Mormon. I won't apologize for still feeling like one, though, and I won't apologize for identifying myself as such. Like I said, anybody can read the blog and know that I'm not (it says so very clearly in the "About Me" section). But I've been a Mormon for so much of my life and it's influenced who I am in such a way that to deny that I am one at heart seems false to me.

So, yes, Jettboy, I'm not a Mormon, but I'm going to call myself one anyway (even if it's just in my mind, as you say), but still fully disclose that I've been excommincated, and others can process that information as they wish.

Have a nice day and thanks for stopping by.

Sean, thanks for your comments. I think you make some good points.

Dad's Primal Scream said...

You don't have to apologize for calling yourself "Mormon". Sorry Jettboy, but the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints doesn't own a monopoly on that term. There are dozens of belief systems that trace their origins back to Joseph Smith and a belief in the Book of Mormon. Just because the LDS are bigger doesn't mean they have ownership over the term "Mormon."

I'm Mormon in the same way that my 2 best friends are Catholic and Jewish....but don't believe in the orthodox religion.

Just because you still believe it, doesn't mean you own it.

Elder said...

You're very right about the missionaries in this show being types - what RM didn't know an Elder Price and an Elder Cunningham? The Elder Prices were usually the APs. I saw the show (in NY) about a month ago. The first half is amazing, and second half is good (but not amazing). You'll love it.

Great blog, by the way!

Gay LDS Actor said...

Thanks, Elder. Stop by anytime. :-)

SimplyDavy said...

I love this discussion. You are all awesome. Thanks for shining your light and not hiding it under a bushel. I was raised Methodist and converted to Unity/New Though Christianity. We have a central believe that God is in all things and that no matter what path you choose you will find God because well God is so big and all encompassing that it's impossible not to. You just may take a long winding path or a direct one. At any rate, I love the music and message of this show. Parker and Stone actually offended me once when I watched thier full length feature because the devil and Saddam Huessein were gay and I am gay and I was like, "Those Bloddy blah blah blah....". Then I stepped back and laughed at myself becuase that is their thing. They offend everyone equally. After I thought of that I sat back and enjoyed the show just as I did on this musical.

Gay LDS Actor said...

Thanks for your comments, SimplyDavy. I really appreciate your thoughts.

shelbz said...

Haha I liked the "equal opportunity offenders." It's worth mentioning I'm an inactive member, and I haven't seen the show (yet.) But I've watched South Park for a long time, and even though I get offended almost every week, I will always commend Trey and Matt because these crazy men will defend to the death our 1st amendment right even if it makes them "the bad guys." In my opinion, they are true Americans. They may depict Mormons as crazy but never as bad people, and I'm ok with that.

And to Jettboy:
Being Mormon is much, MUCH more than embracing organized religion. Just because one is ex-communicated doesn't mean he has to stop following the gospel. I am a Mormon by your definition, and gay LDS actor probably lives a more righteous and wholesome life than me, so suck it

Gay LDS Actor said...

Thanks for your comment, shelbz. I appreciate your thoughts.

Thanks for your comments to Jettboy, too. I think you make some good points.