Friday, September 2, 2011

The Book of Mormon

I can assume since you're reading this that you also have Internet access, which means I can probably also assume that you have heard that one of the most popular plays on Broadway right now is The Book of Mormon. Rachel and I recently returned from a trip to New York, where we had the good fortune of seeing the show.

I find it interesting that a great number of people have opinions about this show without having actually seen it. The irony here is that many of these critical opinions are along the lines of "the show ridicules Mormons without knowing what Mormons are really like."

Since my opinions of Mormons, Mormonism, and The Book of Mormon (both the book and the play) are all based on first-hand experience, I thought I would share my reaction. And while my opinion may not be yours, I don't think you can argue that I don't know whereof I speak.

The writers of the show know quite a bit about Mormons and what Mormons are really like. Consider the song "I believe," which was performed at the Tony Awards.

Mocking? Yes. Inaccurate? No. I don't see anything that's contrary to what I learned and later taught at the Missionary Training Center or have read or heard in General Conference. So is the problem that it's not presenting those beliefs in a flattering light? I'll concede that point, but let's consider the claims for a minute.

"The Lady of the Lake, her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite held aloft Excalibur from the bosom of the water, signifying by divine providence that I, Arthur, was to carry Excalibur" is not all that different from "I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me....When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air."

If you believe in the latter, you have to admit that, to an outsider, it doesn't sound too different from the former, especially when you throw in the part about digging up gold plates in your back yard but not being able to show the plates to anyone except with their "spiritual eyes."

And certainly, the Book of Mormon musical doesn't shy away from accentuating how ridiculous some of these claims might sound to an outsider. But that's not all the show has to offer. The play is set primarily in Uganda, a country where for the majority of residents, life is pretty terrible. Warlords, AIDS, and female circumcision are everyday hazards. And if someone from a whitebread, comfortable, first-world existence shows up and tells a bunch of fantastic stories and tells people how much better life will be if they only believe those stories, it rings a little hollow.

Believing a story will not cure AIDS. The stories about AIDS being cured by having sex with a virgin are proof enough of that. The real message of the Book of Mormon musical is that whether you are a literal, metaphorical, or non believer in a given belief system, it doesn't really matter. What matters with any belief system or philosophy is that you use that belief to be a better person and to improve the lives of the people around you. In many cases, religion is as much about community as it is about belief, and what the community believes is less important than what the community does.

1 comment: