I was thinking of the Peanuts character Linus Van Pelt this week freezing in his pumpkin patch waiting patiently for the Great Pumpkin to appear on Halloween and it never does.
I thought of Linus because I sometimes think that the makers of Broadway’s hit, award-winning musical about the Book of Mormon think of my faith the way I think of Linus’ belief.
It is absurd to believe in a great pumpkin rising from the pumpkin patch, but I can admire the earnest, devoted way Linus believes a great pumpkin will rise. If it helps him get through life, the writers of this musical seem to say, more power to Linus.
Maybe those writers think that we Mormons, much like Linus, miss out on the candy of life, freezing in our strange fields. Maybe they fancy themselves as the patient Lucy who covers us with a fleece blanket and returns us, shivering, to our warm bed when the Great Pumpkin doesn’t appear to deliver toys to all the children in the world.
That’s the nub of it, isn’t it? At the essence of this new musical is the idea that we Mormons are little different from Linus. If my take is accurate, such a characterization can offend.
Because I have no plans to see the Book of Mormon musical, I haven’t felt too qualified to say too much about the artistic merits of its victories last week in the Tony Awards. I sense many people find it has artistic and even philosophical merit. I believe many people don't wish to make fun of Mormons, yet find much to enjoy in the production.
I suspect the writing is terrific and impressive, but I’ve read numerous reviews, and it is clear the show is more crude than I like, and it treats Mormon beliefs on the same plain as Star Wars and J.R.R. Tolkien.
The idea is that if you want to believe in Tolkien and it helps your life, so be it. The same is true of Mormonism, they have argued. Religion may be nonsense, but if it helps you, then great.
They seem to treat Mormon beliefs the same way I treat Linus' belief in the Great Pumpkin.
A long time ago, it occurred to me that if I asked most people about Linus' belief in the Great Pumpkin, they would usually describe his fervent loyalty as faith, and a strong faith at that.
The Book of Mormon teaches me otherwise, and it is a bold teaching:
“If ye have faith, ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true” (Alma 32:21).
Faith can only be faith if it is a belief in truth is the concept I learn from that.
Of many thought-provoking contributions that come from reading the Book of Mormon, the teachings on faith remain among its most fertile.
It may seem absurd, but imagine if I were a farmer and I wanted a rock garden with shapely, large stones. Because gardens require seeds, I might decide that I need to plant small, shapely pebbles and watch them grow into the stones I wish.
I might water my rocks. I might weed out some of them. I might spend years doing so. Of course, the rocks would never grow. And my plan would be absurd.
Mormon children know the Book of Mormon teaching that faith is like a little seed that grows. The simple peace and the gentle growth and the cool shade Mormonism provides is the evidence of its fundamental truth that is “not seen, which is true.”
Such growth is as planting a maple seed, watering it and watching it grow to a mighty height over years.
There may be much good that people learn from Broadway this year, but insofar as writers may compare my Mormon faith to Linus or to the Death Star, and insofar as those who watch the winning musical may laugh at my beliefs amid admiration for our earnestness, it won’t change the fact that I didn’t plant rocks in my garden.
The seed grows in my heart. In that growth is the knowledge and evidence of things not seen, which are true.
Lane Williams teaches journalism and communication at BYU-Idaho. He is a former journalist whose scholarly interests include Mormon portrayals in the media, media and religion, and religion and politics.
As the Mormon Media Observer, Lane is interested in hearing your ideas for stories at firstname.lastname@example.org.