For anyone who has observed American culture, the animated series "South Park" is well-known for its general disdain for organized religion. It shouldn’t be any surprise these cultural icons Trey Parker and Matt Stone, now co-creators of a new musical, think Mormonism is a bunch of baloney.
On Thursday, The New York Times, did a preliminary preview on the release of next month’s The Book of Mormon: The Musical.
The musical is set to open in the storied Eugene O’Neill theater on Broadway on March 24.
In the profile of the musical’s creators, there was no shying away from what they think of Mormons and our religion.
While they seem to have generally favorable things to say about Mormons as people, their take on the faith that produces them is, well, less than favorable.
For example, Robert Lopez, one of the writers who studied with Harold Bloom, told the Times he had been drawn to the Book of Mormon as a kind of “Bible fan fiction.” The Times quotes him as saying, “It’s such a load of baloney,” adding, “but people believe in it strongly, and their lives are demonstrably changed for good by it.”
Parker, another of the writers, told the Times, “Do goofy stories make people nice? What if, in their goofiness, these stories somehow inspire that in the right way? Is that a social good?”
I shouldn’t be, but I was nevertheless surprised by the dismissive condescension these artists take toward Mormonism.
It’s an old story. Americans seem to like our cultural contributions but dismiss our beliefs as nonsense, as professor Terryl Givens has said.
It’s something I saw in news coverage of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. Our beliefs were made to appear strange.
Meanwhile, Mormons are often seen as good people.
I know Mormon youth are amazing. In 15 years of teaching at a church-owned university, none have come to class hung over that I have ever observed. I have never heard a swear word. They rarely complain and unfailingly treat me with respect. Many arose at 5 a.m. to study scriptures as teenagers. Many paid for a two-year mission out of their own pocket.
Sure, they aren’t perfect, but I would put them up against any group of youth anywhere.
So, yes, I can see the goodness so many writers talk about. But, it is strange to me many of these same writers see it as an irony that Mormonism would produce such people. How could it be? Aren't ideas known by the beliefs they carry?
Now, I have no plans to see this new musical because I really don’t see a need to provide money to someone who misreads and turns the sacred in my faith for their profit. Nevertheless, they have every right to produce this play, and I hope it goes off without any protest or demonstration or boycott. It should stand on its own merits. Indeed, it might serve Mormonism well if people who see it will take long enough after the play to look at what Mormonism believes.
With all due respect to Parker and Lopez and all the rest, to the extent Mormonism produces good people, it is precisely because of its beliefs not in spite of them. If Mormonism produces good people, then it is long past time then the beliefs that produce them should be taken with more seriousness from those who observe us.
What I love about Mormonism is at its heart is one giant question: What if Joseph Smith really saw an angel and walked out of the woods with golden plates? This question is at the heart of the power of this religion.
Mormonism, as I have written, doesn’t ask me to believe Joseph Smith blindly. To do so would be to insult my freedom as a human being. Mormonism asks me to ask God through prayer, which millions of people have done, including me. LDS.org’s new Mormon Messages video about the dedication of the Kyiv Ukraine Temple shows the beauty and power of these experiences.
Stone, another of the writers, compares all religion to Star Wars – it's just a story. Religion, in his reading, is sort of like a giant Star Trek convention – but a pathetic convention. Trekkers at least know they believe in a fiction when they gather to talk of Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations.
Give me a break.
The power of my religion comes not from the fact it contains good and important stories, which it does. The power comes because they are true stories. My students wouldn’t make the sacrifices they have made for fan fiction. It bothers me to say their general happiness is from a delusion.
So, I conclude not so much to a Mormon audience. Instead, I conclude to the one person or two who would see "The Book of Mormon" musical and wishes to understand what Mormons are and stumbles on this column.
The seriousness of Mormon belief starts with a question: What if Joseph Smith really did walk from the woods with golden plates?
If he did, it would mean angels walk the earth, there is life after death, families could be eternal, existence is fundamentally just, God exists, there is meaning in life, peace is possible, prophets have come again and Jesus truly rose from the dead.
The Book of Mormon, therefore, is to me is a lot better than any musical could ever be.
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