If you can handle listening to a recording of the language used on the streets of New York City and discussions abut female circumcision and AIDS in Africa, then go watch musical “The Book of Mormon”. I had the chance to watch it on opening weekend just last night and it manages to be hilarious and spiritually touching at the same time, a rare quality in theatre and movies filled with sequels and remakes.
The basic premise of the tale is this. Two missionaries in Uganda get off the plane from Salt Lake City to find a group of Africans who are suffering from AIDS, a military dictator, and all around crappy life. These Ugandans have had Christian missionaries come and talk to them about God and the Bible just about every year but does it solve any of their problems? No. As a result of the problem of pain in a world where God exists, these Ugandans have turned to God and echoed the words or President Jed Bartlett in the West Wing episode Two Cathedrals,, namely “cruciatus in crucem — eas in crucem”. Now because this is from the creators of South Park and not Aaron Sorkin, the words aren’t in Latin and the translation more crude (even if the sentiment is the same).
So what are two naive Mormon missionaries to do when faced with these people? Well one tries to get transferred leaving the Elder who hasn’t actually read the Book of Mormon to try and teach these people. Hilarity ensues as he starts using his imagination to create “scriptures” that relate to the difficulties of AIDS and warlords, “scripture” often mixed with the typical Mormon fanboy fiction of Star Wars, Star Trek, and The Lord of the Rings. These imagined “scripture” stories provide a foil for actual Mormon beliefs in an attempt to show to the crowd that what all religions believe is pretty weird and quite possibly made up. However what Trey Parker and Matt Stone perfect is the fact that while they clearly don’t think that Mormonism (or any religion) is valid, they recognize that it is 100% absolutely useful.
The stories we tell, the scriptures we read, the faith we belief in is useful at providing hope, a sense of purpose, self-esteem, and ultimately a sense of community and belonging which for these Ugandans was missing even if it isn’t true. It is useful because its aim is for us to be nice and polite and Christ-like towards everybody and in the end, it doesn’t fix our temporal, earthly problems that humanity all too often points to God asking “Why did you do this?”.
Unlike prior persecution and demonization of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, “The Book of Mormon” pokes fun at Mormonism much like Hale entertainment’s “Singles Ward” and “The R.M.” or like BYU’s “Divine Comedy” showing us that we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously. And this isn’t the only place this is happening either. There are actually 2 productions involving Mormons on broadway right now, Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America” has 3 Mormons in the 8 person cast. Likewise, the Church has earned rave reviews for the Honor Code incident regarding Brandon Davies, Jimmer is a recognized household name in sports, MormonChat has stopped being trolled by the Internet, Harry Reid is Senate Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate, and both Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman are predicted to run for President in 2012.
When you look at the mainstream ribbing that we receive compared to say Scientology, it is clear that the Church has moved out of being an obscure, weird religion that should be feared and run out of town, to a culture that is mocked right alongside our Jewish and Catholic brethren. This should be celebrated. I’ll say that again, This. Should. Be. Celebrated.
So if you can handle explicit language like you would hear on the streets of New York, then go and watch this musical and celebrate in the fact that as a Church and a people we are being gently mocked with no references to polygamy, two references to blacks and the priesthood and only a couple of references to the gays. After all, the number that brought down the house was when the zealous missionary sang “I Believe”, bearing his testimony like Ammon to Kink Lamoni and they got everything about it right.