Friday, January 18, 2013

The Book of Mormon

Is nothing sacred? I'm asking.

I wonder how many people are, like me, walking out of Seattle's sold-out thirteen-day run of The Book of Mormon wishing they were headed for a discussion group. True, there was Scott, a total stranger on the bus home, but he hadn't seen it yet. Nice, but not enough.

As the evening began and we ushers stuffed inserts into programs, someone said a man at an earlier show had fumed out of the theater, saying it was the filthiest thing he had ever seen. Ushers snickered. Didn't he know what he was getting into? they asked.

I didn't. I wasn't sure if the Mormon church approved of the play, or even if they had sponsored it, creative as they are with publicity. Why, right there in the program I was stuffing were three full-page, full-color ads urging folks to "read the book." Clever.

Even now, on the morning after, I'm Googling around my computer to see what I should have investigated earlier, and this is what I find as an informational blurb:

[A] hilariously groundbreaking and audacious musical that follows the journey of two Mormon boys sent to Uganda for an evangelical mission. Comedy and chaos ensue when different cultures, traditions and beliefs collide, not to mention, the dim-wittedness of these boys creates more problems when their knowledge of the Book of Mormon is proven to be less than minute and not enough to carry them through their charge halfway around the globe.
Read more:

Okay, sounds edgy, but would it cause you to expect blasphemous and profane? (Do we use those terms in Seattle?)

The music is catchy, the choreography delightful. I smiled, I laughed, I cringed. When the Mormon boys arrive in Uganda, they discover the locals singing a happy African song that seems straight out of The Lion King. Turns out it translates to "F-You, God." They all sing it in jolly defiance against their troubles. Big troubles. High AIDS rate. Murderous warlords. Impending clitoridectomies. Maggots in the scrotum.

Imagine an actor, day after day, singing and dancing "F-You, God!" (Incidentally, in the Paramount Theater lobby you can buy a tee-shirt with this phrase in its original African language. Even in Seattle they're not selling it in English.)

There's a campily-over-the-top-gay-parody Jesus, and scenes of Mormon history played up for their improbability. Which isn't hard, quite honestly, as with the stories in my own Christian faith, I guess. But it brought to my mind friends I met on a trip, a BYU prof of Medieval French philosophy and his smart wife who sang in the Tabernacle Choir; wonderful, smart people. How can they believe that stuff? I don't know, but I don't want to laugh at them because they do. I think it's safer to stay with humor at my own expense.

I think too about reading Jonathan Haidt's book, The Righteous Mind, where he talks about moral receptors, akin to taste receptors. He posits six of them, and says liberals are light on a couple, including sanctity and loyalty. You'd have to be light on sanctity and loyalty to come away in thoughtless hilarity from The Book of Mormon.

That wouldn't be me.

In the end, it's not just Mormonism that takes the hit at The Book of Mormon. The "happy ending" is this: Religious stories are metaphors, and if they work, it doesn't matter if they're true. What matters is helping each other.

A faith for our time, in Seattle.


Beth said...

Mary , Are you ok ?

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