Many of you have probably heard of The Book of Mormon—not the book itself, but the Broadway musical that garnered nine Tony awards in 2011, including Best Musical, and earned a Grammy as well. It tells the story of two bright-eyed American Mormon missionaries who attempt to bring their good news to a remote village in Uganda racked by war, poverty, AIDS, and famine. (From the summary on Wikipedia). It is a powerful—albeit raunchy—satire of religion from the creators of that epitome of high-brow, cultured entertainment, South Park. I have not seen the musical myself, but I have viewed several segments on YouTube, and found myself (I admit it!) snickering at the delicious lampoon of Mormon doctrine, marveling at the music and vocal performances, and also deeply challenged by the message of the show.
In the segment I have embedded below, the youthful Elder Price experiences a crisis of faith during his Ugandan mission (African warlords can have that affect on you), and he attempts to assuage his doubts by reminding himself, “a Mormon just believes!” The song cleverly juxtaposes run-of-the-mill Christian beliefs (“God sent his son to die for our sins”) with some of the more peculiar elements of Mormon doctrine (I won’t spoil the clip for you!) in order to accentuate that outlandish combination of the sublime and the ridiculous that characterizes Mormon theology.
On the other hand, thoughtful Christians will probably experience some conflicting emotions in watching the clip. They may appreciate the wry parody which tweaks the doctrinal nose of Mormonism. They may empathize with the sincere struggle Elder Price is undergoing as he wrestles with his doubts. Yet they may also harbor a suspicion that this biting satire could just as easily be directed toward them. I think that would be a well-grounded suspicion. After all, we could easily replace the bizarre faith-commitments of Mormons so comically caricatured in this whimsical send up with equally implausible Christian beliefs—talking donkeys, parting seas, virgin births, and so on. The conscientious skeptic would likely regard the more peculiar beliefs of both Mormons and Christians as very difficult to swallow—eccentric religious fare fit only for the gullible.
So, I’m interested to hear what you all think. It seems to me that The Book of Mormon, and this clip in particular, is mocking faith-commitments per se, not simply attacking Mormon beliefs. What do you think? How would you respond to a parodic burlesque of similar Christian faith commitments? Have any of you faced questions from sincere unbelievers along the lines of, “Jonah and the whale? Really?” How have you responded? This brilliantly written and performed show-tune strikes at the core of a Christian world view, and demands, I think, serious reflection. Watch it and let me know your thoughts.*
*Let’s not reduce the discourse to ridiculing Mormon beliefs. The song does that well enough. Thoughtful, sincere comments are what I’m hoping for.