I have been mulling something my daughter said recently. She told me that it was hard to describe her parents to her friends, because on the one hand, we are very religious, but on the other hand, we liked the profane and sacrilegious musical “The Book of Mormon.” I guess she has a point. I didn’t have a chance to answer at the time, which is just as well, because I needed to think about it. Here’s what I would say.
- There’s a difference between the structures of religion and the heart of experience of God. Those structures can be conduits for building our relationship with You, O God, but there’s a tendency to equate the structure with the experience, or, worse yet, forget about our relationship with you and focus solely on the mechanics and rituals of a faith tradition, or the words of a holy book, rather than the God who inspires them. I took “The Book of Mormon” as poking holes in the structure of religion while affirming the power of religious belief. The interviews with the writers indicate as much.
- We conflate religious belief with propriety. I would say that this is mostly a bad idea; certainly Jesus was ridiculed by his culture for crossing all sorts of contemporary bounds of propriety. While on the whole, loving God and neighbor with all you have is more likely to lead you to act in socially approved ways than in improper ones, just as in 1, we cut ourselves off from the real heart of faith if we think of the bounds of good manners as the point of it all. The language and actions in the show are definitely boundary crossing, to the point of shocking, sometimes gratuitously. But some of the most shocking songs in the show reflect real experiences of God or God’s absence, and while the language is far coarser than what you find in the Bible, the experiences of protest, anger, and even disgust at God are real and human and have Biblical precedents. I can appreciate that.
- While the show pokes fun at some of the seemingly foolish tenets of the Latter Day Saint faith, those of us in other religious traditions pick up pretty quickly that we also believe some things that, from the outside, sound weird and unlikely. I can only speak for myself on this. I am “bought in” on my Catholic faith, even with the knowledge that it and I could be wrong. I hope that that gives me some humility and I know that it gives me respect for others who are similarly “bought in” to what they believe. I also recognize that some of what we profess is mystery and metaphor that can’t be proven and may not have happened exactly as those who chronicled it tried to describe it. And some of it, honestly, I don’t fully believe, but I’m willing to hold space for You, God, to convince me of those things down the road.
Those are the responses I would offer. That and the show is really well done.