Joseph Smith famously declared that “The Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth,” which was not to say that it was without error, but simply that “a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.”
The Book of Mormon musical is not without error, but it seems to me that a person can get closer to Mormons by studying it than by just about any other work about Mormons. As Invictus Pilgrim notes, it’s “ironic that others outside the Church are opening up windows into our collective soul so that we can examine ourselves as a people, culture, religion and church.”
On our respective personal blogs, Chanson and I had a conversation recently about things the BOM musical got absolutely right. This conversation was prompted in part by a comment I made here about the extent to which Matt Stone and Trey Parker have done their homework:
Parker and Stone have talked about doing and obviously indeed do a great deal of research and fact-checking about Mormon doctrines, attitudes and behaviors. Their interest is in portraying Mormons accuratelyincluding their contradictions, such as their arrogant nicenessinstead of reinforcing the basic tenets of the faith and avoiding raising difficult questions. So its not surprising that their portrait of Mormons is faithful and accurate as opposed to faith-promoting and proper.
The conversation was furthered by J. Max Wilson’s outraged response on Millennial Star to the soundtrack–he dismissed it as anti-Mormon dreck, and part of what made him angriest is that the soundtrack did not present Mormons in the flattering, faith-promoting light he thinks they should be shown in.
For instance, he objected to the fact that “the elders in the songs talk about bringing people to the church, but not about Christ or the Atonement at all.” But that is of course an attitude Mormon children are explicitly taught to hold through the well-known Primary song “I Hope They Call Me On a Mission.”
I hope they call me on a mission
When I have grown a foot or two
I hope by then I will be ready
To teach and preach and work as missionaries do
I hope that I can share the gospel
With those who want to know the truth
I want to be a missionary
And serve and help the Lord while I am in my youth
Check out these two videos to see just how much Christ factors in to a typical missionary’s experience of a mission–or an LDS depiction of such.
The second video is earnest rather than humorous, but its focus is also entirely on the missionaries themselves, their development, their character. There is not a single reference in either video, either by word or image (aside from the word “Lord” in the lyrics to “I Hope They Call”,” which is used interchangeably for God and Jesus in Mormondom) to Christ and the atonement.
If Mormons don’t refer to Christ and the atonement in their own songs and depictions of missionary life, it’s hardly appropriate to expect others to do so.
Wilson particularly objected to “Baptize Me,” which he writes is “one of the most offensive songs [and] actually had no profanity at all. In it the missionary and a woman they have been teaching sing about baptism using terminology meant toexplicitlyinvoke the idiom of a first sexual encounter.”
Chanson notes, “Teen girls with crushes on the mishies are a well-known component of the mission experience. But the fact that they’re portraying something real doesn’t have any bearing on whether or not it’s ‘anti-Mormon.'”
OK, the show gets some things wrong. There’s a moment at the beginning of Joseph Smith American Moses where the mission president (dressed in a horrible dung-colored suit with a pin-stripe plaid forming huge boxes on his pants–a really nice touch, because it marks him as so different from the elders) interjects “Praise Christ” into the conversation, something no properly acculturated Mormon would ever say. (What do we interject when we want to show religious agreement, by the way? “Oh, how special”? I honestly can’t think of anything right now.) It’s an odd moment that jars every time it comes up. But such moments are frankly rare.
S0–Chanson and I both feel that the soundtrack nails Mormon experience in many ways, and offers us a lot of insights into our culture and thought. Anyone else care to add to the list of things the show gets right?