“The Book of Mormon” on Broadway
The Play's Popularity is an Indictment of our Society
I am not a Mormon. As a Jew, in fact, I am not only one but am two additional holy books short of accepting the doctrinal tenets of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I was nonetheless appalled and repulsed by what I witnessed yesterday inside New York City’s Eugene O’Neill Theatre, in the form of the ostensibly satirical yet insidiously blasphemous Broadway play eponymously named, “The Book of Mormon.” At numerous times throughout the production, I was driven to the verge of tears — not by virtue of the (concededly witty, at times) dialogue’s knee-slapping humor, but out of deep disturbance at the moral abyss in which I found myself, where the vogue cabal of useful idiots guffawed at the pernicious defenestration of a largely defenseless and P.R.-conscious minority faith.
“The Book of Mormon” debuted on Broadway three and a half years ago, and is the collaborative creation of South Park co-creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, and Avenue Q co-composer Robert Lopez. Like many Generation Y-ers, I grew up with the raunchy humor of crude cartoons like Parker and Stone’s South Park, and Seth MacFarlane’s Family Guy. I will unapologetically admit that I oftentimes find both shows quite funny. Avenue Q, despite having all the moral authority of Ron Jeremy or Lisa Lampanelli, I actually so greatly enjoyed that I saw live twice — both on Broadway in New York and across the pond in London’s Piccadilly Circus theater district.
What is it, then, about “The Book of Mormon” that made me so squeamish and indeed outright ashamed to have attended? Well, for starters, South Park and Family Guy are “equal opportunity” offenders — Stone and MacFarlane are ardent atheists, but their respective shows’ criticism of religion never manages to hone in on one people or on one faith. “The Book of Mormon,” by contrast, takes direct aim at the theological beliefs and social habits of a remarkably anodyne and wholesome people, and at a church bureaucracy very cognizant of its public image and thus uniquely reluctant to speak out against perceived aggrievement. Anyone who has followed the LDS Church’s sensitive public affairs wing over the years knows that the last possible reaction we might have expected from the Church was a hissy-fit. In short, Parker, Stone, and Lopez decided to singulary focus their sacrilegious ire on the one faith that is indisputably the easiest target of any in these United States, and the least likely to fight back. Because of their cynical shrewdness, evil genius, benighted cowardice, or some combination thereof, Stone and Parker can largely get away unscathed in their impugning the Mormon faith’s doctrinal tenets and casting ribald aspersions upon the Church’s purportedly brainwashed and sexually repressed missionaries.
“The Book of Mormon” won nine Tony Awards the year following its Broadway debut, including the grand prize of Best Musical. It still routinely sells out on Broadway, and is performed across the country and across the pond alike. Though the production itself is spectacular, the show is much more sinister for anyone bothering to consider anything more than the most superficial of theater-going experiences. The show’s lead song is a militantly atheist ode that indicts all monotheistic faiths more broadly, but the performance is ripe with ubiquitous cheap shots tailored directly toward Latter-Day Saint theology and culture. The story of Joseph Smith, Jr. is besmirched with unspeakable acts of sexual deviancy; at one point the main protagonist missionary has his physical copy of “The Book of Mormon” forced into a most embarrassing and anatomically impossible location at the behest of a grotesquely named Ugandan warlord; the missionaries are portrayed as almost universally repressing certain sexual impulses which, if acted upon, would be at loggerheads with traditional Judeo-Christian teaching; the play’s ultimate message of the redeeming nature of personalization/modernization of scripture (through, e.g., Star Wars and Lord of the Rings weaving their way into the story of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young) may well appeal to contemporary secularists offended by the ostensible anachronism of strict adherence to religious doctrine, but it will just as surely offend those of all faiths who would rather not see their sincerely held beliefs parodied on stage in the name of appealing to the New York City theater-going crowd.
All the while, the crowd — the majority of whose members I would proffer could not doctrinally distinguish between Catholicism and Protestantism — cheered and applauded, whilst congregating at the bar at intermission to reminisce on the first act’s various sacrileges over overpriced cocktails scripturally proscribed for the very people their much beloved performance was satirizing. Would we ever expect this from an on-stage satirization of any other major faith? Would the Anti-Defamation League tolerate such satirizing of Judaism? Would the Catholic League tolerate such satirizing of Catholicism? Would the Council on American-Islamic Relations — or the left-wing cultural and political elite, for that matter — tolerate such satirizing of Islam? The answer to each of these quandaries is assuredly in the negative. The LDS Church has admirably taken a “turn lemons into lemonade”-type approach, opting to advertise in the show’s Playbills in an attempt to churn piqued intrigue into genuine religious curiosity. Yet the sad reality remains that on-stage parodying of Mormonism is deemed politically correct and is lavishly celebrated by the usual suspects in a way that applies to few if any other faiths.
A culture that shells out big dollars to laugh at a flippant satirization of an easily targeted minority faith is a culture that demonizes Israel’s defensive war against Hamas more than it demonizes the budding establishment of an ISIS caliphate in Baghdad; it is a culture that celebrates the termination of life and demonizes those who stand for life; it is a culture that celebrates the diktats of the wretched hive of morally relativistic scum and Western values-bashing villainy known as the United Nations whilst castigating those at home who want to do the dirty work of securing our border to protect American sovereignty; it is a culture that legitimizes so-called “anti-Zionism” whilst serenading the Arab world with American Apology Tours and refusing to either acknowledge or confront the threat posed by the global jihad.
It is a culture in which I want no part. Sadly, it is where we are headed, if not where we already are. It was this thought that ultimately did bring me to tears as I exited the theater.
“First, it became politically acceptable to blasphemize and parody Mormonism, and I did not speak out because I was not a Mormon…”