That Book of Mormon Musical

Update, April 25, 2011: After reading the commentary of Glenn Nelson over at, I’m much less concerned about the musical and would like to update my opinion to this: “I choose not to go because of the vulgarity. If some people come away thinking Mormons aren’t so bad, that’s great.” My original post follows. Kudos to Bookslinger, by the way, for directing me to Glenn’s commentary.

When the artsy folks on Broadway mock your religion, the “cool” thing to do is chuckle with them and not sweat it. Perhaps the wise thing to do is to ignore it and not give any further publicity to a misguided effort. I just checked my resume and noted that I make no claims to coolness nor to wisdom, so I’ll say what I think. I’m disappointed that Broadway and others in theater would stoop to belittle our religion in this way. I strongly agree with Michael Otterson in “Why I won’t be seeing the Book of Mormon musical,” a carefully considered essay for the Washington Post. Kudos, Brother Otterson.

Here is an excerpt:

I’m not willing to spend $200 for a ticket to be sold the idea that religion moves along oblivious to real-world problems in a kind of blissful naiveté.

Somewhere I read that the show’s creators spent seven years writing and producing “The Book of Mormon” musical. As I reflected on all that time spent parodying this particular target, I also wondered what was really going on with Mormons in Africa during those same seven years.

So I checked.

  • The World Health Organization estimates that 884 million people worldwide don’t have access to clean water. This is a huge problem in Africa, not only because of water-borne diseases but because kids who spend hours each day walking to and from the nearest well to fill old gasoline cans with water cannot attend school. According to church records, in the past seven years, more than four million Africans in 17 countries have gained access to clean drinking water through Mormon humanitarian efforts to sink or rehabilitate boreholes.
  • More than 34,000 physically handicapped African kids now have wheelchairs through the same Mormon-sponsored humanitarian program. To see a legless child whose knuckles have become calloused through walking on his hands lifted into a wheelchair may be the best way to fully understand the liberation this brings.
  • Millions of children, meanwhile, have now been vaccinated against killer diseases like measles as the church has sponsored or assisted with projects in 22 African countries.
  • More than 126,000 Africans have had their sight restored or improved through Mormon partnership with African eye care professionals in providing training, equipment and supplies.
  • Another 52,000 Africans have been trained to help newborns who otherwise would never take a first breath. Training in neonatal resuscitation has also been a big project for Mormons in Africa.
  • Then, of course, there is the tragedy of AIDS. A couple of weeks ago I attended a dinner where the Utah AIDS Foundation honored James O. Mason, former United States Assistant Secretary of Health. When he was working for the Center for Disease Control in 1984, a project to research the epidemiology and treatment of AIDS was established at the Hospital Mama Yempo in Kinshasha, Zaire. After visiting the hospital and examining the children and adults with AIDS, Mason described the death rate and the associated infections from AIDS as “horrific.” Mason, a Mormon, knows quite a bit about AIDS and a great deal about Africa.
  • None of this includes responses to multiple disasters, like the flooding in Niger, where the Church provided clothing, quits and hygiene items to 20,000 people in six inundated regions of the country.

Of course, parody isn’t reality, and it’s the very distortion that makes it appealing and often funny. The danger is not when people laugh but when they take it seriously – if they leave a theater believing that Mormons really do live in some kind of a surreal world of self-deception and illusion.

He’s got more to say–please read his full essay.

Of course, I know some of our critics here will jump all over the phrase “a surreal world of self-deception and illusion.” All belief systems, including atheism and materialism, are subject to such criticism (not that I think it’s fair or warranted, even for some views I disagree with sharply). As usual, you’re free to disagree with our beliefs and claim they are errant, but this blog is intended for civil discussion and today’s post is not intended to open up the floodgates for reasons about why we are deceived. The post is about the Broadway musical poking fun of Mormon blindness to real world problems versus the more accurate view (IMHO) that Mormons are very involved in addressing some of the big humanitarian issues before us.

Author: Jeff Lindsay

18 thoughts on “That Book of Mormon Musical

  1. I've heard so many people (Mormon, ex-Mormon, never-Mormon) say they thought it was actually really positive overall on Mormonism, that while it has its quirks and issues to deal with, really Mormons and Mormonism aren't bad. In fact, they're really good. I'm getting most of this from the Mormon Expression Podcast's panel on the show; I haven't seen it. So I definitely cannot give any opinion on it.

  2. Otterson is not qualified to review a show he has not seen. If he saw the show and gave his review, he would at least have a little teeny tiny bit of credibility. You can't comment on something unless you experience it – that is uninformed opinion.

  3. I am glad Macha and Anonymous posted what was going through my head. Positive reviews regarding how the show actually makes us look, and even though Otterson has somewhat of a cohesive thought-argument about reality, he is arguing a point not knowing what he is arguing against besides a rumor about how long this musical was in production. Whether the musical was good or bad, that argument can be used against any musical.

  4. I don't think forming an opinion on a musical requires so much research. It's just an opinion, and its just a musical. In fact, based on the reputation of the authors, the look of the ads, and reviews I've read, I won't go see that musical either for the same reasons Otterson gives.

    Instead, I recommend this fine satirical play on Mormonism:

    Where can I see it in production?

  5. I agree 100%! In fact, I actually made the choice a while back, to be offended!


  6. Overall, I have been very pleased with the "official" responses from the Church and Bro. Otterson.

    As to the complaints that nobody should review a show he hasn't seen, Bro. Otterson made it crystal clear that he WASN'T "reviewing" the show. Seriously, his article isn't a review of the show; it's an opinion piece about why he won't be seeing it. Those are two VERY different things, and his main points are spot-on and very reasonable.

    Having said that, if it weren't for the excessive profanity, I really would like to see the play – but I also can't justify spending $200 to do so. Ironically, it is because the issues it addresses exist that I can't justify spending that much money that could be donated to help those in such situations.

    That, to me, is the real irony of the play. I've read many reviews, and many of the points in the play appear to be very valuable – but spending LARGE amounts of money parodying those who actually go to Africa, in this case, and try to help (missionaries as they preach and the LDS Church as it carries out extensive humanitarian projects) truly is ironic. Add to that the millions that surely will be spent by people to see it, instead of spending that money to improve anyone's condition in the real world . . .

    In the end, who is really naive and who is practical?

    Finally, fwiw, one of the reasons I would like to see the play without the extensive profanity is that the creators appear to understand, deep down, the irony I just mentioned – at least in the way the play concludes, in the South Park episode on Mormonism and in the interviews they've had discussing the play and Mormonism.

  7. IMO, the primary purpose of the Otterson post is to counteract the perception that the institutional church cares more about converting people than about providing Humanitarian aid and just plain loving people. For many of us, trying to convert someone is thought of as an act of love, though the majority of non-members would disagree. For example, a non-Mormon probably thinks that the following question is an appropriate gauge: "Is a Mormon going to help me or try to convert me?" This is expressed in the play by conveying the idea that the church is there to convert people, not to help them materially. If the church published its proselyting budget so it could be compared to the humanitarian aid efforts (which are made public), outsiders could see if their perception of motive is accurate on average.

    By the way, I will not be attending the play. A plane ticket plus $200 plus lodging is not worth it to me. I need that money to support my family.

  8. Did you read DKL's rant against Otterson and those who agree with him? It boils down to Otterson is wrong because I hated my mission. Hilarious stuff. Why any respectable religious Mormon would watch that garbage is beyond me. I guess humans just can't get past self-flagellation and the baser nature.

  9. I am LDS and I saw the show on opening weekend. Otterson seems to go to great lengths to show how much good Mormons do in Africa.

    As for the playwrights? They agree.

    Despite the irreverence, outright offensiveness, and lampooning of incredulous beliefs in the show, the take away message was that Mormons are doing wonders in brining communities together, loving the people, and making the world a better place.

    Did the show offend me? Yes.
    Did the show make me cringe? Yes.
    Did the show at times misrepresent me and my people? Yes.
    Did the show make light of things I hold dear? Yes.

    Did the show touch my heart? Yes.
    Did the show fill me with wonder and delight? Yes.
    Did the show make me proud to be a Mormon and proud of my own missionary efforts among a foreign people? Yes.
    Did the show instill in me hope for humanity and a desire to practice true religion more fully? Yes.

  10. Frank, I'm glad the show was a positive for you. Did you also see Spiderman? That's one I'd like to see.

  11. Give them a small bar of soap and they will wash once. Give them a pig and a bucket of lye, and they will make soap and wash longer.

  12. Anonymous, That was a less than intelligent post. An obvious takeoff and giving a man a fish and feeding him for a day etc"…….

    However you do remind me of the age old question. Is it easier to fish or is it easier to make soap?

  13. I am unable to view the play being outside of the US; I am, though, an avid fan of the creators (South Park guys). It is more their brand of leaving NO ONE unscathed with their work. It is not a personal tirade against Mormons or the religion. Having said that, knowing how LDS are about this kind of thing, of course you have the right to state an opinion, negative or positive, about something you have not yet seen (in reference to the first comment).

    All I know is the creators have a lot of respect for Mormons as people. Their portrayal of Mormons in society is far fairer and truer to life, without stereotype, than the general Mormon-dissenting public’s view. It really is about questioning the religion (in derisive fashion). Disrespectful, yes, and you have the right to be offended. I only wish I could see it to decide for myself if the creators really have gone too far with the play for the sake of “entertainment” or… something else.

    So obviously I’m ambiguous about this.

  14. Jeff,

    I'm not a mormon but I enjoy your site–Thanks for the Otterson thoughts. I never smoked pot but I knew what it would do to me–one dosen't have to experience trash to know it-I appreiate your faith expression.

  15. Wow. WOW. I'm amazed LDS people would even consider going to a play like this. I'm not trying to sound judgemental, I'm just trying to simplify. Would Jesus go to it? I read an article in Newsweek about the musical and it just made me so sad. Fools mock, but they shall mourn. Perhaps it's because I'm from Nevada, but you just don't mess around with things that are dirty. The strip clubs, the casinos, the constant barrage of gambling, alcohol and drugs. I've seen to many lives destroyed… you just don't touch the unclean thing… And that musical is definitely unclean. Thank you Moroni, we have the light of Christ which helps us judge good and evil.

  16. I'm guessing Jesus would not only see the musical, he'd laugh his head off. But that's just me. Like everyone else, I create God in my own image. That line about how God created man in His own image must be one of those parts of scripture that has not been translated correctly….

    As for the question of whether the play will hurt the Church, I don't think so. Pretty much everyone understands what Parker and Stone are about. Of the dirty language and the over-the-top mockery, people will say, "That's Parker and Stone." Of the niceness and idealism of the missionaries, people will say, "That's the Church."

    True, the play will not exactly strengthen gentile belief in the historicity of the Book of Mormon, but gentiles don't believe in that anyway. Not even all Mormons believe in it.

  17. Thanks for the input, especially for the link to the Mormon Artist Group provided by Bookslinger. I've revised my opinion and have added an update box to the top of the post to express my new opinion. I'm much less concerned about the musical. In fact, if they had done it without the vulgarity, it might have been interesting to attend.

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