Today I’m going to tackle the sensitive and topical subject of Mormonism. In contrast to my usual style, I will attempt to do so without sarcasm and snark. I’m going to attempt to be serious.
Note: Within the context of this post, for convenience, the term “Mormonism” will be used interchangeably with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
Why think about Mormonism? Why now? I think, mostly, the answer to that is Mitt Romney. He’s a serious candidate for president and, like every candidate before him, his religious views get put under a microscope and become a topic for discussion.
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Trey Parker and Matt Stone have a new Broadway musical coming out. It’s called The Book of Mormon.
To put this in context you need to know who these guys are. They are, among other things, the creators of the South Park cartoon on Comedy Central.
Something tells me that true Mormons are not going to be too thrilled with the Parker and Stone take on Mormonism.
I’m an avowed atheist, something I mention here on the blog from time to time when I feel like it is pertinent or I just feel like drawing attention to myself. (There is decidedly an element of narcissism amongst some of us who blog.)
But it was not always so. I have fond memories of growing up in the Episcopal church. There were good people in our local church and I loved them. Our priest was a young man with a wife and kids and I looked up to him. Heck, not once did he even make a move on me, not even when I was an altar boy.
Growing up in a small town, though, I had a lot of friends who were Mormons. Aside from a few odd rules, like no soda and caffeine, they were a lot like me. And we spent a lot of time at the local Mormon temple. It was probably one of the nicest buildings in town but, more importantly, it also had, by far, the nicest indoor basketball court. We shot a lot of hoops there. I don’t know why, but I never stopped to wonder why our church didn’t have cool stuff like basketball courts.
By the time I was in my early teens I was aware of quite a bit about Mormons. I knew the story about Joseph Smith and the golden plates, I knew that Jesus had visited America, and that it was common for Mormons to go on missions. Hanging out at the temple so much, we got to know a lot of the missionaries who came to our town.
My exposure to Mormonism and knowing that hands down all of the Mormons I had ever met were the nicest people I’d ever known, it seemed only natural to convert, so I began the lessons myself. All went well, including my meeting to confess certain “serious past transgressions.” I was earnest in wanting to join, so I was fully honest. They had to have a meeting about those transgressions, but apparently I passed the test. I was given the green light!
Since I was younger than 18, all I need to complete the process was my mom’s signature on some forms. That’s where a little monkey wrench was thrown into the works. She refused to sign. I cried and I was angry but there was nothing I could do. Then my mom arranged to have her boss pick me up one day and go for a ride in his bitchin’ hot rod. He even let me drive and that was one sweet car! What a clever plan tempting a young man with a hot rod.
Eventually we pulled over on the side of the road and had a discussion about his religious beliefs. It turned out that he was a born again Christian. The more we talked, the more I agreed with him, and then, through my tears while bawling like a baby, I also was born again.
Don’t worry. It didn’t stick. A year later the same thing would happen to me at my Korean girlfriend’s church. The preacher seemed to single me out and I ended up at the front of the church, kneeling while he talked only to me. Before I knew it I was bawling like a baby again. Apparently back then I really wanted some damn answers. But at least I was sincere.
None of it mattered, though. As I grew older, I was less and less interested in God until I realized one day I had become an atheist. And that’s how it has been ever since. But I still have my Book of Mormon on my shelf next to my parallel Bible, though.
And, that’s also my personal experience with Mormonism and how I came very, very close to being one myself. I now know that, nice people or not, my mom did me a favor that day.
For one thing, during the lessons and baptismal interview, the missionaries and church personnel I spoke with played things pretty close to the vest. They certainly weren’t dishing out any of the more controversial beliefs of the Mormon church. Things like the planet Kolob and stuff. I never heard anything about Kolob when receiving my lessons.
So yeah, the Mormons aren’t too happy about the new musical. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints issued this response:
The production may attempt to entertain audiences for an evening, but the Book of Mormon as a volume of scripture will change people’s lives forever by bringing them closer to Christ.
Of course, the musical isn’t Parker and Stone’s first volley at Mormonism. Via the show South Park the pair has skewed all sorts of religious beliefs, including the Mormons. In an episode called “All About the Mormons” they humorously poke holes in the Joseph Smith and gold plate mythology. (If interested, you can watch the full episode on SouthParkStudios.com.)
They’ve also gone after Tom Cruise and Scientology and the “dark lord Xenu” in the episode “Trapped in the Closet.”
The episodes “Go, God. Go! Part II” and “Go God Go XII” tell the story of an atheism war. The episode “The Fantastic Easter Special” goes after the President of the Catholic League.
And yes, they take on Islam, too, in the episodes “Cartoon Wars, Part 1 & Part 2” which takes on the issue of any depiction of the prophet Muhammad as a cartoon on a television show.
Other South Park episodes on religion include:
- The Passion of the Jew
- Red Hot Catholic Love
- Super Best Friends
- Do the Handicapped Go to Hell? / Probably
- Are You There God, It’s Me Jesus
The point here is that Mormons shouldn’t feel especially picked on. The South Park creators clearly enjoy going after all sorts of sacred cows.
I know one thing. The Mormons played a huge role in California in regards to the passage of Proposition 8. Religions increasingly see themselves playing a greater role in public discussion, policies and law making. Personally I’m against that.
Let us consider the words of one of the leaders of the LDS church. Elder Quentin L. Cook is a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. According to Wikipedia, Elder Cook is the “thirteenth most senior apostle in the ranks of the Church.”
In a posting entitled “Let there be light!” on LDS.org in Nov. 2010, Elder Cook wrote:
As Church leaders, we have met with leaders of other faiths and have found that there is a common moral foundation that transcends theological differences and unites us in our aspirations for a better society.
In our increasingly unrighteous world, it is essential that values based on religious belief be part of the public discourse. Moral positions informed by a religious conscience must be accorded equal access to the public square. Under the constitutions of most countries, a religious conscience may not be given preference, but neither should it be disregarded.
I don’t know about you, but to me this sounds a lot like religious leaders saying they want a seat at the table of lawmaking and public policy. And this from a church that recently used its tax-exempt status to greatly influence the outcome of an American political election. Isn’t that one of the things our founding fathers feared the most?
When our nation’s religious leaders step up and overtly state that it is their intention to influence the political landscape, methinks we just might have a rather serious problem on our hands.