In a moment that would surely rankle Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, one of the fictional elders in the smash hit Broadway musical The Book of Mormon, exclaims, “We’re not Christians. We’re Mormons!” But the point of the play is not simply to ridicule the Mormon faith, deserving as it may be. In the end, this wonderful play—the work of South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone—reveals a far more fundamental truth: from Moses to Jesus to Muhammad to Joseph Smith and beyond, religious belief is based on the great ability of human beings to imagine supernatural scenarios, lionize prophets, and invent complex belief systems, rituals, and preposterous promises of what the faithful gain in the afterlife. Above all else, Mormons, like all believers, buy into a grand narrative—nonsensical as it may be. It is, after all, the book of Mormon.
I traveled to New York City in December to celebrate my birthday by seeing The Book of Mormon. What a night! Everything I had heard about the play is true. Jon Stewart says “it’s so good it makes me angry!” Usually sparse with his praise, Ben Brantley of The New York Times wrote, “a crowning achievement, a huge smash success.” The buzz has hit England too. Hadley Freeman of The Guardian pens an insightful review.
The play is a wonderful deconstruction of religious ideology and practice, especially the missionary experience, by following “Elder Price” (Andrew Rannells) and “Elder Cunningham” (Josh Gad) to Africa. The hilarious story revolves around the missionaries’ attempts to bring the Africans into the fold.
The Book of Mormon is sold out for months, but tickets from secondary sources can still be had (but for a steep price). Single seats may be available for less. If your plans take you to New York in the future, don’t miss “the best musical of the century”—last or present!
Religious belief gets a free pass in American society, especially in the political system. Just once I’d love to see one of the moderators of a presidential debate ask a Christian candidate, “Do you believe that Jesus Christ was born to a virgin? Do you believe he flew up to the sky three days after he died?” And to a Mormon candidate like Romney, “Governor Romney, do you believe Jesus Christ will return to Earth in the state of Missouri? Will you rule over your own planet for eternity when you die?”