“Man Up”–Applying The Book of Mormon Musical’s Message (Without the Profanity)

“Man Up”–Applying The Book of Mormon Musical’s Message (Without the Profanity)



Introduction and Explanation

EDIT: The following was based on a listening of the cast recording. After writing this, I learned there were some details from the stage production which clarified the story, and took it some different directions than I deduced from the cast recording alone. While I recognize I made some story errors, I still stand behind the general sentiment and thoughts behind this post.

Without condoning, recommending, or defending the presentation of the more offensive language and material in the Book of Mormon Broadway musical, I felt it would be useful to offer a presentation of the actual underlying story behind the production, which I listened to through NPR’s free streaming presentation of the complete cast recording online.

There are a great many who, quite justifiably, would not be able – or willing – to submit themselves to the expressions of profanity and blasphemy presented, even with a full knowledge of the context. I don’t blame them. I even would agree with them, and would not, under any circumstances, try to convince someone to listen to or watch this who I know would feel deeply uncomfortable with it.

As such, I cannot in good conscience offer an open endorsement to listen to or watch this production.

However – I cannot also in good conscience offer an open and sweeping condemnation of the creators, and the message underlying the (intentionally) provocative and profane lyrics.

While the production certainly uses some of the absurdities of Mormon culture as its pawns (many aspects where, frankly, we recognize, and it’s generally okay for us among ourselves to laugh about, but suddenly becomes offensive when others point it out), the underlying message actually appears to be that they feel Joseph Smith got it right, and they’d like to see more Prophets – and Mormons – like him.

Yes, this critique is coming from atheist writers that don’t believe in divine inspiration.

And while certainly written from that perspective (one where there is no divine anything), what’s fascinating is that the story actually still also holds up quite nicely when divine inspiration is admitted and assumed and read into it.

It’s a message that is relevant for the religious and the non-religious – but, frankly, it’s most likely a great majority of the most  sincere and devout won’t expose themselves to it.

This would certainly include my wife, my parents, and my in-laws. I certainly won’t be playing it for them, or my toddler daughter to sing and dance to – no matter how catchy the music is. (and it is fantastically  – and dangerously – catchy)

And again, I don’t blame them for an instant for not wanting to see it. In many ways, I sort of envy that degree of sensitivity. And for sure, the presentation certainly provokes rather than invites.

And that’s why I’m going to share the story – stripped from the ‘mechanics’ of the admittedly shocking and offensive profanity.

The Story of the Book of Mormon Musical

book_of_mormon-300x292Elder Price, and Elder Cunningham are assigned as Mission Companions to serve in Uganda. Elder Price is overconfident and cocky, but disappointed he’s not going where he wants to go – Sunny Orlando. Elder Cunningham, who idolized Elder Price,  is not confident at all, but is excited. He plans to let Elder Price do his thing, and hopes that Elder Price’s success in the companionship as a whole will lead to his parents being proud of him for once.

They both arrive in the Mission Field, but are shocked to find out that the Africans hate God, and blame Him for the horrible things going on around them – AIDS, rape, diseases, warlord brutality, and genital mutilation. They have seen religion, and it simply hasn’t worked for them. As it’s been presented to them, it didn’t appear to address their concerns. It only addressed the concerns of those sharing the message.

Not realizing that they’re falling into the mistake of many who have come before, the Elders happily share the Narrative of the Restoration, Joseph Smith, and the Book of Mormon. But when a villager voices his concern of (and perhaps a plea of help for?) his horrible physical condition, (“I have maggots in my scrotum!”), Elder Price doesn’t know what to do, and cavalierly continues with the story. Elder Cunningham watches in awe as Elder Price Does His Thing, content with his role as Number 2.

Most of the Africans then conclude that these missionaries are just one more set of the same old type of missionaries that had come in talking about God – nice stories, with nothing practical and new to offer to address and halt their suffering. The presentation of the message appears to them that God has nothing to say about their individual conditions. Thus, he probably doesn’t care. This is why they hate Him.

Yet there are some few who still hold a glimmer of hope that these young happy men might have something – anything – that can help them. They have brought Hope, even though it is not understood how the hope will be actualized.

Elder Price and Elder Cunningham both get very discouraged – but they handle it in very different ways. Elder Price loses his faith, and decides to jump ship, and head to Orlando. Elder Cunningham looks deep inside himself, and recognizes he does have something to offer – he just needs to “Man Up”, and act. He has faith. He just needs to actively express it.

It is then that, making a decision, Elder Cunningham – in the words of President Monson-  “closed the manual and opened [their] eyes and [their] ears and [their] hearts to the glory of God”

As he’s teaching the Gospel Story, he teaches true and relevant principles he has a conviction of, and inserts them into the narrative. Yes, he knows that God is very much against raping babies. But the story he’s telling doesn’t explicitly say so – so he makes it say so, and “likens” the story to do it.

And suddenly, the natives take note. The Word of God is speaking to them.

As Elder Cunningham begins to do this, he’s conflicted. Is it lying? He knows he’s teaching a highly relevant and inspired Truth, but he’s altering the Sacred Story to do it. Is that legitimate?

He keeps going. He addresses AIDS, infant rape, genital mutilation, and issues of sanitation leading to disease.

And now, instead of just being another irrelevant Missionary, Elder Cunningham is viewed and revered as a prophet in his own right. He is changing lives. He is making a difference.

Why? Because he “taught people, not lessons.” – all the while teaching what he was convinced was the Truth, and would truly help those he was sent to serve.

As time passed, the relevant truths Elder Cunningham focused on become more and more integrated into the Ritual Narrative of the Restoration by those new generations of converts who shared it.

While there is a degree of underlying continuity with the Original Story – it still follows the basic narrative, and the names of individuals remain the same –  many of the details have been altered in such a way certainly not intended – and in many ways unrecognizable – by those who would have originally told the story. You might call it the ACT – The Arnold Cunningham Translation of the scriptural story.

In short, the story increases in details of doctrinal accuracy, and becomes far more practically relevant…but sacrifices are made in details of historicity.

Standing on the outside watching from the audience, the story told appears to be absurd. The way the playwrights presented it was absolutely intended to emphasize the ridiculousness of the story. In their minds, the new story is far more ridiculous than the Original Story.

Yet it is understood that this adaptation was a good thing. It cannot be doubted that the adapted story changed lives, and made the world a better place.

My Attempt At A Faith Promoting Application

In a bizarre way, the message of the play corresponds with Bishop Burton’s comments at the last general conference:

The commitment of Church leaders to relieve human suffering was as certain as it was irrevocable. President Grant wanted “a system that would … reach out and take care of the people no matter what the cost.” He said he would even go so far as to “close the seminaries, shut down missionary work for a period of time, or even close the temples, but they would not let the people go hungry.”

Gospel means ‘Good News’. I strongly believe that the current doctrines and scriptures of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, when properly applied and presented, are very relevant. The problem comes when the emphasis is on the Story of the Future Hope while ignoring the current temporal needs. When Happiness in a Future Eternal Life is taught without knowing how to assist with happiness in one’s current Life.

The Church as a unit is very good at seeking out – and seeing to – temporal needs. It has a powerful humanitarian wing. Many members are very quick to act to serve – I myself just last week participated in disaster relief in Cullman, Alabama, which had seen homes, land, business and churches devastated by Tornados.

To me, this is a huge, essential part of the Gospel.

In the Musical, Elder Price didn’t see that. He saw the framework story as being the Gospel, and acceptance of the story as being the end result.  When this didn’t work, he had a crisis of faith, because to him, The Gospel Didn’t Work.

Elder Cunningham knew that the Gospel needed to be actually good news, and it needed to be put into practice. Elder Cunningham deeply pondered and looked deep inside, and faithfully adapted the framework story to teach the True and Living Gospel. His desire was to bless lives. He had a paradigm shift, and he learned what the Gospel really meant, and became a powerful minister of the Gospel.

It started by looking inside, and perhaps singing the well-known Hymn:

Have I done any good in the world today?
Have I helped anyone in need?
Have I cheered up the sad and made someone feel glad?
If not, I have failed indeed.
Has anyone’s burden been lighter today
Because I was willing to share?
Have the sick and the weary been helped on their way?
When they needed my help was I there?

His Song “Man Up” was in many ways a version of the Chorus, a reaction to realizing the answer of the above was ‘No’

Then wake up and do something more
Than dream of your mansion above.
Doing good is a pleasure, a joy beyond measure,
A blessing of duty and love.

What he did do could be in reaction to and an internalization of the counsel in the following stanza:

There are chances for work all around just now,
Opportunities right in our way.
Do not let them pass by, saying, “Sometime I’ll try,”
But go and do something today.
’Tis noble of man to work and to give;
Love’s labor has merit alone.
Only he who does something helps others to live.
To God each good work will be known.

The caution and warning I personally find presented to us Mormons in the musical itself is to make sure that we share and live the Entirety of the Gospel, and strive to care about, and learn about, the actual present needs around us.

For the most part, there really is no need to change the standard framework story as we have it. We have powerful knowledge and practical implementation. We just need to make sure we recognize that praxis as being an essential part of the Gospel itself – and not just “something else we also do sometimes”. – and make sure we are actively preaching the Gospel of practical compassion and God’s real and living Love in the now –  in addition to simply reciting a cool story about Gold Plates in New York.

34 thoughts on ““Man Up”–Applying The Book of Mormon Musical’s Message (Without the Profanity)

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed this post. I am also grateful for the information of the streaming media. It’s not for everyone, but I know its for me! Thank you for that and for the informative outline and proper application of the story. Good stuff.

  2. In terms of vulgarity, When I was an educator I lived in a bifurcated world. while teaching in the classroom the kids knew I did not allow swearing and it was never a problem. When I was in the Dean’s office I could not expect that the language was going to be perfect genteel English. Kids who were very angry could not control what they said. Parents and kids often lived in a world where vulgarity was common and accepted. I had to listen to a lot of verbal garbage. The goal was to change behavior.

    You sent kids to a spot where they could cool down before you dealt with them and you could get them to respond appropriately. With parents your goal was a reasoned discussion and it might take awhile to get to that point.

    The point is that I could do my job right or I could be a hard case and create more problems by immediately demanding all vulgarity to stop. Dealing with “dirty words” is not as cut and dry as people often make them out to be.

    Let me leave with a three situations I had to deal with. One student had tourettes and could really say some pretty disgusting things. What do you do when he is sent to theDean’s office? We had a parent that had the same probem (though he tended to have three favorite four letter words). Where do you talk with him? The last guy was also the only holocaust intown, do you invite him to speak to your class?

  3. I thought the musical had redeeming qualities much like you brought out in your post. I mean, who didn’t have a companion like Elder Cunninham or Elder Price? I certainly saw similar personality traits in the MTC, which hopefully were outgrown as the mission went on.
    I just don’t like that I can’t talk about it at church, due to the overall content of the show.

  4. Wow, thanks for posting this. You articulated better what I was trying to say in my own post about this show on my blog. I thought conveyed the positive messages this show has to offer while still warning that it won’t be everybody’s cup of tea.

  5. Catchy music for sure. But after listening to the songs, I got that feeling that people would come away from the musical feeling that our beliefs are ridiculous – that we not too scary but there is no need to to take the religion seriously.

  6. For those who are concerned about avoiding profanity but still interested in listening to the music (which is really, REALLY catchy), NPR also has a list of songs which can be listened to individually. The Mormons in the musical are just like real-life Mormons–they don’t swear–so songs sung by the Mormon characters are pretty “safe.” The only songs with a LOT of profanity are “Hasa Diga Eebowai” and “Joseph Smith American Moses.” “Sal Tlay Ka Siti” has just one swear word, at the end of the song, but covers some of the same territory as “Hasa Diga Eebowai” in depicting the deprivations of village life.

  7. “Making things up Again” isn’t profane, but talks of female circumcision so it may be one that some would want to avoid.

  8. Scw: I agree with you. I certainly knew both Elder Price and Elder Cunningham on my mission.

    Sally: I’d say any religious beliefs that one doesn’t have a personal conviction, devotion to, and context for sound ridiculous. I think it’s important for all ‘insiders’ to realize that yes, their beliefs do sound ridiculous to outsiders. Even Joseph Smith said if he hadn’t experienced what he experienced, he wouldn’t believe it.

    Janeannechovy: That’s a great point. The profanity-free songs are actually the majority: “Hello”, “Two By Two”, “You and Me (But Mostly Me)”, “Turn It Off”, “I am Here For You”, “All-American Prophet”, “Man Up”, “Baptize Me”, and “I am Africa”. Both “I Believe” and “Sal Tlay Ka Siti” and “Tomorrow Is A Latter Day” each have a single profanity.

    dallske: “Making Things Up Again”, unfortunately, does have some pretty significant profanity (a few repetitions of the “F-Word” as a descriptive verb) in addition to what you described.

    Thanks everyone, for your comments.

  9. This article and the comments made on it are an excellent illustration of why I despise the Mormon approach to “appropriate” entertainment. I call that approach “bean-counting morality,” where it’s more important to count up the number of “inappropriate” things in the work than to consider the underlying message. Count up the profanity, the nudity, the sex. Zeroes means moral, no matter how immoral the underlying message may be. Positive numbers means evil, no matter how inspiring the underlying message may be.

    Yet right here in this musical we see a fantastic moral message that Mormons could appreciate, and perhaps need to hear, but which will be shunned because of bean-counting morality. I have a Facebook friend who loves to call this musical “trash,” even though he’s never seen it or heard the music. He heard that one song was called “F— You, God”–even there is no such song titled that–and labeled it trash based on that. (The song’s title is actually in a foreign language.)

    I myself think the obsession over cuss words is silly. Why allow a mere word, a mere string of sounds, to have such power over you? The choice of whether a word is smutty or not is purely cultural anyway. S— and feces means the same thing, but one is smutty and the other perfectly acceptable. Why? Why do we capitulate to such arbitrary nonsense?

    I’m glad there are Mormons like Stan Beale who can see past the superficiality of bean-counting morality and cut to the real spirit of morality. And I’m glad I’ve freed myself from the chains of being controlled by a mere word, so I can listen to and enjoy the creative genius of “The Book of Mormon” music and discover its underlying message without freaking out over a few strings of sounds that our culture declares, for no rational reason, are naughty.

  10. D. Michael Martindale:

    I’m confused. Did you read the post? The majority of it was expressing and agreeing with what I saw as a ‘fantastic moral message that Mormons could appreciate, and perhaps need to hear, but which will be shunned’.

    Those are your words, but I expressed the exact same thing above.

    Do I think the obsession over cuss words is silly? Yes. I do.

    However, I recognize that as a fact of society, individuals are impacted and have their sensitivities affected by them. I can’t change that. Telling them to go see something and ignore this developed sensitivity overnight will not work.

    A key reason I wrote this post was to help express a message as I saw it to individuals who will not be listening to it.

    No matter how high a horse one may mount themselves on, the fact remains that others will choose for reasons that may or may not be legitimate for their own circumstances not to indulge.

    We can either mock them for it, or respect their right to choose their own entertainment, and still help to express the beneficial message.

    I thought the latter would be more useful. You clearly didn’t.

  11. “They have seen religion, and it simply hasn’t worked for them. As it’s been presented to them, it didn’t appear to address their concerns. It only addressed the concerns of those sharing the message.”

    This is a very interesting point for discussion, and it reminded me of Alma 31-32. Alma is preaching, locals come to him with a particular problem (they’re not allowed in the synagogue), and… he doesn’t solve their problem. When Alma 32 is over, they’re still not allowed in the synagogue, which leaves them confused and wondering what exactly it means for them (presumably regarding the synagogue, though they don’t say that.

    “Now after Alma had spoken these words, they sent forth unto him desiring to know whether they should believe in one God, that they might obtain this fruit of which he had spoken, or how they should plant the seed, or the word of which he had spoken, which he said must be planted in their hearts; or in what manner they should begin to exercise their faith.”

  12. Did you read MY post? I was agreeing with you.

    Just because I wasn’t as diplomatic with those who obsess over cuss words as you were, doesn’t mean I don’t agree with you, or didn’t understand your post. As you say, you think the obsession is silly, and so do I. But never did I demand that sensitive people subject themselves to the words if they don’t want to. I only lamented that it was unfortunate that they felt that way, and gave my reasons for thinking so.

  13. D. Michael Martindale, Grant Palmer, John Dehlin and a myriad of others are folks that I truly appreciate as a skeptical yet faithful Mormon. I thank them here for their insights and their points of view. The only thing that I would say, and I think that the article appropriately points out, is that, for better or worse, people have sensibilities and that despite those sensibilities, there may be something to be gained from something so opprobriously sounding as a Book of Mormon musical written by the South Park creators. Some folks ARE offended by “cussing” and try to avoid it at all costs. Some folks may be able to hear coarse language and remain unaffected. Maybe its the “light-mindedness” that they are attempting to avoid, I don’t know. To me it’s the same issue that one faces when considering say Schindler’s List. Whether its a five second sex scene or the portrayal of suffering that offends, I think that we need to make allowances for the iron rodders or “bean counters.” For some their difficulty is having to even deal with the margins of living a good life. That’s okay. I think that we have to be careful when we criticize the bean counters just as we have to avoid casting stones at those who question. There may be a comfort that the bean counters experience that those who question never get to experience.

  14. D. Michael:

    Apologies for the misunderstanding. I think what happened is that I read your frustration as condemnation. Either way, I recognize I overreacted. I do appreciate your comments and thoughts – most of what you said has been repeated by me at one time or another. I’m a graduate of film school – I was able to get myself pretty desensitized, and trained myself to look past the profanity to see the message and purpose behind it. Often, it was just sloppy writing. But in some cases, it had an important rhetorical purpose. I do believe that the profanity and vulgarity in the Book of Mormon Musical was very, very specifically (even masterfully) chosen for its rhetorical value. It was designed to make us uncomfortable, and to shock us.

    When I’m alone listening, I’m not as sensitive as I could be. What makes me uncomfortably sensitive is thinking about others either who might be near, or who I would otherwise want to share it with who I know would find it extremely uncomfortable, and unenjoyable.

    Ben S:
    Very interesting.
    There were many times on my mission where I was with a companion who asked an investigator the standard, “Have you ever wondered about where you came from, why you’re here, or where you’re going?” More often than not, the answer was, “No, not really.” – the companion would then launch into explaining those answers anyway, without seeking to discover what questions or concerns the individual actually did have – or how those “answers” would have a direct significance in that individual’s life – this would lead the individual to thinking we didn’t care about them, and what they wanted to know, we just had a canned message.

  15. I have listened to, but not seen the musical. With that disclaimer, I wonder if there is anything so profane and vulgar that has ever played on Broadway. Critics seem to acknowledge the highly offensive nature of the musical, but dismiss it on the basis that it was written by the creators of South Park. Since we should expect them to be vulgar and profane, it’s no big deal.

    Putting aside the sheer offensiveness of the lyrics, I found the music itself to be unimaginative and cliché. There was very little in the way of unique artistry that can be found here.

    What that leaves is the story. Rather than finding that “Joseph Smith got it right,” the musical argues that Joseph Smith made it all up, and that his message does not apply to the modern world. Mormons themselves are naïve and simplistic. This is appealing to the audience and to theater critics as it makes them feel superior to the delusional Mormons. Of course, Mormons are a cheerful, polite, and well-meaning bunch, and as such, are basically harmless. But the only way for them to truly do good in the modern world is to change their story so it applies to current problems, which is alright since it was made up in the first place.

    In the end, the message seems to be, even if you manufacture a religion, and even if that religion has preposterous foundational stories, so long as it addresses modern problems and motivates people to be nice to each other, religion is a-okay.

    Again, this succeeds with the audience because they are left feeling good about themselves since, while they are superior to the ignorant Mormons (and perhaps members of all religions), they can pat themselves on the back for recognizing that cheerful, polite, religious folk can do some good in the world, even if they do believe absurdities.

  16. Again, this succeeds with the audience because they are left feeling good about themselves since, while they are superior to the ignorant Mormons (and perhaps members of all religions), they can pat themselves on the back for recognizing that cheerful, polite, religious folk can do some good in the world, even if they do believe absurdities.

    I’m certain some people will come away with that. Generally the same people who already believe it, and don’t need to be convinced. That’s not going to be a conversion, that’s going to be preaching to the choir. I don’t think that’s necessarily what Parker and Stone “are going for.”

    I do think the Mormons aren’t necessarily (or even mainly) designed to represent “Mormons”, but are stand-ins for all those who don’t let their religion be relevant.

    I think a more astute audience would pick up, “Yes, you like making fun of them. That’s understandable. It does sound silly. So, umm, what good have you done without your silly stories that matches up to what they are doing with them?”

    I think there is a legitimate critique that there are many religionists (and Mormons) who are naive, and self-centered, and just ‘dreaming of their mansion above’. However, there are many, many, who are not, and allow their beliefs to be a powerful force for good. We as Mormons know that’s true. As the hymn I included shows, there are those who coax around content with their beliefs, feeling that “they’re all good”, and aren’t willing to step out of their comfort zone. My conviction is being Christ-like doesn’t involve simply preaching the metaphysical esoteric truths in story form (what Elder Price was doing) – it involves showing that they have a practical application. Christ didn’t just preach about the Eschatological Kingdom of God, he healed, fed, and wept with the people. He realized that Kingdom, and showed them what it was like then and there. He didn’t just tell them to wait.

    The musical was about those who teach about Paradise, but don’t really show how to experience it, or give any hope that such a state is possible, apart from , “Just…’cause.” – Those who imitiate Christ’s teachings without ‘manning up’ and being willing to get their hands dirty. I view what Elder Cunningham did as being a symbol of that – reaching out and allowing them to taste what they truly needed, thus giving them motivation to go on.

    This isn’t a Mormon problem, or even a religion problem. It’s a people problem.

    Oh, and all this aside, I love the music.

  17. Not what Parker and Stone are going for? It’s clearly what they believe. They see religion as a fantasy, but want to convince people that it is a fantasy that can, and should be channeled toward good ends.

    Your review is typical of many of those I have seen from Mormons who advocate on behalf of the show. You whitewash the truly disgusting aspects of the show and try to find a positive spin, perhaps to demonstrate how open-minded you are. However, putting aside the discussions of raping babies, raping frogs, and raping God himself (or herself?), the main thrust of the musical is not, as you suggest, about service to the poor and downtrodden. It is about how making up a wacky religion can be great if it accomplishes humanitarian ends, like reducing incidences of AIDS and female circumcision. At the end of the musical, it is not the Book of Mormon that is being preached and changing the lives of the Ugandans, it is the Book of Arnold. The new church members do not provide clean drinking water, vaccinations, and wheelchairs to Africans, as Mormons have done in real life. They go door to door passing out the Book of Arnold, the new scripture made up by Elder Cunningham. The practical advice that changes lives comes from a story about how Joseph Smith was about to rape a baby to cure his AIDS, when God appeared to him and told him to rape a frog instead. He later meets Brigham Young, who was cursed by God for circumcising his daughter. The curse was that his nose was turned into a clitoris. Joseph Smith heals Brigham by rubbing the frog on his nose. We are supposed to believe that this message is more pertinent to the lives of the Ugandans than the messages that are actually in the Book of Mormon.

    In contrast to Parker and Stone, I believe that the Mormon religion really is an effective power for good in the modern world. That power comes because the religion is based in the truth, not in spite of its being based in fantasy.

    As for the music, I’ll admit that it has some catchy tunes. So does Lady GaGa. Both may be long remembered, not for their catchy tunes or even for their messages, but for the way in which they offended modern sensibilities. To a large degree, I think that’s what Parker and Stone are going for.

  18. Not what Parker and Stone are going for? It’s clearly what they believe. They see religion as a fantasy, but want to convince people that it is a fantasy that can, and should be channeled toward good ends.

    Which would be a mindset I’d be much happier with nonbelievers having than the mindset that they need to save us from our wicked cultists delusions.

    the main thrust of the musical is not, as you suggest, about service to the poor and downtrodden. It is about how making up a wacky religion can be great if it accomplishes humanitarian ends

    So you think that is the call to action being issued by the making of the presentation? Go and make up your own religions? You sure there’s not some satire and a more applicable metaphor in there?

    We are supposed to believe that this message is more pertinent to the lives of the Ugandans than the messages that are actually in the Book of Mormon.

    In the musicial, the Book of Mormon as an object is being used as a symbol. Parker and Stone have said in interviews they agree that that the Book of Mormon is lifechanging for good. (They specifically agree with the Church’s statement saying the musical entertains for a night, but the Book of Mormon as scripture beneficially changes lives for good).

    Again, the play isn’t about Mormons. It does, however, use a stereotype of specific kinds of Mormons to deliver the message.

    On my Mission, I knew Elder Prices, and Elder Cunninghams. Elder Prices who started out gungho, and then jumped ship when things didn’t match their expectations. Elder Cunninghams who came out weak and distressed, and then decided to “Man Up”, and become powerful, if not slightly unorthodox, but changed lives for good.

    Parker and Stone have said multiple times they believe the Mormon religion really is an effective power for good in the modern world. But there are many religionists (and even individual Mormons) who are not, and do not use their religious knowledge and beliefs to speak to The One.

    It is those, if any, who are being scolded.

    And yes. A straightup telling of many of our standard beliefs, told to someone who knows nothing about it, sounds ridiculous and unbelievable. Joseph Smith agreed with that, and said he wouldn’t believe it if he hadn’t experienced it. Parker and Stone agree with Joseph there.

    And yes – a message where God directly addressed the raping of children, AIDS, and genital mutilation was more effective in the context of the production than the travelogue story told by the Missionaries (which was the play’s version of the symbol ‘Book of Mormon’) about american plates leading to a quest for a Promised Land, where the saddest part was one man dying at the hands of a mob.

    We as Mormons bring a lot into the play that was not intended to be brought. What ‘The Book of Mormon’ is in the play is not what we have as the actual Book of Mormon. It’s a symbol. It’s a metaphor. We may not like that our meaningful and lifechanging book was used as a less-than-pleasant symbol that needed to be upgraded.

    I think it’s an effective tool, that nevertheless is not for everybody’s consumption. I’m personally not offended. I recognize others will be, and they should stay away from it.

    Perhaps, as Millennial Star proclaims, this acknowledgement makes me a Bad and Unfaithful Mormon.

    Well, my Bishop reads my blog. We’ll see if I get called in or released from my calling over it.

  19. Thanks so much for posting your review of the score. I just sat through my first listen of the CD and am really in love with the show. I just now hope I’ll be able to get tickets sometime in the next year after it wins all its Tonys.

    I’m not a Mormon. I’m not religious in the least, actually. Probably the best word to describe me is “skeptic.” But I seek out art that exposes me to other points of view. In my humble opinion, that’s pretty much what it’s there for. Not to comfort and reinforce, but to provoke and push me off balance.

    I wanted to see what a thoughtful believer would make of this work and I’m glad to have found your thoroughly considered post. And the discussion in your comments has been quite eye-opening as well! Thanks for letting me peek in on it without being a member of your club.

  20. Welcome Scot. Glad you’re looking in!

    I love the Broadway and West End musicals. Watching things change over time in the way of entertainment is sometimes disappointing though.

    As a kid when I found a hair in my cake I would stop eating immediately and throw the rest away.LOL When I’m enjoying a good show on stage and a shock moment comes along it doesn’t enhance my viewing pleasure but my heart drops and interrupts my enjoyment for a moment.

    Concerning your underlying moral definition:

    “The caution and warning I personally find presented to us Mormons in the musical itself is to make sure that we share and live the Entirety of the Gospel, and strive to care about, and learn about, the actual present needs around us.”

    …I learned this from Jesus Christ and his life??

    Granted I haven’t listened yet but I don’t rank Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone in the same category. I don’t see how blaspheming deity will make Christ’s message any clearer?? I only see Parker, Lopez and Stone smiling all the way to the bank. Hopefully some of that money will be donated to provide relief for Africa just as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints have done.

    Tony’s are a small reward compared to God’s approval of our life attempts. I think the boys will be happy come Tony time!!

    “It’s a message that is relevant for the religious and the non-religious – but, frankly, it’s most likely a great majority of the most sincere and devout won’t expose themselves to it.

    This would certainly include my wife, my parents, and my in-laws. I certainly won’t be playing it for them, or my toddler daughter to sing and dance to – no matter how catchy the music is. (and it is fantastically – and dangerously – catchy)”

    That was a very sincere disclaimer. Thank you for that.

  21. Deb, my wife is the same way with her food. If something is slightly amiss (such as finding a hair!) with a cup, or a flake on piece of food, she’s done with it. And I usually end up drinking/eating it *grin*

    I don’t by any means place Matt, Trey, and Robert in the same category with Jesus. I do, however, think they have messages worth sharing. I don’t believe that the only messages worth sharing have to be done in the context of a scriptural story, or presented by believers. I do believe there are truths that are shared by others from different cultural, belief, and linguistic backgrounds. And sometimes, more are likely to hear that message from those speaking their language and culture than someone who is sharing the same thing, but using their own distinct language.

    Frankly, I think there are people who would take a Christian message more seriously coming from someone who was an atheist than by someone using the Bible (or Book of Mormon) to teach it, due to the stigma of it being a ‘religious’ principle. We may not like that this is the case, but I think reality testifies to it. Just like you’re more willing to apply a message from someone who have come to trust and speaks your language than someone who doesn’t. They may be saying the same thing, but one holds weight over the other.

    I’m not really as concerned about how true and beneficial messages are taught and received, as much as I am that they are being expressed and received.

  22. I understand what you are saying but really? That language Matt, Trey and Robert use is “over the top” of what is needed to deliver a good message. It’s a bit like sending Homer Simpson to take out Usama Bin Laden. If you want a good message delivered send someone with experience. Matt, Trey and Robert fall short.

    Thank you for talking back to me!!!:-)

  23. Deb, thank you so much for the welcome. I hesitated quite a bit before intruding on your conversation here, as it’s pretty clear that this blog is not written for me. I found this post from a google search on [“book of mormon” musical review “by a mormon”]. I truly just wanted to know what believers of the faith thought of the show.

    As I said, I’m a little bit in love with the score. But like all of you, I find myself shocked by the bald vulgarity of some of the libretto. And yes, the songs are really, really catchy so I find myself humming bits at work that, if I sang them aloud would be embarrassing, to say the least.

    But what gave me the confidence to post a comment was dltayman’s clear willingness to be part of the world and engage with art that does not match his world view, no matter how strongly that view is held. I admire that and wish more people had that inclination — myself included.

    I hope I’m not overstepping my bounds in asking the questions on my mind, or taking this thread to a far-removed place, but here goes.

    To any LDS members who read this: Do many of your friends and family simply avoid art because it might contain profane words? (We know that Deb and dltayman’s wife do, but what about the rest of you all?) I ask because it’s difficult for artists to represent major parts of real world situations without them, in my experience. And they struggle with that problem: How much of my work is altered by removing some/all of the words that may offend? Does it truly say what it did before if I remove them?

    And how many of you live in a community where LDS members are a small minority? Do you frequently hear how unusual (to put it nicely) your history sounds to non-believers? I know that you all know non-believers have trouble accepting what you believe as truth. I am sorry, but it *is* hard to believe. And as the musical says, “I guess that’s what [God was] going for.” I was pleased to read dltayman admit that some of your basic tenants are privately joked about among church members, though they are offensive when brought up by non-believers. Do you understand why that knowledge is comforting to me?

    No matter what you (the general reader, discovering my comment) think of my comments or the review dltayman posted, I hope you’ll take a moment to reflect on your value to our pluralistic society. I, for one, am glad that I live in a country where you can practice your religion and I can choose not to practice one at all.

    Ain’t America grand?

  24. Hello again Scot. This is so nice of you to contribute.

    To answer your question does strong language offend?? Well it does for me if it’s directed at deity. You may not believe that God and his son Jesus Christ are real people but I do. As far as I believe they have done nothing but good for me and should be treated with the utmost respect. In plays like LesMis I can handle everything except the lyrics of “Master of the House”. That one makes me cringe. I might point out that the majority of our membership has the same sensitivity. Like whoever wrote this post says he seems to be in the minority with his family. That’s not pointing fingers just pointing out his words. His wife and relatives are more like this spokesman for the church. As you read his article you will understand my feelings on the subject for his are the same. It’s the misguiding of the public towards our religion that might upset the apple cart. I’d like the public to know of the good our church has done for Africa like in the article.


    Thanks again Scot and glad you are here!!!!:-)

  25. Like Scot Colford, I found this blog looking for discussion of the musical BOM among insiders who enjoy a relatively thick skin. A sense of humor. (I read the outraged “Anti-Mormon Dreck” post elsewhere. No discussion to be had there.)

    Although I seldom watch South Park –it’s too harsh and relentless, too hard on the ears — I was pleased with the Mormon episode. It made the all-American point: it’s the content of character, stupid.

    I came to Mormon country 35 years ago, from an urban background plus two years spent on the road calmly looking for a fine place to live. I’d heard . . . things about Mormons. But I grew up in what they now call a multi-culti environment and had learned to wait out people before drawing conclusions.

    I agree with Parker and Stone: overall, great people. Living in the West, Parket-Stone observed and countered the tiresome knee-jerk dissing of Mormons. (Living on Earth, there’s a tiresome knee-jerk dissing of every category of human.) I work with a lot of Mormons. I enjoy every one of them.

    As religions go, Mormonism embraces the modern. They respect science. They are models of charity and generosity. (Deseret Industries rocks, especially if you are into theater and film.) Post-statehood, Mormon history is no less than the essence of good old American progress. Note that the aforementioned “fine Mormon traits” also apply to America in general during The American Century. (Good times . . . .) I don’t mind bragging that a lot of my life is Mormon-like — productive, healthy, not especially dissolute (if well caffeinated) — although I don’t choose to gather in one large group for extended periods of time.

    I’ve never had a taste for thinking of people as types. Mormons, Jews, Beige-Americans, whatever, I refuse to assess anyone based on labels no matter how handy those labels are. That’s what I love most about the West. We’re generally content-of-character folk. I do make an exception: I oblige people who behave like stereotypes by regarding them as stereotypes.

    I understand the outrage about profanity but, to back up D. Michael Martindale, you weaken yourself when you give mere words that much power. I’m not fond of Parker-Stone’s ruthlessness but that’s the only speed they know. They’re punks, they’re showoffs, but BOM ultimately has a heart, and it’s a launching point for any number of thoughtful discussions about the nature of truth and inspiration.

    True, Parker and Stone are baiting the devout who aren’t in the mood for being doubted. I am saddened that the BOM musical might hurt the feelings of friends, but faith lacking even a hint of incredulity will always feel assaulted in the modern world. (Check out Monty Python’s innumerable shots at the Catholic church.) That said, rest assured that the BOM musical might not be inspiring the widespread ridicule that some may fear.

  26. Hello dswift! Thanks for adding your view, too. You made me laugh when I read your final sentence.LOL I know you didn’t mean to but I have this bizarre mind.

    “That said, rest assured that the BOM musical might not be inspiring the widespread ridicule that some may fear.”

    I thought the EUGENE O’NEILL THEATER holds only 1,065 each night during the run and some of those will be repeats.

    When it becomes a movie then it will have a widespread audience.

    No matter what we think the viewing public will decide.

    “(Check out Monty Python’s innumerable shots at the Catholic church.) ”

    I read the strangest thing when this play was coming out. The newspaper article said the Catholics had “The Sound of Music”, the Jews had “Fiddler on the Roof” and now the Mormons had “The Book of Mormon” musical??? Excuse me but “Sound” and “Fiddler” weren’t vulgar and offensive. I don’t think this play should be credited to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

  27. Yeah, Deb. I agree with you. That last comparison you cite is a definite stretch! Still, I do think it’s a pretty nice thing that the main characters, Elder Price and Elder Cunningham, are who audiences are rooting for in the musical.

  28. Scot I hope it’s sincere. The ending that I read is not missionary standards!LOL

  29. Deb, it is reasonable for you to find the utter vulgarity of the musical as upsetting and unforgivable. Parker-Stone cut to the bone heartlessly. It’s their shtik.

    Correct me if I am wrong but you seem concerned with what sophisticates might be thinking after seeing the BOM musical. Trust me, no one worthwhile is going to form an opinion about you personally based on this musical. Something tells me your personality will prevail.

    The church’s official statement on the musical, terse and wry, was a smart move, a model of confidence.

    Ironically, church leaders may have already iced the opinion of many theater-going sophisticates thanks to the backwards-thinking Prop 8 stunt. The musical, for all its crassness, ultimately portrays Mormons as kind, resourceful, humane and capable of adapting to change. As pure PR, BOM accomplishes the opposite of what the Prop 8 campaign did.

    I agree, that Fiddler-Sound’o’Music remark is stupid. This is groping for equivalency that’s so false that no intelligent person should bother with it. Anyone with half a brain and/or a quarter of a heart knows that the Mormon church is, as the song goes, taking it on the chin.

  30. Thank you dswift.:-) You’ve got it right about me or I wouldn’t join in on the conversation. The church’s official statement was short and sweet. They know as much as I do this musical won’t and doesn’t change the church’s history. They are very charitable. I won’t take precious time here to list their accomplishments. I’m sure you’ve been made aware of them in the media already. The musical preaches we should be MORE charitable but who are they really addressing?? Organized churches or people in general like themselves?

  31. It’s Mormons John. Watched the Tony’s tonight. Seemed like it was just “Spamalot” with raunch added. I could tell by the acceptance speech for Best Musical that they treat Joseph Smith very lightly. BTW I saw “Warhorse” in London and I recommend that one highly. The animitronics are fascinating. Better than “Lion King”. Thanks for the good conversation. Bye!

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