I admit to being fascinated by the world’s fascination with us Mormons. Most recently, the Broadway play titled “The Book of Mormon,” by the creators of South Park, has me enthralled. I’ve read that it’s a celebration of Mormonism by non-Mormons, but I’ve also read that it ridicules our beliefs (or should I say a caricature of our beliefs) rather mercilessly. So what’s new? I welcome the opportunities this will no doubt provide me to explain a few things here and there.
I’m a 7th-generation Mormon, and yet my trust in the faith of my fathers springs from my own love of truth. My own study, thought, and research have led me to embrace and defend Mormonism – and contrary to the specious pretensions and assertions of the prevailing post-modern dogmatists, I don’t have to abandon reason, science, or truth to do it.
You won’t find me singing “TRADITION!” or blindly accepting what my parents taught me because it was what their parents taught them. Yet anyone with an open mind knows that no one alive has the world and life completely figured out, not even a prophet. The only way anyone can explain everything is to ignore anything that doesn’t fit their worldview. That goes for atheists too.
So even though I believe there is overwhelming evidence that leads me to embrace Mormonism, there are and probably will be until I die a few things that leave me alternatively puzzled, thinking, and/or laughing. The same goes for atheists and believers alike.
And I think that’s the way it should be – the way God ordained it. Why? Simple – to leave everyone free to choose their belief system, and by their choices manifest their own destiny.
So in all my philosophical explorations, I keep coming back to a single transcendent truth – we are free to believe what we choose to believe. You can find intelligent, educated, rational people who have a rainbow of worldviews. Not even pure, unadulterated science can provide a uniformity of belief.
Anytime someone proclaims a scientific consensus, I chuckle to myself knowing that they’re inevitably trying to put down those who may not agree with them, in what amounts to a dogmatic attempt to purge the unbelievers. The Catholics long ago abandoned the Inquisition, leaving it these days to scientists who can’t accept the idea that intelligent design can be accepted by reasonable scientists.
Yet over the centuries, there have been many a scientific consensus shattered by new knowledge and insights. So what may seem obvious to an atheist is not so obvious to me, a Mormon. Just as they fancy they know more than I do, so do I fancy that I know more than they do. After all, have they seriously read The Book of Mormon even once, much less almost every work Joseph Smith produced? Or have they served a mission and seen their faith challenged in the real world as the play portrays and come out of it with both knowledge and faith strengthened because of it? From their perspective, they no doubt think us Mormons are deluded. Nice, perhaps, but seriously deluded. After all, how could any rational person accept any of Joseph Smith’s wild claims, much less accept as the word of God a book that has been changed from the original?
So what is truth?
In my study of The Book of Mormon, I ultimately received a witness that it was true because it bore positive, sweet fruits in the lives of those I saw who believed it. Personally, then, I feel a bit of a kinship with Stone and Parker as they look around, see a lot to laugh at, and then embrace the idea that what is most righteous is to treat one another with love and respect. When they say “The Book of Mormon – The Musical” is their love letter to Mormons, I believe them. It’s the best they can do, given where they’re coming from. After all, if Joseph Smith really was a prophet, where’s the comedic fodder?
But let’s just take a peek at the Joseph Smith these guys believe in, the world greatest con man, who once wrote: “When they are learned, they think they are wise.” and “The righteousness of man is sin, because it exacteth overmuch.” Whoa – that’s some serious thinking for a con artist. In fact, if Joseph was such a brilliant con artist, how come he was never rich? And how could he leave a legacy of such nice, honest, trusted followers? It just doesn’t add up. But I quibble – I don’t expect guys like Stone and Parker to convert or see the truth. They wouldn’t be nearly as funny if they did. I like that Parker, at least, embraces the mystery. I like how he answered Charlie Rose’s question about his belief system with a smile and a shake of his head and “I have no idea.” Gotta love a guy like that.
So I would hope my fellow Mormons accept and cherish the self-proclaimed “love letter to Mormons” from these creative non-Mormons with gracious appreciation. Why take offense when none is intended? Let’s join the laughter – from what I can tell, it’s not malicious. In this cynical age, anyone who is able to discover and communicate the fundamental glory of humanity and the core principle of our religion – namely the human capacity for love – deserves admiration, not condemnation.
We Mormons are totally comfortable with the idea that each human being is by nature deeply flawed, and yet can still scale mountains of moral achievement through faith. That holds out hope for me and every other flawed human being. Otherwise, anyone who has studied the lives of the prophets Joseph Smith, Moses, Hosea, Mohammed, Brigham Young, or other flawed vessels of true revelation would necessarily conclude that God is inept at picking prophets. “By their fruits shall you know them.”
So I for one am looking forward, someday, to seeing “The Book of Mormon” on Broadway, blasphemy and profanity and sweetness and all. I expect to find in it a confirmation of my faith – that The Book of Mormon is a true and righteous work because it leads even deeply flawed men and women to a revelation of goodness and love that imbues their lives with purpose and dignity in a crazy world where nothing but goodness and love for one another makes any sense at all. And finding that love, even for our supposed “enemies,” is the most challenging of all achievements in life.