My wife and I hugely enjoyed seeing The Book of Mormon musical in Portland last night. I enjoyed the show much more than I thought I would.
My uncertainty about The Book of Mormon wasn't because it is the creation of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, who came up with the animated South Park series.
I'm a big South Park fan. I love profanity, bathroom humor, and gross jokes. I expected these marvelous qualities to be in The Book of Mormon, and they were!
What I was unsure about was how funny Mormonism could be. Sure, Mormons have weird beliefs (there's a listing of 101 of them). But all religions do. Can this be made humorous enough to warrant the price of spendy tickets to the musical?
I'm not going to give away the plot of The Book of Mormon here, especially how the show ends. But there's no harm in sharing my main takeaway philosophical conclusion of the final act:
Weirder is better when it comes to religion.
This fits with a review of the show I read on my iPhone while we were sitting in our seats, waiting for The Book of Mormon to start.
Of course, there are also countless potshots at Mormonism. But for all the criticism of the 190-year-old religion, the show is never cruel. Sure, the characters mock believers' unflappable optimism and the faith's Upstate New York origin story. The message is never anti-religion, though. Rather, it's uplifting and spends just as much time mocking the musical genre itself.
Mormonism is simply a front to point out all the absurdities in life. And in mocking religion, the show is, in a way, endorsing it: If you need an absurd story to get you through the horrible parts of life, then by all means, have it.
Most of the musical centers around the problem a bunch of Mormon missionaries have in converting Ugandan villagers to their religion. They succeed only when the already-weird Mormon teachings are made even weirder.
I liked this plot twist a lot.
If you're going to believe in strange stuff, why not go all the way to the farthest reaches of strangeness? Since religious supernaturalism is unbelievable, why not burst the bounds of believability to the fullest extent possible?
Like Janis Joplin sang back in the '60s, "Feeling good was good enough for me." If it feels good, do it. This isn't a statement about the nature of reality -- just a reflection of human nature.
Everybody needs some help to get them through the tough side of life. Religions are one of the crutches people lean on. If a crazy belief relieves anxiety, pain, suffering -- I'm fine with that, so long as it is recognized that the belief is just that, not a truth about the cosmos.
Here's some videos that will give you a feel for The Book of Mormon. Be sure to check out "I Believe," as this song reflects a core theme of the show.