Wednesday, 28 September 2011

An ex-missionary in the 'Book of Mormon'

I always wondered if perhaps one of the cast members of the Broadway hit The Book of Mormon might be an ex-LDS-missionary in real life. And one is. Ain't it funny how life works out? You must admit, it would give an actor a special kind of qualification for the part.
Enter me (from stage right): an ex-missionary, now ex-Mormon and a gay to boot (A triple threat?). But for me, being a Latter-Day Saint meant a lot more than donning a white shirt, dark pants, a tie, and a slick black name tag bearing the title of Elder—it was my life. My entire life.
He describes his mission experience as quite positive -- good for him -- but he loses me at the end.
But beyond being a preparatory experience, my mission and my time as a Mormon overall were very rich and special to me. I used to think that this was because of the system of beliefs themselves: that without the church I would feel sad, lost and broken. Since leaving the church I have realized that what was so beneficial and sacred about the religion in my life was not what I had faith in specifically, but rather the having of the faith.

As The Book of Mormon’s Elder Cunningham accidentally discovers, it doesn’t matter what people believe in if what they believe has the ability to unite them and inspire them to serve one another and love each other freely. Their beliefs can be silly—absurd, even—but that doesn’t matter. It’s the believing that counts.
This is, perhaps not coincidentally, the central conceit of The Book of Mormon; that belief in something, even if it's entirely made-up, can still be good because of its power to create social unity. The problem here is that, while religion does a lot to build unity within the group, it builds walls and creates intractable conflict between people of different faiths. I bet anyone could think of about 4 or 5 examples without trying too hard.

There's the epistemological side, too: Believing in something (which is likely to be wrong) is worse than believing in nothing. When you believe in nothing, you may at least be open to learning something. But when you believe in something wrong, you think you're right, and it's very difficult to shift. Bad information is worse than no information. Faith actually blocks understanding.

I still love the show. Well, I haven't actually seen the show, so I'm basing this only on the soundtrack and things I've read. I'd like to return to this idea when I manage to get to the USA and actually see it, which I am currently planning to do.

1 comment:

  1. "If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything." Isn't that what they used to tell us?

    I can't believe I was in my thirties before I started "falling" for stuff.


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