So I watched the Tony Awards last night, where The Book of Mormon Musical cleaned up. It won eight awards, including best musical. (It also included what’s likely the only time Joseph Smith has been thanked from a mainstream awards show.) (For my review of the original cast recording, take a gander at this post.)
The musical number they chose to perform was I Believe, which is the stirring ballad the Mormon missionary sings to inspire himself to recommit to the religion and fulfill his duties. And of course–since it’s from the creators of South Park–they decided to pick some of the more “out there” Mormon beliefs for the missionary to sing about. Now, on the nice side of things, they at least didn’t choose anything that Mormons don’t actually believe. So that’s something. On the other hand, by taking some of those beliefs out of context, I recognize that a lot of my friends out there who watched the show (all three of them, most likely) are wondering if I’m not more than a little crazy right now.
To address this, I’ve decided to give a Mormon commentary on the various lyrics in the song. Because hey–what’s the point in having a fairly public blog where I (from time to time) discuss my religion if I let something like this just slide on by? So if you’re interested in the Tonys or Mormonism at all, read on. If not . . . catch ya tomorrow.
The Lyrics to “I Believe” (my comments in red)
Ever since I was a child
I tried to be the best
So what happened?
My family and friends
All said I was blessed
So what happened?
It was supposed to be all so exciting
To be teaching of Christ across the sea
But I allowed my faith to be shaken
Oh, what’s the matter with me? This is actually a pretty common feeling for a Mormon missionary to have. I know I had it often on my mission. You’re halfway around the world, surrounded by strangers, forcing yourself out of your comfort zone on a daily basis. You don’t need to be dealing with warlords in Uganda to still be very uncomfortable and unsure of yourself. People mock your religion on a daily basis, to your face. I think it’s natural to revisit your beliefs from time to time to check that you really do believe all this stuff. It would be a lot easier if you didn’t, after all. Just go home and go back to normal life.
I’ve always longed to help the needy
To do the things I never dared
This was the time for me to step up
So then why was I so scared? Again, pretty spot on so far. While some Mormon missionaries go on missions mainly because they feel pressured by Mormon families or Mormon society, the bulk of them go because they sincerely believe they will be helping other people.
A warlord who shoots people in the face
What’s so scary about that? Um . . . no comment?
I must trust that my Lord is mightier
And always has my back Okay
Now I must be completely devout
I can’t have even one shred of doubt Hmm . . . not really seeing eye to eye on this one, personally. That said, I knew missionaries who felt this way–who felt that you either believed something 100%, or you didn’t believe it at all. In my personal opinion, if you haven’t thought about your beliefs seriously–including the possibility that they’re wrong–then those beliefs can’t be very strong. Doubt is a part of faith. If you knew something 100%, then there would be no need of faith. Actually, that’s something I liked from an earlier part in The Book of Mormon Musical–Joseph Smith points out that God let the golden plates get taken away without letting Joseph to show them to all sorts of people and prove that he was telling the truth. But then he adds something along the lines of, “But I guess that’s sort of what you were going for.” Exactly. I believe God doesn’t actively prove his existence, because a big part of the reason we’re here on this earth is to learn how to have faith. But now I’m ranging kind of far afield–back to those lyrics.
I believe that the Lord God created the universe Nothing to comment on here, right?
I believe that He sent His only Son to die for my sins Still good.
And I believe that ancient Jews built boats and sailed to America And . . . here’s the first big “huh?” moment for most people, most likely. But this is essentially what all Mormons believe. We believe The Book of Mormon (the book, not the musical) was written by a group of people who left Jerusalem around 600 BC and were led to the Americas (where exactly–North/South/whatever–is a point up for debate.). Joseph Smith translated this record (written on golden plates), and that translation is what we now have as The Book of Mormon. This is a big part of the religion. The Book of Mormon doesn’t supplant the Bible. It’s another record of God’s dealings with his children. As a missionary, I told people about this story all of the time. It isn’t something we hide at all–we make a point of openly addressing it. If people are going to join the church, they’ll join it because they believe this account is true. Frankly, if you’re also ready to believe in the need for a Savior and the existence of a divine being–if you believe Moses led the Children of Israel to the promised land, if you really believe in the Garden of Eden and Noah’s Ark and all the rest of it, then believing this doesn’t seem like that big of a step to me. But it sounds really odd when you take it out of context.
And a Mormon just believes This is probably the line that bugged me the most from the song. (And overall, I actually like the song quite a bit.) It makes us sound like Mormons believe anything they’re told. Mormons are encouraged to question–to pray about things on their own. To gain a personal testimony about the truth of Mormon doctrine. Blind faith is a no-no.
You cannot just believe partway
You have to believe in it all
My problem was doubting the Lord’s will
Instead of standing tall You know, I don’t have much of a beef with this part. Because with Mormonism at least, it would be difficult to just believe pieces of it. I mean, when your religion started with a fourteen year old boy talking to God and Christ in a glade in upstate New York–and then that boy went and translated gold plates–then it’s hard to ignore that and focus on the more trendy pieces, like the importance of families. Because either we’re a bunch of delusional lemmings, or it’s true. Not much of a middle ground there.
I can’t allow myself to have any doubt
It’s time to set my worries free
Time to show the world what Elder Price is about
And share the power inside of me
I believe that God has a plan for all of us Definite core Mormon belief
I believe that plan involves me getting my own planet And . . . another one that probably throws a lot of people for a loop. Essentially, Mormons believe that, as children of God, we can all “grow up” to one day become like God. Again, I don’t personally think this is that big of a leap. For me, it’s a logical extension of that whole “child of God” thing. Children grow up to be like their parents.
And I believe that the current President of the Church, Thomas Monson, speaks directly to God Yup. We believe this. It’s one of the core foundations of the religion. We believe that for a couple thousand years, God had a certain pattern developed: he spoke to people (called prophets), and gave those people a message. Those prophets then gave that message to God’s children. There was an apostasy, where for a space of time there was no prophet on the earth. This went on a long time. People still received inspiration and personal revelation from God, but as far as an organized, led-by-a-prophet church of God, we believe there wasn’t one. That organization needed to be restored, and that happened in the 19th Century in the form of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormon church). Believing in a prophet today shouldn’t be that big of a stretch, if you believe there were prophets a long time ago (Moses, Noah, Isaiah, etc.)
I am a Mormon
And dangit, a Mormon just believes
I know that I must go and do
The things my God commands
I realize now why He sent me here
If you ask the Lord in faith
He will always answer you
Just believe in Him and have no fear
I believe that Satan has ahold of you Okay.
I believe that the Lord God has sent me here Sure.
And I believe that in 1978 God changed His mind about black people This isn’t entirely fair. Did members of the church make racist remarks about non-whites prior to 1978? You betcha. Really not nice remarks. Statements that make me personally very uncomfortable. But at the same time, I recognize that these people were just people. They had problems just like your or me. They had character flaws. They grew up in a time where the beliefs on race were much different than they are today, and I don’t think it’s entirely fair to judge them by today’s standards. Am I trying to defend them? No. I’m not. They said what they said, and I’m overjoyed that Mormonism has moved on from that. That said, I firmly do *not* believe God “changed His mind about black people.” Rather, I think we as flawed individuals were finally ready to figure out just how wrong we were. What’s interesting is that if you go back to the foundation of the church, Joseph Smith was actually very accepting of races–things went in a different direction upon his martyrdom. Maybe that doesn’t make sense to you. It makes sense to me. (But then again, I’m a Mormon, and you’re not. So maybe that explains that.) Anyway–I just mean to point out we don’t believe God goes around changing His mind on a regular basis.
Again, this is something that fits right in line with that whole “prophets” thing. We believe in continuing revelation. God still speaks to His children and offers them guidance, tailor-made for today–not long ago. (For more about prophets, read a talk by Ezra Taft Benson (a Mormon prophet) focused on the subject: http://speeches.byu.edu/reader/reader.php?id=6751 To me, this makes perfect sense. If God once spoke to His children, why in the world would he stop? If having prophets used to be important, why would they be unimportant now? Did humanity need guidance only in pre-internet, pre-global economy, pre-industrial revolution, pre-everything-in-the-past-2,000-years days?
A Mormon who just believes
And now I can feel the excitement
This is the moment I was born to do
And I feel so incredible
To be sharing my faith with you
The scriptures say that if you ask in faith
If you ask God Himself, you’ll know
But you must ask Him without any doubt
And let your spirit grow Fine
I believe that God lives on a planet called Kolob And another loopy things Mormons believe. Well, all I can say to this one is that we believe God has a body of flesh and bone. He looks like us. (Remember that whole thing about being a “child of God”?) So . . . if he has a body, he’s gotta live somewhere. Why is the place he lives called Kolob? Why is a chair called a chair? Language is used to let us refer to things that aren’t physically present. But remember, I majored in linguistics–and you don’t want to get a linguist started talking in signifiers and signified. In any case–this one sounds loopy at first, but with some explanation, I (personally) don’t think it’s that out there.
I believe that Jesus has His own planet as well Um . . . I guess? Not that I’ve heard a specific name given to it? But I suppose if we believe we can all become like God, and we believe that Jesus has already done that, then I guess it makes sense Christ has his “own planet.” But again, we believe Christ is resurrected. He’s got a body. He has to be living somewhere. Is that so nuts?
And I believe that the Garden of Eden was in Jackson County, Missouri Yup. We believe this, too. Is it a core part of our belief? Like, do we all get together at the beginning of church meetings and recite, “We believe the Garden of Eden was in Jackson County, Missouri”? Nope. Then again, the Garden of Eden had to be somewhere. It wasn’t on Mars, right? 🙂
If you believe, the Lord will reveal it
And you’ll know it’s all true, you’ll just feel it
You’ll be a Mormon
And, by gosh, a Mormon just believes And that’s all I’ve got for you.
Second (and last) observation: the elements of church doctrine that seem so crazy to others trace their roots to elements that are often shared by most other religions. The main difference between Mormonism and most other religions is that we can point to specific dates and places where revelations happened. Where God appeared to man on earth. It’s a matter of being so darned recent that makes people feel like they can wave us off as loony. This is nothing new. Prophets have never really been trendy, from Moses to Noah to whoever. It’s easier to believe in something that happened a long time ago–you can pass it off as metaphor and go on your merry way. (For more on my thoughts on that, check out this post.)
In any case, I’m pretty much written out for now. I suppose I can open this up for questions and comment. All I ask is that we keep things civil. Deal?
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