This past weekend, Jason and I finally got away for a trip with just the two of us. We went to Chicago, where we gorged ourselves on fantastic food, listened to some great live music, spent an hour in the cold waiting to go into an aquarium, and just enjoyed being a couple for a few days.
One of the reasons we chose Chicago for our destination is because Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s acclaimed musical The Book of Mormon is playing there. We are both huge fans of their work and have been looking forward to seeing this show for a long time. I love Parker and Stone because absolutely nothing is sacred to them, which means they are brutally honest in everything they write. On the other hand, nothing is sacred to them, which means when I say they are brutal, I mean, they are brutal.
I was very familiar with the soundtrack before we went to see the show and couldn’t wait to hear the songs performed live with the costumes and dancing. And while I have no qualms about explicit language, I knew that their song Hasa Diga Eebowai would make me squirm. Any song that is a both a figurative and literal middle finger to God is likely to make anyone who holds to any vestiges of faith uncomfortable. A friend told me that she cringe-laughed when she saw it, and that was my reaction as well.
However, later in the show, they come back to this song. And the second time, it made me cry.
At the point in the story where the song is reprised, the lead female character has realized that everything that she believed about faith was a lie, made up by the missionary Arnold Cunningham. She had believed that there was a place that she and her village could go to escape the horrors of life in Uganda, from the AIDS epidemic to female mutilation to murderous war lords. She had believed that Sal Tlay Ka Siti was her salvation. When she realized that it wasn’t an actual place and the people who had promised her this salvation were leaving, she was crushed and her response was one of profound sadness and anger and she sang the song of her people – one that cursed a God who was uninvolved, unloving.
I didn’t expect to have such an emotional response to that, but friends, I couldn’t help but to well up a little bit.
Watching someone’s loss of faith, even if it’s just a character in a comedic musical, can still be painful to behold.
I have written before that one of the most formidable parts about being in an interfaith marriage is determining how to present faith to our children. And this musical reminded me once again that it’s not simply our differences in beliefs that make this tricky, but rather that I’ve seen the process of my husband’s loss of faith and have experienced my own painful evolution of faith.
Sometimes I think that in our desire to present a God that is powerful, we actually do the opposite. We present someone who is unable to stretch to accommodate our doubts. We present someone who is unable to deal with our anger. We present someone who is unable to love in a truly unconditional way. We search for a powerful God, but we end up with one who is limited in all of the ways that we are.
I’ve been told that I shouldn’t rely on people because they will let me down, and I should only rely on God. But when the God that I’m presented with is only able to offer the same level of love that I can get from people, a God who has the same prejudices as people, I find myself wanting to curse that God. And it’s not a God that I want to present to my children.
Because the musical is written by atheists, the point seems to be that any version of God is one that is made up, whether it’s the perfectly reasonable tenets of the faith held to by the good Mormon missionary (or presumably any devout person) or the ridiculous additions of the not-so-good Mormon missionary. And while I do believe that there is value in faith, I will remain wary of a faith that creates a God who is portrayed as weak if coupled with a bigger, more inclusive love.
In one of the last lines of the musical, the song changes from “Hasa diga, Eebowai!” to “Ma ha nei bu, Eebowai!” When people saw that they were accepted and loved, the song could move from one of cursing to one of thanksgiving. Parker and Stone didn’t become people of faith during the writing of this musical, but their work here is one that people of faith should study.
If we are going to share about a powerful love, we need to consider just how powerful we are allowing that love to be.