Is Faith Funny? Oh yeah…

Every now and then the Washington Post‘s On Faith column asks a ridiculously easy question…

The Book of Mormon, a satirical musical by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of South Park, won nine Tony awards [last] Sunday night. Parker and Stone are known as equal-opportunity offenders when it comes to mocking religion, but for some Mormons the irreverent musical, bearing the name of their holy text, crossed a line.

Is faith funny? When it comes to religion, where’s the line between what’s humorous and what’s offensive?

My full response is here, but an excerpt is below:

Humor is based in truth. Religion isn’t. Faith is all about things we wish were true, not things that actually are true. That’s what made comedians like George Carlin, Lenny Bruce, and Bill Hicks so legendary: While everyone else was debating the color of the emperor’s clothes, they weren’t afraid to say the the emperor wasn’t wearing any, and the way they said it was genius. They earned millions of fans by calling out the religious hypocrisy all around us. (And they weren’t just picking on corrupt religious leaders — they were going after anyone and everyone who believed in god.)

Bill Maher did a comedy bit in his recent show in which he just reads from Pastor Rick Warren‘s The Purpose Driven Life. He doesn’t mock it. He just reads it verbatim. And the audience loves it because what Warren has to say is so mind-bogglingly idiotic. Ricky Gervais follows suit in his latest special, telling the story of Noah’s Ark (as written in a children’s book). You can see from the video how he brings down the house.

The Book of Mormon continues this trend. The writers don’t have to be provocative on purpose. They just have to tell the truth about Mormonism and people will laugh. Because faith is funny.

Also, since the Post couldn’t reproduce the lyrics from “The Book of Mormon” on their site, here’s what I’m referring to:

Take the lyrics of one song from the musical: “I Believe”:

I Believe that God lives on a planet called Kolob.
I Believe that Jesus has his own planet as well.
And I Believe that the Garden of Eden was in Jackson County, Missouri.
You can be a Mormon: you’ll feel it.
And you’ll know it’s all true: you just… feel it.
You’ll be a Mormon by gosh!
A Mormon just believes!

They’re not going out of their way to pick on Mormons. They’re just explaining Mormon theology.

Feel free to comment here, but bonus points if you comment there.

  • Kristian

    From my stand up comedy:
    My name is Kristian, just like the religion only more tolerant.
    I could never be a Christian because I was told to convert I needed to get on my knees and let Jesus come inside me.
    The bible is a very different book if you take Stoning as slang for getting high and Abomination as slang for great.
    Suddenly instead of killing your kid for having a fit your getting him high which makes much more sense. If you eat shell fish it is great and you must get high.
    Then Jesus comes along and screws the whole thing up by saying no don’t get her high. Let he without sin pass the first joint.

  • http://hoverFrog.wordpress.com hoverfrog

    Ricky Gervais reading the Genesis 1 account is also hilarious. He doesn’t mock it as such but he does add commentary.

    Yeah, religion can be funny.

  • Bones

    I would have commented on the article just to ask the guy that made the first comment what was arrogant about it,but after only four comments the comments are closed.

  • http://happyatheists.com Slickninja

    Good read, and props for the atheism southpark episode. I rather liked it that a future war was caused by the name of the atheism. Was I the butt of the joke? Yep but it was funny. I think the real issue is that religious people stop laughing when they feel others that aren’t them will laugh at them.

  • Hugh Kramer

    Wow, I never knew before that if you spell God’s planet “Kolob” backwards you end up with something that resembles bollocks? Perhaps the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith was trying to leave a hint to his followers.

  • http://standardspicywhatnot.blogspot.com/ Naomi

    they write such good lyrics!
    I can’t wait to see this musical.
    I can’t wait until my kids are old enough to enjoy Mr. Hankey’s Christmas Show, although I do play Swiss Colony Beef Log for them. The Most Offensive song in the world…you know the one (mumble mumble mumble…and still be a virgin, Mary!) he he he he !

  • http://www.newbspeak.com Newbs

    Bill Maher did a comedy bit in his recent show in which he just reads from Pastor Rick Warren‘s The Purpose Driven Life. He doesn’t mock it. He just reads it verbatim.

    Well, I’m not sure what video you were watching; Bill mocks the shit out of The Purpose Driven life while reading it in that clip. Which is fine. And funny. Just, it’s not what you said it was. :)

  • Joeh

    Darn, was going to say the same thing that Newbs did. Still funny when everyone laughs at the chapter headings though.

  • http://adultonsetatheist.blogspot.com/ Adult Onset Atheist

    Many Mormons believe that this musical, far from being funny, will actually help people understand Mormonism in a positive light. They foresee many conversions as an impact of this musical. Yesterday Morning the Salt Lake Tribune said:
    “Romney and Huntsman could even be helped by the pro-religion feeling generated by some positive media, including the highly popular and acclaimed Broadway musical “The Book of Mormon.”” — Michael Muskal in the Salt Lake Tribune 20 June 2011
    http://adultonsetatheist.blogspot.com/2011/06/ballot-box-of-mormon-musical.html

    So instead of being offended many Mormons see this as a great thing; both for their church and their political aspirations.

  • T-Rex

    Dumb, dumb dumb dumb dumb…catchy.

  • naivetricenarian

    I grew up in Independence, MO where the garden of eden was somewhere around here. It is now the capital of the reformed mormon church now called the Community of Christ.

  • LeAnne

    my favorite is that christians have no problem making fun of islam or other religions, but never stop to think how ridiculous theirs is. they’d FREAK if i was making fun of christianity like that..

  • Sarah

    Religion itself writes the material.

  • J.D

    Well, the musical does does include lines about raping babies, a song where everyone sings “Fuck You God!” over and over, a song about how God loves the main character more than he loves everyone else, and a mentally handicap’d Morman that says (my favorite line from it)”HELLO! Would you like to change religions? I’ve got a FREE book written by JESUS!”

    It’s incredibly offensive, but freaking hilarious. The book wasn’t written to go after Mormons, their beliefs are just so easy to make fun of.

  • Valerie Herron

    I don’t think anything is off limits when it comes to comedy. That is it’s greatest virtue, nothing is sacred.

  • http://fryonic.tumblr.com/ Fryonic

    Here’s something else that exposes the redonkulousness of Mormonism.

    It’s a list of famous people converted to Mormonism, without their consent, after death.

    Famous Dead Mormons

  • http://shadesthamatter.blogspot.com Amanda

    The New Yorker reviewed the Book of Mormon a while back, and while I haven’t seen the musical, I thought the review made sense.

    (It isn’t available online…go figure.)

    Basically, the writer argued that the musical is funny in the hallmark Parker/Stone raunch aesthetic, but disappointingly goes for the cheap, easy shots at the religions more ridiculous antics, rather than zoning in on the overriding implication that all religion has the exact same belief requirements.

    In essense, Mormonism appears ridiculous as it is a) relatively recent and b) its “truth” is entirely unproveable and is therefore pretty easy to make fun of. However, wouldn’t the musical be that much funnier if Mormonism operated as a metaphor for all religion in the context of the musical?

  • Deanna

    Today in my local newspaper, the Charlotte, NC Observer, the opinion page has a column by Michael Smerconish of The Philadelphia Inquirer. It’s titled, “Romney’s stumbling block”. The column is about how the Mormon faith held by Romney will hurt his chances of becoming President, but then goes on to point out the silliness of other religions.


    http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2011/06/22/2396779/romneys-stumbling-block.html

    My interaction with radio callers tells me he is overly optimistic. I’ve heard from many voters willing to state their hesitancy to vote for a Mormon, including “Sean,” a self-described Catholic from Indianapolis.

    “I’m in that group that won’t vote for a Mormon,” he told me. Why? “Because I think it implies poor judgment and critical-thinking skills.”

    I think we can all agree that belief in any religion “implies poor judgment and critical-thinking skills”.

  • http://saganist.blogspot.com/ Saganist

    While listening to the Book of Mormon musical soundtrack, my wife remarked to me that they make Mormon beliefs sound pretty ridiculous. But I wonder whether there is any way to make Mormon beliefs sound not ridiculous? I think that’s one reason Mormons can be so touchy about their beliefs. It’s like a guy who always has something stuck in his teeth, but loves to smile and gets angry if you ever mention dental floss.

  • http://theotherweirdo.wordpress.com The Other Weirdo

    The planet Kolob? That sounds vaguely familiar. Wasn’t the original home world of 12 colonies in Battlestar Galactica called Kobol?

  • Nordog

    The planet Kolob? That sounds vaguely familiar. Wasn’t the original home world of 12 colonies in Battlestar Galactica called Kobol?

    I don’t know jack about either Kolob or Kobol, but I do know that the creators of the original Battlestar Galactica were Mormons.


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