When I was in college, I performed in a play that offered a satirical look at the Bible. It was funny, there was no controversy, and when it came down to it, the play was actually pretty respectful of the underlying story.
You could say similar things about Paul Rudnick‘s 1998 play “The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told,” a play that features a female God and the characters “Adam and Steve” and “Jane and Mabel.” In the second part of the play, the same characters become real couples, living in New York City, coming to terms with their own beliefs.
When the play premiered years ago, the New York Times gave it a positive review:
Even as it spoofs, in sometimes truly profane ways, sacred lore as a show-off adolescent would in Bible school, it gives off a glow of understanding for the need to believe in such lore.
… For Mr. Rudnick, paradise, or unquestioning happiness, can be fleetingly glimpsed in a variety of phenomenons, from the miracle of birth to an item of designer clothing. And in laughter, there is something like the memory of Eden.
Far from being anti-Christian, it’s a story of why religion can be so powerful.
Why talk about the play now? Because Christians are freaking out over the fact that a high school, Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Public Charter School in South Hadley, Massachusetts, performed a PG-13 version of it over the weekend:
[The play] comes despite objections from many who say it’s offensive to Christians.
In a letter to parents, administrators at the Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Public Charter School said the play is consistent with the school’s philosophy and appropriate for a high school audience.
But they did admit to receiving email petitions and phone calls describing the production as “blasphemous and hateful.”
Some of the messages from opponents also say they plan to organize protests through local churches.
The head of the school, Scott Goldman, defended his students and their work:
Goldman said most of the criticism appears to be from out of state.The play is consistent with the school’s philosophy and appropriate for a high school audience, Goldman wrote.
“Is it the role of public school to facilitate an exchange of ideas on the themes explored in this particular play?” Goldman wrote. “This is an excellent question, with answers that I imagine will be debated in what I hope will be climate of civility, and a desire to understand others’ viewpoints.”
For whatever reason, Christians are calling this play an assault on their faith. Earlier today, President of American Atheists David Silverman appeared on FOX News Channel to talk about the objections to the play, while the other guy on the panel used the occasion to trash President Obama… who had nothing to do with this story whatsoever:
The downside: It was pretty apparent that neither David Webb nor Silverman knew much about the play.
The upside: There was therefore a broader conversation about religion, homosexuality, and our schools.
Silverman made the argument that many Christians have no problem with homosexuality, but many people use the faith as a shield for their bigotry. (I could’ve totally done without the slams on Islam, which were completely unnecessary, but Silverman saw them as a way to make his point that he’s not anti-Christian but anti-religion.)
Megyn Kelly got it wrong when she implied that the ACLU would normally sue over this sort of thing if it were pro-Christianity but they’re letting this school off the hook because it’s “anti-Christianity.”
She has no idea what the play is about. It’s not promoting atheism or denigrating religion — and anyone who sees it would know that.
What it’s doing is taking a story we’re all pretty familiar with and tying in those Biblical stories with more modern elements of society. It’s not something you could pull off as easily with the Koran or the Vedas because Americans just aren’t very familiar with those myths.
It’s the same reason a lot of public high schools perform plays that spoof on the Bible. It’s taking the familiar and making it accessible to all through humor.
We should all be applauding that, not protesting it.