Reacting to Blasphemy

Richard Granell wrote a brilliant piece comparing the reaction of radical Muslims to the burning of the Koran by a single crazy pastor somewhere in Florida and the reaction of the Mormon church to the critically acclaimed Broadway musical that presents their faith in a—if not disparaging, at least—condescending light. The radical Muslims reacted by killing innocent people and the Mormon church reacted by giving a short statement.

I want to be clear that both incidents, the burning of the Koran and the Broadway musical, are and should be legal. While neither is respectful, everyone has the right to express whatever they want to say about any religion that they care to talk about. Living in a free society, which is the kind of society that we are fortunate enough to live in, people of faith will have to tolerate blasphemy.

But that is hard to do when someone disrespects, or even desecrates, something that you feel is sacred (note: crimes such as vandalism are not protected by free speech). No one wants to stand by silently when that happens. Despite the calm way that the Mormon church and it’s members have handled the Book of Mormon musical, not all Mormons have reacted to blasphemy this way.

If you’ve never been to General Conference, you may not realize that the streets around Temple Square are sprinkled with protesters at this time. Mostly, these protesters just accuse the conference goers that they are going to Hell; they are mostly harmless. But sometimes, they cross a line. A few years ago that happened when a few protesters started burning temple garments. A few of the conference goers couldn’t stand by and watch that happen and a fight ensued.

A fight with the people doing the desecrating is a far cry from killing innocent people, but it isn’t quite turning the other cheek, as Christ commands (Matt. 5:39). As hard as it is to do in these situations, turning the other cheek, I think, means doing nothing. Not acknowledging the act in any way. Even showing love for the person doing the act (Matt. 5:44). As we do this, we will eventually be vindicated and the act will be condemned by the general public, as it was in this case.

But how do you react when the blasphemy is entertaining and wildly popular, as the musical is purported to be? It’s not being condemned as sacrilegious, but praised as a masterpiece. How can we make our voices of dissent heard?

I came across this problem with the show The Family Guy. If you aren’t familiar with it, let me just say that it is one of the funniest pieces of television I have ever seen. If you are familiar with it, you know what I mean. As much as I enjoyed watching most of it, I would cringe every time that anything religious would come up. Their depiction of God and Jesus Christ were offensive to me. The creators of the show were making fun of something that was sacred to me. The more I’ve come to understand Christ’s sacrifice, the more it pains me to hear people treat him with such disrespect.

Finally, I had to come to a conclusion: The Family Guy is blasphemous. And while I don’t live in the Old Testament Israelite nation, where such blasphemy would be punished by death, the least I could do is not support it by tuning in. I decided to never watch the show again. I wasn’t going to fast forward or close my eyes through the blasphemous parts. I was going to “vote with my feet,” as we say about the power of the consumer, against the show.

And I bet my silent protest has made no difference to the creators of The Family Guy. They haven’t stopped being blasphemous, and the show hasn’t been cancelled without me viewing it. Even though it hasn’t made a difference to them, though, it has made a difference to me because I feel more at peace with my faith, which, I guess, makes my protest a success. Even though it didn’t change the whole world, it changed mine.

How have you seen others turn the other cheek when confronted with blasphemy? How can we better practice this principle that Christ taught? Can we honestly expect to change other people, or is changing ourselves the real goal?

About M. E. Pickett

M. E. Pickett was born and raised in California. He served a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 2003 to 2005 among the Spanish speaking people of southern New Jersey. After returning home, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English from Brigham Young University. He looks forward to subjecting himself to more school in the future.
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24 Responses to Reacting to Blasphemy

  1. Patrick says:

    Sometimes I feel like Broadway musicals should be illegal, but it usually has nothing to do with blasphemy.

  2. Mark Pickering says:

    I agree with what you said. On the whole, I think people take blasphemy too seriously. If they’ve offended God, let him punish them.

    Making fun of my religion does offend me, but perhaps the best reaction to that is to offend them. After all, blasphemers themselves often have pretty laughable convictions themselves. I prefer that to self-righteous condemnations. They just always sound sniffy.

    Also, I think it’s funny how offended people get about stuff they have only heard about or read about but never actually experienced. Take, for example, the Book of Mormon musical. How offended can you really be about something someone told you someone else saw?

    • M. E. Pickett says:

      Good point, Mark. If I did want to march outside the theater in protest, I should know exactly what I’m protesting. Too often, these debates are not won by the person with the most reason, but the person who shouts the loudest. I guess you don’t need first-hand knowledge if you don’t plan on taking the time to come up with a cogent argument anyway.

  3. Brigham says:

    I’m reminded of the story about Ezra Taft Benson (right?) on a gurney in a hospital elevator when he heard the Lord’s name taken in vain, and he asked them to stop. I’ve heard the Lord’s name taken in vain plenty of times and not done or said anything, or possibly even had it register. Maybe sometimes we are not bothered enough.

  4. Barbara says:

    Thanks for the post. Gave me a lot to think about!

  5. Jordan says:

    I think it’s just “Family Guy” not “The Family Guy.” Interesting how consumers dictate the product that the producers sell. Also, interesting how the thing we can change most in the world are ourselves. Liked the post; keep up the good work.

    • M. E. Pickett says:

      I think that consumers don’t realize how much power that they actually have. That’s more an economics issue than a moral issue, except that if we become a moral people, the market will follow the moral consumers.

  6. I have to give the Muslims a little bit of credit. If Utah had been invaded and occupied by the rest of the U.S. for the past decade, we might feel a little differently about it the musical.

    The burning of the Koran was simply lit the fuse. The powder keg has been the thousands of loved ones killed by foreign invaders.

    A study just came out saying that of the 100,000 people the U.S. killed in Iraq, 63,000 were innocent civilians.

    Kill 63,000 Mormons, then burn a Book of Mormon, and then we can compare whether Mormons or Muslims are more tolerant of persecution.

    • M. E. Pickett says:

      That is a very good point. I’m not saying that no Mormons would ever react the way certain Muslims did in this circumstance (though I hope that they wouldn’t). At the same time, even though the action was provoked, does not make it right.

  7. a person says:

    I found this site when searching for mormons and the south park creators musical. Just thought Id add my 2 cents here. As a person who has always thought somewhat shabbily of mormons, I found the book of mormon musical pretty funny and entertaining. But as I listened to the songs more and more, over a few days, it actually has ultimately given me a greater empathy with mormons than I have ever had before in my life. Sure mormon theology is ridiculous, but then, every other religion’s theology is basically just as ridiculous. This musical made me realize that mormons are basically failible people who want to live good lives and are trying the best way they know how. Just like every other religion and ethnic group. I didnt think I would have this kind of view after watching it, but I did. So I just wanted to post this somewhere to see if anybody else had a similar feeling after hearing the songs from the musical. Strange but it actually has made me much more tolerant of mormons , at least I think it has.

    • Natalie says:

      “A person” — Thanks so much for your comment! I’m a devout Mormon who has been somewhat intrigued by what the public’s perception of Mormons would be before and after seeing the show. (Disclosure: I have not seen it myself.) We all react to things in different ways but I appreciate you sharing your experience. Are you a New Yorker? Or just visiting the City?

    • Paul, the convert says:

      “a person”

      I think we’re lucky to get your kind of blasphemy, i.e. “Sure mormon theology is ridiculous,”. We can reason with you. Maybe your or our understanding moves forward.

      It is the emotionally provocative blasphemy that is problematic. Your tone is not.

      Towards that end of helping you work it out in your mind, I’d suggest that Mormon theology is extremely sophisticated. My understanding of the Mormon theological position is that it blends reason and revelation in a highly effective manner. This blend empowers both the group and the individual to the extent they align with God’s will.

      The progress I’ve witnessed in my own family over the last 25 years by implementing what you assume is “ridiculous”, has been profound and positive. 30 years ago, I would have shared your assumption on Mormonism.

      • shell hutch says:

        The theology of the church came out of the imagination of Joseph Smith (hardly a holy man-read a biography). He was a power- hungry and lustful cult leader who told his poor wife that God would strike her dead if she didn’t accept polygamy. When he was “martyred” he was in jail for attempting to blow up a printing press(they were trying to expose him). I am amazed that is crazy con-man is responsible for starting the Mormon Church. And I’m also suprised that few Mormons know their history ( fear and control keep the deception from being exposed).
        Research it for yourself, there are a lot of well documented histories out there. Once again power and money corrupt!

        • Fuzzybones says:

          Please give me something to read. Talking about how bad someone is without some proof is anti productive at best. Book names, examples etc. that I can read and comment on would help. And don’t say look for it yourself because I have, what I have found is hearsay half truths and out and out lies.

    • M. E. Pickett says:

      A person, I’m glad you came across our little blog here and that you left your 2 cents. I am glad that you have more respect for Mormons as a result of seeing the show. Since I haven’t seen it, I can’t really say why I think that occurred, but I will not say that this makes the musical a good thing. In the early days of our church, persecution was intense, which brought attention to the church, which brought a lot of converts. That’s a good result from persecution, but it doesn’t make persecution a good thing. But like I said, I haven’t seen it, and therefore have no judgement on whether it is good or bad.

      And I may surprise you by saying that you are correct in saying that Mormon theology is ridiculous (along with other religions’ theology). I am well educated, both formally and informally, and I look at reality as objectively as I can. When I think about it, I can’t help but recognize that my beliefs are kind of ridiculous. I believe that a fourteen year old boy saw God and Jesus Christ. I believe that an uneducated man translated a book from gold plates. And I believe that those gold plates existed even though the only evidence to suggest that is the testimonies of eleven witnesses in addition to the man who translated them. I accept that this can sound kind of ridiculous. But the thing is, I also know that it happens to be true. As Paul said, there is a source of truth that we can rely on in addition to reason and it is revelation. I’ve written more about this topic here (http://www.mormonperspectives.com/2011/02/24/irrational-faith/) and I would be interested in hearing what you think on the topic if you have the time to read it.

      Thanks again for commenting.

  8. person with a doctorate in music says:

    This show is not blasphemous. See the show. The scenes which are often called that make perfect sense when seen through the eyes of the poor Ugandans. It’s very pro-faith that they turn these “blasphemous” Ugandans into loving people, with the most respect for God.
    The music is brilliantly written, as are the lyrics. The production is also very good, and everyone should see it. Especially Mormons. If you still are offended, then you just don’t get it.

    • Paul, the convert says:

      I really don’t think you can have it both ways, as you and the show imply. Some things are not relative and situational, God for example. Mormons, in general, have a good, long, happy life because they have good, strong behavioral standards to live by.

  9. Joel says:

    I’ve been debating watching the musical. I see the south park guys as irreverent but respect their ability to reach others and provide a different perspective which apparently can result in some level of understanding.

    While it may be a stretch to consider the musical as redeeming, I hope it makes some people look into the Book of Mormon or treat missionaries better based on sincere desires. Awesome to see ‘a persons’ comment above. A friend of mine, non-LDS loved the show and said he thought I’d love it too minus some parts I’d find offensive. Then again it’s south park creators, wouldn’t expect less!

    Makes me pleased to see the churches response.

    Joel

  10. Nine Tony Awards says:

    Winner of nine Tony Awards! I sure hope it has continued success! Did any of you see the brilliant performance of “I Believe” on the Tony Award ceremony last night?

  11. Park says:

    I am concerned how entertainment that relies in part on blasphemy for its entertainment quality cannot be considered blasphemous as a whole, even if the the remaining parts contain good music, funny jokes, nice sentiments and other redeeming qualities. I am not a book burner by any means, but I was surprised to hear of all the Tony awards going to this show, and what seems to be a lack of appall. I do know understand how something so crude can win such high acclaim. What I know of the musical is what Time magazine printed some months ago, and today I read the lyrics to the song with the Ugandan title that, with the worst obscenities, curses G– whenever something bad occurs. After reading the lyrics to that song, which I do not recommend, I did stop looking into the contents of the show. (I am not forgetful that I too sometimes wonder about the existence of evil in the world, why G– “allows” bad things to occur, etc. That the topic is a legitimate subject of inquiry, whether theological, artistic or otherwise.) Thanks for a nice blog.

  12. response to Park says:

    Park, you are one of the many that takes things out of context. If you took the time to examine the whole show, you would see that the Ugandans wouldn’t not see as themselves cursing God as being blasphemous. As an OBJECTIVE (Mormons seem to don’t understand objectivity–and logic and reason for that matter) audience listener, you feel for these poor people and understand their anger and frustration with God. What’s heartwarming is that they come around in the end and praise God!

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