“The Book of Mormon” musical, a comic conversation between Broadway and religions 百老匯和宗教的搞笑對話：音樂劇《摩爾門經》
▮ Jerome Yang / 2018/09/01
Finally saw the popular Broadway show “The Book of Mormon” few days ago! IMO, its story, music and performance are all outstanding. It impressed and entertained me more than any other show I saw recently. Made by the South Park gang, this musical basically makes fun of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly known as the Mormons. A friend who went with me knew my Christian faith, and asked me after the show, are you offended?
前幾天終於去看了近期在波士頓巡演的當紅音樂劇《摩爾門經》（The Book of Mormon）。我個人覺得，這部劇就其劇本、音樂、表演而言都是上乘之作，是一齣精彩到會讓人看了大呼過癮的作品，製作班底和《南方四賤客》（South Park）是同一群人，劇情的主軸基本上就是拿「耶穌基督後期聖徒教會」（The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints，一般習慣稱為摩門教）的來開玩笑。一起去看的朋友知道我的基督教信仰，出來時還特別問我，你會有被冒犯到的感覺嗎？
My answer is, not at all! Indeed I wouldn’t say all the jokes and satires are enjoyable, but that’s probably because I’ve rarely seen shows in this genre. Instead of being offended, my understanding about religions actually helped me see some very interesting points in the show. And I also found that Broadway musicals are probably not that far from religions. In this post, I’d like to share 3 songs that I found interesting, and some thought on each of them.
(A brief clarification: Christianity and Mormonism are two different religions. Their fundamental doctrines are quite incompatible. Although this show primarily makes fun of Mormonism, some biblical figures are also mocked, as they are also part of the Mormon faith.)
(Another brief note before I continue: a little bit of the plot is mentioned below, but it shouldn’t ruin your watching experience if you haven’t seen the show; also, point #2 below is not for children.)
The Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City, UT, where the headquarters of the Latter-Day Saints Church are located.
1. “Hasa Diga Eebowai” - a expression of “truth” in human heart 說出真心話的大冒險
The story is about two young Mormon missionaries who are sent from Salt Lake City to Uganda unexpectedly. After arrival, they find out that the locals are not interested in the gospel as the answer to difficulties in life; instead, in these difficulties, they always sing an energetic and moving local tune “Hasa Diga Eebowai”. The missionaries find it pleasant to join their singing and dancing, until they are surprised by the meaning of the words: “F*** you, God!”
本劇的故事主線是兩位摩門傳教士到非洲傳教。在那裡，他們聽到當地人每次碰到困難時就會唱的一首歌，《Hasa Diga Eebowai》，配上舞蹈有著非洲獨特的律動感，兩人也在歡愉的氣氛裡加入一同唱和，直到他們發現這句話的意思是：「F*** You, God!」。身為一個對語言學小有興趣的人，看完之後我第一個想問的問題是，這是哪個語言呀？是史瓦希利語（Swahili）嗎？（同樣以非洲為背景的迪士尼動畫《獅子王》就有使用一些史瓦希利語的名字。）結果回家一查發現——這句話其實是編劇自己亂掰的，世界上並不存在這種語言，是我自己太認真啦XD。
People laughed with excitement at this moment, and I could see why – for typical Americans, whether religious or not, saying the f-word to God implies a revolt against traditional religious authorities. The actors on the stage say out loud something that they want to but cannot say, and that’s what made the audience insane.
Although I personally would not say the f-word to God (just like I won’t do so to anyone), as a believer of Christianity, I think it’s totally ok to express one’s true feeling toward God, and even to “blame” Him for the bad things happen in life. Many cases in the Bible show how people complaint or even battled with God. Is God ok with that? I think He is. We all know that one indicator of a healthy relationship is whether both sides are able to share feelings honestly with the other person, even if this sometimes involves conflicts. So is one’s interaction with God. Moreover, although the locals sing the f-word again and again, their emotion says the opposite – perhaps when knowing everything whether good or bad is from God, they eventually embrace things as they are and enjoy the real life. Being truthful about our feelings and directing them to the Creator, I think this is something we can learn here.
劇場內演出這段的時候，特別是當「Hasa Diga Eebowai」這句話被「翻譯」出來的時候，全場大笑且氣氛熱烈，這並不難理解——對於當代美國人來說，不管是否還相信上帝的存在，能夠大聲對上帝喊出f-word，表示一種對於傳統宗教權威的反抗，好像台上演員講出了一句他們一直想講卻始終不能講的話。無怪乎此言一出，全場瞬間沸騰。
而且老實說，當那些演員們一次又一次反覆地唱著「Hasa Diga Eebowai」，到最後你會覺得，原本的f-word早就從他們的表情中消失了，取而代之的是把怨氣吐光之後的暢快感。能夠如此灑脫地看待問題，承認這一切是上帝的安排，這種態度還蠻值得學習的。
2. “Baptize Me” - the connection between sacrament and sex 聖禮與性的連結
This is another song that made people laugh out loud, and probably due to the same reason – it again ridicules religious traditions. In this song, baptism is expressed with lyrics and actions full of sex implications. I could understand why this seemed hilarious to the audience – sex, probably the most secular, irreligious and even “sinful” thing, was employed to describe the sacred ritual baptism! This huge contrast can be really entertaining. However, if you really feel this way, then it’s probably worth for you to open the bible and read it carefully.
Throughout the bible, sex itself is never considered a secular, irreligious or sinful thing; instead, several passages encourage people to enjoy the pleasure of sex – but of course, in a marriage. And not only that – very few people know that in church history, sacrament has been connected to sex for centuries.
There are seven sacraments in Catholicism: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Ordination, Penance and Reconciliation, Anointing of the Sick, and Matrimony. The purpose of a sacrament is to let a believer receive grace and be sanctified. Each sacrament is marked by a particular “sign”, and needs to be carried out by specific executors. In the sacrament of matrimony (aka marriage), the sign is exactly sex intercourse, and the executors are the married couple. According to this view, if a married couple have no sex, their marriage is not valid, and they fail to execute the sacrament. They would consequently miss the benefits of this sacrament: to unite fully with the other person (and with God), and to be able to create new life like God.
A couple of things are worth noting here. First, the view above is held by the Catholics. Christians (here I mean Protestants) only acknowledge two of them (baptism and eucharist), and hold that sacraments neither impart grace to nor sanctify one’s life. Second, matrimony was originally not a sacrament until 1184AD, when it was first declared a sacrament at the Council of Verona. Regardless, sex has been connected to sacrament in Catholicism since the middle age, centuries before The Book of Mormon was made.
天主教有7項聖禮（或稱聖事）：洗禮（Baptism）、堅信禮（Confirmation）、聖餐（Eucharist）、神職授任禮（Ordination）、懺悔禮（Penance and Reconciliation）、病者塗油（Anointing of the Sick），以及婚禮（Matrimony）。聖禮的功能是讓信徒可以接受神的恩寵（grace），生命因此更加神聖化（sanctify）。這7項聖禮都有一個記號（sign），並且有其特定的執行者，其中婚禮這項聖禮的記號就是性行為，執行者則是婚姻中的夫妻。因此從天主教的觀點來說，性行為是聖禮中不可或缺的一部份，夫妻間沒有性行為等同於沒有結婚、沒有執行聖禮，結果就是會因此錯失這項聖禮所帶來的恩寵：和自己的配偶緊密連結、像神一樣創造新生命。
這裡有兩件事情值得補充說明：第一，上述聖禮的規定與目的是天主教的觀點，基督教（新教）只承認洗禮與聖餐兩項，並且認為聖禮只是外在象徵，沒有讓人神聖化的功能；第二，婚禮原本並不是聖禮，是在西元1184年的維洛那議會（Council of Verona，聽說現在是一款桌遊的名稱XD）才被宣告為聖禮。但無論如何，性關係和聖禮在教會歷史上本來就一直都有所關聯，《摩門爾經》的編劇們想出的哏其實晚了好幾個世紀，人家教廷早在中世紀的時候就已經開始用啦。
3. “I Believe” - the Mormon creed 摩門教的信仰宣言
Performed on the 2011 Tony Award stage, “I Believe” is probably the most known number in The Book of Mormon. In this song, one of the leading characters genuinely articulate his faith: “I believe that the Lord God created the universe; I believe that he sent his only son to die for my sins; and I believe that ancient Jews built boats and sailed to America…” As he gains more and more passion, the lyrics also become more and more silly. Some commenters noticed that the repetitive “I believe…” phrases actually mimic a special form of literature in Christian church history: the creed.
A creed, or a statement of faith, is the expression of one’s faith. It was originally developed to teach believers and flight against heresies, but later became part of church worship. The most known one is the Apostle’s Creed. Rather than a text possessing miraculous power, a creed is essentially a plain articulation of what one believes. For example, the creed of an educated person may be: “I believe that one plus one equals two; I believe in the universal existence of gravity; I believe in Newton’s First Law…”
“Just believe and have no doubt!” is the big idea of the song, and also what makes the audience laugh so loud – that dude believes that the Garden of Eden is in Jackson County, Missouri, with no doubt? In my own opinion, I don’t think a healthy belief leaves no room for doubt; instead, a solid belief often comes from doubt, as doubt prompts people to investigate deeper. And by the way, while the song is making fun of the Mormon belief, some Mormon said after watching the show: they didn’t feel offended by this song; instead, they could totally relate to what the actor was singing.
信經（creed），或稱信仰宣言（statement of faith），是用來表述信仰要點的一段簡短文字，其內容根植於聖經本文，主要用途是教導信徒與對抗異端，其中最廣泛流傳的是《使徒信經》（Apostles’ Creed）。信經並不是什麼念了會獲得特殊力量的經文，說穿了就只是用白話把自己內心所相信的事物講出來，就好像一個受過科學教育的人說「我相信一加一等於二、我相信萬有引力、我相信牛頓第一定律⋯⋯」這樣。
Recommended or not? 私心推薦程度
Overall I think The Book of Mormon is an outstanding musical, whether in terms of its music, story or performance. While entertaining the audience, it also throws some good questions on them – what is faith? What is true friendship? What gives people hope? It is essentially a satire on Mormonism, but one written after carefully studying the religion and missionaries. It is a well-facilitated dialogue between Broadway and religions. I strongly recommend it, although NOT to the following 4 groups of people: (1) children; (2) those who cannot tolerate blue jokes; (3) those who don’t want to see how the bible is mocked; (4) those who don’t want to know anything about the Mormons.