Suzanne Fields

While "South Park" can be imaginatively edgy with shock value, the writers pull their punches in "The Book of Mormon," setting repetitive four letter words to trite melodies. Aiming at a Broadway audience, they've limited themselves to toothless attacks on such easy targets as white Protestants, Disneyland, Jesus Christ and African warlords, one named Gen. Butt-F Naked.

If this musical had been called "The Quran," ridiculing violent Muslims, it might have had bite, but why take a chance ridiculing something that might invite beheading when you know a white Protestant will at worst only grit his teeth?

The authors are still feeling the sting of rejection when episodes of their "South Park" were withdrawn from their animated television series for mocking the prophet Muhammad. But here, the Jesus character parades in a gold robe, halo fixed overhead. The audience roars as one of the missionaries sings about how Christ, facing the crucifixion, learned to "man up."

Tickets run up to $175, so not many adolescents can afford them on a weekly allowance, even on Manhattan's East Side. Too bad, since Terry Teachout of The Wall Street Journal, a rare dissenter from the ranks of the besotted media, suggests that "12-year-old boys who have yet to graduate from fart jokes to 'Glee''' are the theatergoers who would appreciate the musical most.

Certain other critics seem swept away by the theology of the words and music. Maureen Dowd of The New York Times praises the musical for its message "that whatever our different myths, metaphors and rituals, the real purpose of religion is to give us a higher purpose and a sense of compassion in the universe."

David Brooks, her colleague at The New York Times, observes that the musical plays very well to an educated American audience because of its warm themes of "humanity" and "compassion" embedded in a message preaching "love and service underneath their superficial particulars." No matter that the sticky particulars here apply to Ugandan gunmen who perform sodomy, rape and female mutilation to music.

He adds a warning for the less-learned among us: "It's worth remembering that the religions that thrive in real-life Africa are not as nice and naive as the religion in the play. "The religions that thrive have exactly what 'The Book of Mormon' ridicules: communal theologies, doctrines and codes of conduct rooted in claims of absolute truth." But that doesn't play on Broadway.

Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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