"The Darwin's Finches Of Religion"
Last night, I went to see part of a rehearsal for Matt and Trey's "The Book Of Mormon." Oh, man. I'm sworn to secrecy, but the set alone is worth it. In a "Spooky Mormon Hell Dream" number, the set looks like the Black Party, with Johnnie Cochrane singing below the Angel Moroni plonked on top of the proscenium. It may be the best thing they've ever done, and musically, there are some brilliant numbers, reminding me of Stephen Sondheim's accurate observation that "Bigger, Longer and Uncut" was the best musical of the last decade. Chris Beam previews it here:
What Parker and Stone do isn't religion-bashing. It's religion-teasing. And it's born more from fascination than disdain. "I'm an atheist that admires and likes religion," Stone told me in an interview. He describes the new musical as "an atheist's love letter to religion." If you had to classify Parker and Stone's world view, you might call it Hobbesian absurdism.
In the universe they've created, random, terrible things happen with no explanation. It's no coincidence that South Park's most famous line is "Oh my God, they killed Kenny!"/ "You bastards!"in response to the frequent death of Kenny McCormickwith no explanation of who "they" are. Parker and Stone's Book of Mormon has a similarly bleak perspective. When the two missionaries arrive in Uganda, they find the natives singing what sounds like an uplifting "Hakuna Matata"-like spiritual. It turns out what they're chantingassa dega ebo ayeactually means "Fuck you, God." The rest of the musical chronicles the missionaries' attempt to reconcile their faith with this place that God appears to have forgotten.
Religion is good dramatic fodder for a Broadway show. Young believers are strong-willed, forward-moving, confident of their place in the universejust the kind of hubris that makes for a good slapped-in-the-face-by-reality story. Adding to Parker and Stone's fascination is the fact that Mormonism is itself a young religion. "It's like Darwin's finches of religionwe can watch it evolve," says Stone.
Well, more frogs than finches, but you need to buy a ticket to find out why. My view is that the duo's view of religion is that it's absurd and a good thing. Their view of atheism is best expressed by SP's depiction of Richard Dawkins and their episode featuring a universe war between different tribes of non-believers.