I find it interesting that the new Broadway show THE BOOK OF MORMON throws a freshfaced missionary into Uganda, where the setting is supposed to show the ludicrousness of mormon faith and idealism when confronted with the hellish realities of man’s cruelties to man.
The reality is that Mormons are already in Uganda, and we’re doing just fine, thanks.
The Church has a new microsite in the LDS Newsroom on its presence in Africa, focusing on its humanitarian operations and on the growth of calculations. There are more than 7,000 members in Uganda, and local clean water initiatives sponsored by the Church have brought clean water to almost a million people (very interesting infographic here). It would be an overstatement to say that the Church is flourishing wildly, but it would be a similar mistake to assume, as have Parker and Stone, that sub-Saharan Africa presents an easy way to counter the naivete and optimism of Latter-day Saints. God hasn’t forgotten Africa.
What, then, should mormons — who are mostly wealthy westerners — say when told that their faith and hope come because they do not understand the world? It is true that we know nothing of brutal war inflicted by child soldiers, AIDS, famine, rape, and real evil, outside of what we read in magazines or see on the internet. It is also true that the foundations of mormonism, namely the first vision, the publication of the Book of Mormon and our polygamist past, require an enormous amount of faith to believe wholesale and do not naturally stand up to secular criticism. Does this mean that mormonism is ridiculous and that our religion should be disbanded? Does it mean that our relentless cheer and optimism are the relatively innocuous products of a delusion — one that (as Krakauer has hinted) is equally apt to produce violence and discord?
I don’t think atheists should be expected to understand or accept the foundations of mormonism. I do greatly appreciate the social warmth that Stone and Parker have for mormons on a cultural level; they have consistently said that mormons are the nicest people they know, which is high praise indeed, and on a socio-cultural level mormons seem to espouse the spirit of giving, cooperation and friendliness that the South Park creators relentlessly teach through mockery on their show. The recent Slate interview with the creators of the show get a little more into detail on this point:
“At the end of the day, if the mass delusion of a religion makes you happy, makes your family work better, is that bad or good?” Stone says. Some atheists believe that truth is the highest good, and that crackpot religious stories need to be debunked. “I’m not quite sure,” says Stone. “I’m not sure the veracity of the stories is that important.” Perhaps it’s the stories’ absurdity that makes the belief of millions all the more inspiring. As Robert Lopez, the show’s composer, put it: “It renews your faith to see the miracle that all these people believe in this shit.”
That may be as good as we should ever expect.