Richard Bushman: 'The Book of Mormon' is like looking into a fun-house mirror

Historians in the News

ONLY ON THE BLOG: Answering today’s OFF-SET questions is Richard Bushman, the Howard W. Hunter Visiting Professor of Mormon Studies at Claremont Graduate University in California.

He teaches courses on Mormonism in its broad social and cultural context and on the history of religion in America. Bushman has taken an active part in explaining Mormonism to a broad public and in negotiating the tensions between Mormonism and modern culture. An emeritus professor at Columbia University, he received his Ph.D. in the History of American Civilization from Harvard. Among his books is the biography, “Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling.” He also serves as one of three general editors of the Joseph Smith Papers....

Prof. Bushman, the character of Elder Price, an American Mormon missionary in modern-day Uganda, questions his faith, but regains it while performing the song, “I Believe.” He sings, “I believe that God has a plan for all of us. / I believe that plan involves me getting my own planet.” Is that lyric based in Mormon belief?

I have been living in California and Utah for the past year while the musical "The Book of Mormon” has been packing the house on Broadway.  I have not seen the show, but I have read endless reviews, listened to parts of the score, and talked with Mormon friends who have seen it.  Based on what I have heard, and the lyrics of Elder Price’s song, the musical gets a lot of laughs, but it is not meant to explain Mormon beliefs.

Mormons experience the show like looking at themselves in a fun-house mirror. The reflection is hilarious but not really you.  The nose is yours but swollen out of proportion....

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