Commentary: Close the book on `Book of Mormon'

OK, I'm open to a good dirty joke at the right time, and I certainly do not oppose the use of profanity in the theater. However, simply stated, I don't find a story promoting laughs about things like the exploitation of babies and young girls to be funny.

But it appears that I am in the minority, because when I recently attended a production of "The Book of Mormon," virtually everyone in the theater was not only laughing and enjoying the show but actually cheering it.

Now, please, don't get me wrong. I am a libertarian. I don't believe I am a prude. I understand and appreciate satire as well as most people, and I do not believe the government should censor or prohibit shows like this from being performed. And I strongly believe that we all should have the ability to poke fun at ourselves.

But just because a show like this should not be prohibited does not mean that it should be supported, much less given a Tony Award for being the best musical in 2011.

Yes, even though I am not a Mormon, part of my problem with the show is its derogation of the teachings and doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (or Mormon Church). We should certainly be respectful of what minority groups find holy.

I commend the leadership of the Mormon Church for not protesting or making a big deal about the show. Instead they have shown a great deal of sophistication and realism in knowing that if they protest or try to boycott the show, their actions would probably rebound against them. So with apparent good nature, they simply sponsored an advertisement in the program that says, "Now that you have seen the show, read the Book."

On some occasions my job as a judge required me to view pictures of things like those discussed in the show, and, honestly, they sickened me. In fact, I will go further and say that I expect that plays of this kind make child pornography and sexual abuse seem less offensive not only to the defendants who are being charged with the crimes but also to the public in general.

Nevertheless, I am astonished, and even depressed, that this play has been so warmly received from New York to Los Angeles and even here in Orange County. I openly acknowledge that it is professionally done throughout and, particularly at the beginning, contains some fun and catchy numbers. But overall the thrust of the show is something that I feel responsible people should view as repugnant.

In essence, it all comes down to values, which in many ways we are allowing to slip from our grasp. Yes, for example, some witty jokes about ethnic groups can, in a vacuum, be funny. But to a material degree, laughing at ethnic jokes and promoting them betrays at least a partial agreement with the derogation.

And the same thing is true with a show like this.

Newport Beach resident JAMES P. GRAY is a retired Orange County Superior Court judge and the author of "A Voter's Handbook: Effective Solutions to America's Problems." He is a former Daily Pilot columnist.

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