Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Big Love vs. The Latter Day Saints

The Mormon Church got a bit miffed by the HBO Series "Big Love" showing one of their private rituals as part of the show this season. I thought the church handled it correctly: They expressed their displeasure and distaste, but didn't get all outrage-y. I also agree with their position: The ritual really shouldn't have been used in this fashion. It's profane (in the original sense of the word) and probably fundamentally misrepresented in some important way.

Now, having seen it, I think they treated it fairly reverently, given the profane starting point. Troop points out that Catholic ritual has been rigorously mocked, and that made him uncomfortable that this Mormon ritual was used. Did it draw laughs from viewers? I wonder.

I didn't find it weird or risible, myself. And Barb's crisis of faith touches on a lot of what Hector and I have been hashing through over the past few months, as far as the purpose of religions and the conditions that create binding pacts.

In this episode, Barb comes right up against the debate of religion versus spirituality. It is, of course, popular these days to say, "I'm spiritual but not religious." That's a fairly natural outcome of our self-centered existence: It allows a person to profess to an interest higher than the material without most of the mockery that all religions endure.

The net benefit to society, however, is close to nil. Yet this is inverted in this episode of "Big Love". The Henrickson family pursues a spirituality that isn't Mormonism but isn't one of the polygamous splinter cults either. Barb realizes her pursuit of spirituality gives her all the pitfalls of religion--she's persecuted, mocked, she lives in fear, she's blessed with a belief in eternity but cursed with fears about how it will play out--and none of the benefits, as she's estranged from the group itself.

Still, I think it's important to remember not to take your ideas about a religion from a TV show. I'd be uncomfortable with a bunch of non-Mormons using my faith as a vehicle for soap opera if I were a church official.

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