>One of my side trips on this vacation was up to New York State, to travel with friends to the Hill Cumorah pageant near Manchester, New York. This big open-air spectacle tells the story of what was supposed to be on those plates that Joseph Smith allegedly found buried on the hill, you basic swords-n-sandals spectacle but with a cast of new, unfamiliar names that sound vaguely Biblical and dialogue that my friend Molly Ivors described as “fake King James”. That said, the production itself was pretty good, with excellent pyrotechnics, lighting and use of a multi-tiered stage. What I hadn’t known beforehand was it sounded as if all the audio had been pre-recorded, and that that the actors onstage were actually lipsyncing to playback dialogue. (Go ahead and correct me if I am wrong.) I actually can see the advantage to this, namely that you don’t have to pay union wages to real actors for the leads. You can let enthusiastic amateurs from your church do it, and it looks fine.
The story, as far as I could make it out (and I’m not going to cheat by consulting Wikipedia — you can do that yourselves!) was that in 600 BC a holy man in Jesusalem (Lehigh, and his lovely wife Psoria. I have no idea how you really spell them and I don’t want to know either) built a boat and sailed his family out the Med, over the Atlantic and settled in what is now North America, which was completely devoid of people. Their populations grew and split off into two warring factions, the good guys and the bad guys, and last two good guys (Mormon and his son Moroni) wrote their peoples’s history down on metal plates and buried them on Hill Cumorah.) So the bad guys wiped out the good guys and then became Native Americans. Oh, and before that last war, Jesus flew over to visit them after the crucifixion, to you know, throw some blessings and mandates around. Jesus’ appearance onstage was quite impressive, he was the only one in white in a crowd of hundreds.
What really surprised me about the show had nothing to do with the show itself, but with what was going on outside — protests. As far as we could tell there were two distinct groups; one with a website address on their t-shirts and signs (including a very large trailer sign they’d parked up the road, in case you didn’t catch that address) and a more rag-tag group of fundies with bullhorns (“Your children need to know the truth!”) and signs (“Ask Me Why You Deserve To BURN IN HELL”). Leaving after the pageant, Molly said to one protester, “You’re crazier than they are!” We were also offered pamphlets, including one which goes into great and scholarly detail about how neither Joseph Smith nor any of his leaders made mention of any meeting with God and Jesus until years after it was supposed to have happened, and now it’s Written Word.
My own personal take on organized religion of any stripe is that it has its benefits, and humans seem to need many parts of it (the idea of a “church home” for example) in their lives. But humans also seem to need group belonging to be superior to others, and unfortunately organized religion can be exploited for that purpose very well. But actively hating on others (in contrast to wishing they’d just go away) is, to me, just a waste of the one life we all have. There is no afterlife, there is no God and Jesus waiting to welcome you or condemn you to Hell. There is this, your life. Do the best you can with it, and leave others in peace.