The Atonement and The Book of Mormon Musical

I’m always astonished to hear that there is little or no coordination among the speakers at General Conference. We correlate and pre-approve everything in this Church, but apparently, to a great extent, conference has escaped this tendency. Yet somehow, despite this, there is always a broad span of subjects covered and rarely a lot of overlap. This time, however, there were two talks on the Atonement. An overzealous attempt at correlation might have squelched one of these, but that would have been a mistake, as they covered the topic in different ways and they bracketed the conference nicely, one occurring in the Saturday morning session and one in the Sunday afternoon session. Both were by members of the seventy, the first by Elder Kent F. Richards, and the last by Elder C. Scott Grow (no relation to his more famous counterpart, Elder C. Spot Run) (ok, I apologize for that joke).

Both of these excellent talks focused primarily on the universality of the Atonement. Thankfully, they didn’t repeat the shopworn etymology of the word at-one-ment, or focus on the hows or whys of the atonement, about which we have had some genuinely fascinating discussions here in the bloggernacle. Instead, both talks focused on the effects of the atonement and how these effects can become available to us.

Elder Richards was a surgeon, and after observing that pain is something that all experience at times, and that pain can not only be endured, but can even be advantageous, he said:

The Savior is not a silent observer. He Himself knows personally and infinitely the pain we face.

“He suffereth the pains of all men, yea, the pains of every living creature, both men, women, and children.”

“Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”

Sometimes in the depth of pain, we are tempted to ask, “Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there?” I testify the answer is yes, there is a physician. The Atonement of Jesus Christ covers all these conditions and purposes of mortality.

The purpose of the Atonement then, is not just remission of sins, but also to provide healing and relief for all pains and conditions of mortality.

Similarly, Elder Grow emphasized the universal nature of the atonement, that it was made for the remission of sins and also for the comfort of those who were in pain because of the sins or misdeeds of others:

Not only did He pay the price for the sins of all men, but He also took “upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.” And He took “upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, … that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.”

The Savior felt the weight of the anguish of all mankind―the anguish of sin and of sorrow. “Surely he has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows.”

Through His Atonement, He heals not only the transgressor, but He also heals the innocent who suffer because of those transgressions. As the innocent exercise faith in the Savior and in His Atonement and forgive the transgressor, they too can be healed.

These are powerful testimonies of the healing power of the Atonement, made by Christ in the meridian of time for the benefit of all mankind, following which, and as a condition of which, he died and rose again. It is this that we celebrate this Easter season. And I add my testimony to those borne during conference, of the reality and power of this great selfless act, the atonement of Jesus Christ. Though I don’t understand how it works, it has blessed my life in ways that I am well aware of and in ways I fear I am still quite ignorant of, and I am grateful for it every day. I believe the Atonement has the power to truly change us as people, and it is through its power that we experience the change of heart that is required of all who wish to truly become followers of Jesus Christ.

In thinking about this great Atonement this season, I was reminded of the discussions that have taken place regarding the Book of Mormon musical currently playing on Broadway. There have been a number of interesting discussions about it already, two of which you can read about here and here. For myself, I have no opinion on the musical itself because I haven’t seen it, but if those who have seen it are accurate in portraying its general message then it appears to be saying something similar to what Parker and Stone (two of its creators) have said about Mormonism before, which is perhaps best summed up by this South Park episode:

In other words, they are saying that Mormonism is based on obvious lies, but it’s useful in that it teaches people to be nice and help one another. Most of those who have seen the musical apparently come away with a similar idea: Mormons are loving, warm, wonderful people, who must be a bit stupid because Mormonism is a bit idiotic. Despite this, it can be very helpful in giving people purpose and in teaching good behavior.

This message is not terrible, as far as it goes, and the fun that is made of Mormonism in the musical and elsewhere by Parker and Stone is mostly harmless, perhaps even comlimentary in some ways, but it misses the point entirely because it fails to acount for things like the Atonement, as discussed above.

This is a similar point to the one made by Andrew Sullivan, which was linked in the BCC post by John C. Religion in general, and Mormonism in particular, is not really of any use if it’s all based on a pack of lies. There’s no way to really change people’s behavior, in any meaningful or permanent way, without changing their hearts, and no nice story, however firmly believed in by any number of gullible idiots, ever had any power to do that. The power of the Atonement is the only thing that ever can change hearts, change people and redeem mankind, and unless the Atonement really happened, Mormonism specifically, and Christianity in general, is useless and powerless.

So Parker and Stone can go on thinking of Mormonism as a useful lie, and Mormons as wonderful, nice helpful idiots, but the reality is that the thing they ignorantly recognize as “warmth” and “niceness” in the Mormons they have met is actually the transformative power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, working in the lives of those who choose to believe in Christ and attempt to follow him.

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