Notes on the Church in Recent Popular Entertainment

Bald Mountain, seen from Sun Valley, Idaho
(Photo taken by rickmouser45, Wikimedia Commons image)

On his Facebook page, the inimitable Jim Bennett posted a nice little summary of some of his reviews of the recent FX/Hulu miniseries. Under the banner of heaven, created by Dustin Lance Black and starring Andrew Garfield. With his generous permission, I share it here >

Finished “Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey” on Netflix last night. Creepy. To freeze the bones. Scary beyond words. Very, very well done. It’s what “Under the Banner of Heaven” wanted to be, thought it was, and really, really wasn’t.

I thought I was done writing about “Under Heaven’s Banner,” but wanted to add this postscript in light of recent posts from the show’s defenders chastising those of us who dismiss it as inaccurate. UTBOH author Dustin Lance Black went on the Salt Lake Tribune’s MormonLand podcast and was only willing to admit that he had used the term “Heavenly Father” too much. The consensus of UTBOH advocates is that anyone criticizing UTBOH is struggling with gnats and swallowing camels because citing minor issues like overuse of the Heavenly Father ignores all the amazing things UTBOH has done well.

It is therefore worth taking a moment to review what the UTBOH got seriously and deeply wrong. And it goes far beyond the silliness of saying “Heavenly Father bless you” when you sneeze or the bizarre implication that Mormons can’t eat French fries.

According to UTBOH:

  1. A teenage Joseph Smith made the First Vision to mark with a teenage girl Emma Hale.

Given that Joseph didn’t meet Emma until she was 21, this deviation from reality seems entirely pointless unless you’re trying to establish that Joseph’s entire religious motivation was the sexual interest in young girls.

  1. Joseph’s murder was the product of a shadowy collaboration between Emma and Brigham Young, who both wanted Joseph dead in order to choose the next Church leader. Brigham wanted power for himself, while Emma wanted Joseph Smith III to succeed his father and end polygamy.

Everything about this scenario is the opposite of the truth. It is also the premise of a recent fringe conspiracy theory film that has been rightly lambasted by credible historians inside and outside the Church. The reality is that Brigham and Emma worshiped Joseph and despised each other, respectively.

  1. The Mountain Meadows Massacre was ordered by Brigham Young as part of a deliberate war against “good guys” entering the state of Utah.

The real Brigham Young sent a letter to the perpetrators of the massacre telling them to leave the Baker-Fancher Railroad Company alone, but it tragically arrived too late to prevent the massacre.

It’s worth remembering these historic howlers when reading articles about how meticulous the production was to ensure that the Joseph Smith Nauvoo Legion costume had the right braid colors and the Carthage Jail set had the correct number of bullet holes.

Beyond the historical hooey, let’s focus on how UTBOH represented the modern Church, or, at least, the Church circa 1984.

According to UTBOH:

  1. The Church was actively and openly working to thwart the investigation into the Lafferty murders, going so far as to have one of the Church’s top leaders perform a religious ritual condemning the Mormon detective and the victim’s widower. from murder to hell.

Because, you know, reasons.

  1. Such is the power of the Church in Utah that stake presidents act as legal advisers and threaten Mormon detectives with hellfire if they do not release excommunicated murder suspects in their custody.

It makes perfect sense.

  1. The bishops award custody of the children of excommunicated members to other families without notifying child protective services, and when those children run away and go missing, the bishop shrugs and no one cares. care.

Oh yeah. It happens all the time.

  1. The Church routinely excommunicates those who study Church history, even going so far as to remove all references to polygamy and fundamentalism from all public libraries in Utah.

If you say so.

  1. Trading with polygamists is grounds for excommunication. Bearing insincere testimony on fast Sunday is church-mandated grounds for excommunication and divorce. However, a bishop casually sharing confidential and personal information about ward members at any time and for any reason is not serious and not as serious as having a beard, which although does not may not be grounds for excommunication, is “vigorously” discouraged.

Yeah. Everything is checked.

Anyway, next time you tell me that the only reason I didn’t like UTBOH is that I just can’t stand the truth, I’ll invite you to watch “Keep Sweet” with me. . Or “Murder Among the Mormons.” Or “Mormon No More”, which is next in my queue. If you botch history and current practice as badly as UTBOH, you don’t get credit because you have the correct number of bullet holes in Carthage Jail.

Nice country
Another view in, I think, around Sun Valley
(Wikimedia Commons public domain photograph)

Latter-day Saints and their beliefs seem to be popular targets on cable television lately. (Indeed, I am reliably informed that this angers me.) John Oliver entered the scene on June 27. Perhaps he was trying to honor the anniversary of the assassination of Joseph and Hyrum Smith by an anti-Mormon mob?

“Opinion: Total disrespect – What John Oliver said about Utah’s drought: On John Oliver’s HBO show ‘Last Week Tonight’ he mocked Utah’s drought response. Utah. Not only were his words unfair and disrespectful, but mockery gets us nowhere.”

While I am convinced that Mr. Oliver has gone to great lengths to ensure that our beliefs are accurate and to treat us with due respect, he appears to have ignored this statement from the Church, which was issued on June 22, five days earlier:

“The importance of water conservation: We all play a part in preserving the essential resources necessary for life – especially water – and we invite others to join us in reducing the use of water as far as possible

The famous Sun Valley Lodge, a few minutes walk from our house, in part of the same complex. This is where Hemingway wrote “For whom the bell tolls”. (I hope the owners of the Lodge will allow me fair use of this image, as in a way it is publicity for the place.)

And here’s a note from the BBC, UK, about the musical version of, uh, The Book of Mormon:

“Book of Mormon: Newcastle Audience Welcomed by Real Church Elders”

Where is Galena Summit?  Looks cool.
Galena Summit, near Sun Valley

(Wikimedia Commons public domain image)

Finally, however, and on an entirely different note, here’s another horror I pulled from the Christopher Hitchens Memorial File “How Religion Poisons Everything”©:

“Perspective: College students have mental health issues. Better access to religion can help them: it’s no coincidence that Gen Z has the highest level of mental health issues and the lowest level of religiosity.

Sent from Sun Valley, Idaho

Jerry B. Hatch