I just saw what was perhaps the most offensive portrayal of the Church that I have ever seen on network television. In an episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent that originally ran on November 16, a young man (almost 18) is cast as a Manson-like figure. He assembles of group of three young women disaffected by the depraved behavior of their high school peers. The young man preaches a different gospel, one informed by Siddhartha (Hesse’s novel). When the young girls kill three male classmates and then some parents at his command, Detective Goren is on the case. As he closes on his suspect, he finds the clinching clue: the young man has been reading books on Mormonism, including the Book of Mormon! He then concludes that the young man fancies himself a prophet and has made plans to flee to Utah with the girls (can you say polygamy?). Wow! What a shock!
This plot twist was wholly gratuitous. Manson (a pretty clear allusion) had no connection with the Church. Nor does Siddhartha. The connection between Mormon doctrine and the actions of the characters was completely unexplained (and unexplainable!). Ultimately, the plans to go to Utah figured not at all in the resolution of the crime. It made me wonder if the writers had read Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, the point of which appears to be to portray the Lafferty brothers as mainstream members of the Church. In any event, the whole thing left me hot under the collar.
For what it is worth, there seems to be a long tradition of using the the Book of Mormon as incriminating evidence. I once did some Westlaw searches to see how the Book of Mormon had figured in reported American cases. The earliest case referring to the Book of Mormon that I could find was a New Jersey case from, if I remember right, the 1840s. It was a probate case, the the disinherited kids were trying to attack the testamentary capacity of the testatrix. Their primary evidence that old Mom was looney: She was known to read and believe the Book of Mormon!