The Church of George Costanza of Latter-day Saints (from JLO)

I don’t watch a lot of TV these days (no time for it anymore), but occasionally I will watch a rerun of “Seinfeld,” which I still enjoy, even though I’ve seen every episode, as far as I can tell.

The show is sometimes hit and miss, but generally the hits far outnumber the misses. But the one consistent piece of brilliance is the character of George Costanza, which Larry David says that he based on himself.

George is a squat, balding man who says (accurately),”I lie every second of the day. My whole life is a sham.” Rather than face the sad reality of a life of mediocrity, George simply makes up a successful life for himself. When asked what he does for a living, he says he’s a marine biologist or an architect: “You know I always wanted to pretend I was an architect.” Even his aspirations and dreams involve lying.

His entire life is compartmentalized, as well. The persona he adopts in relationships (Relationship George) is entirely different from the person he is with his friends (Independent George), and he lives in fear that the two will eventually collide: “A George divided against itself cannot stand; if Relationship George is allowed to infiltrate George’s sanctuary, he will kill Independent George!”

George spends a lot of time trying to keep reality from invading the dreamland of lies. He swims out into the ocean to save a suffocating whale rather than admit he’s not a marine biologist; he claims to have designed the “new addition to the Guggenheim”; and he tells NBC that he had produced an off-Broadway play (called La Cocina) about a cook named Pepe.

So much of George’s life is fictitious that even he has trouble determining what is real: “Remember, Jerry, it’s not a lie if you believe it,” he says. We wonder if there is a real George hiding somewhere behind the facade.

For me, this is how Mormonism operates. If you think about it, it all started with a simple lie: an angel appeared to Joseph Smith and told him about some plates, though technically, it begins earlier with Joseph’s discovery of a “peepstone” while digging a well (and no, it doesn’t begin on a beautiful spring day in 1820—that was added later). And everything thereafter has been an extension of that one lie to the point that it’s sometimes hard to separate reality from the prevarication. But it’s OK, because “it’s not a lie if you believe it.”

FARMS is probably the church’s most visible Costanza-like agent of denial. They spend their time making sure that the real church does not collide with the fantasy church. Some people have harshly criticized FARMS for dishonesty, but I think it goes deeper than that; these people really believe it. At least they have constructed such an alternative reality based on the lies that it would be catastrophic if they let the superstructure fall.

In one “Seinfeld” episode, George tells his fiancee’s parents that he is going to his nonexistent house in the Hamptons for the weekend (“I figured since I was lying about my income for a couple of years, I could afford a fake house in the Hamptons”). Calling his bluff, the in-laws offer to go with him. George drives almost all the way across Long Island, hoping against hope that they will give up and turn around before he’s confronted with reality. I think the FARMS folks find themselves in the same position: they hope no one will call their bluff but will just accept their pat answers and move on. But each day they move closer to a confrontation with reality. I once tried to get Daniel Peterson to respond to Robert Ritner’s demolition of the Book of Abraham; nothing doing. I was told to do my homework, and then when I read Peterson’s list of articles, I was told that Ritner’s tone was unacceptable for a peer-reviewed journal.

Sorry, but at this point, I’d trust Art Vandelay more than I would FARMS.

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7 Responses to The Church of George Costanza of Latter-day Saints (from JLO)

  1. erlybird says:

    Once again, I appreciate analogy and the thoughtful way in which you present the fantasy which is Mormonism. However, how can Christianity and God-Belief in general get a pass from the same analogy? Is it because there is too much time separating the very NON-existence of Jesus as one man, or a best one man who did nothing but walk around?

    When I was growing up I was told that these Anti-Mormons who published all the literature were devoting all this time to tearing down something beautiful for no good reasons at all outside of a bitter vindictiveness. Now I see that Mormonism doesn’t hold up to scrutiny at all…but neither does religion in general.

    How do any ex-mos stop at just satisfying themselves that Joseph Smith was a liar and a cheat? How is it that they do no make the further connection that religion, all religions are ALL made up?

    At least George Castanza admits it to himself and his friends. You have to hand it to him.

  2. K*tty says:

    As a fellow Seinfeld aficionado, I greatly appreciate your brilliant post and well thought out analogy. It is soooo right on! I know that Seinfeld is true, I love my mom and dad…………….

  3. jennifer says:

    What a great site! Your George analogy is spot on and I plan to steal it. I agree with erlybird that the arguments against mormonism can be made for religion as a whole. Mohammed and Smith have a lot in common, for example. I think both of them were (in the beginning, anyway) mentally ill with delusions that they believed were real or perhaps schizoid, because even when they were suffering for their “message” they didn’t recant. On the other hand, both men used their phony revelations to get what they wanted and to put people in their place. I think the reason Mormonism gets more grief for this is because Mormons don’t kill people who say smith is a liar and fraud and also because he began his religion in an age when people were writing a lot down. I attend an atheis social group and I would say 1/5 of the group of about 120 people is ex-LDS.

  4. erlybird says:

    jennifer, there is something to be said for a religion that doesn’t stone its apostates…oh, lucky us. I also, like you, used to give Joseph the benefit of the doubt…I, too, thought he might have been a bit “off” due to childhood illness, kind of like St. Francis of Assisi. (Started talking to birds and going barefoot in wintertime only AFTER he had caught a fever coming home from the wars.) But as Runtu says, the whole 14 year-old vision in the grove thing was made up after he had been “visited” by Moroni. Once you know that it becomes the contrived plan of a fraudulent swindler instead of a bone fide religious story.

    As for Seinfeld…I curse it for being responsible for introducing me back into television after doing without while studying in Europe. Michael Richards was my favorite. Does anyone remember the slew of characters that guy created on an ABC “Saturday Night Live”-like variety show on ABC called “Fridays” back in the late ’70s, early ’80s? Priceless.

  5. bull says:

    I think that the same line of reasoning that leads people out of Mormonism DOES lead them out of religion in general. In fact, it is perplexing using the same apologetic tactics to justify Christianity as Mormons use. A great example are the Tanners who have done a great service in exposing Mormonism, but still hold fast to their unsubstantiated Christian mythology.

  6. I love this analogy! George is my FAVORITE character on Seinfeld because he is the character that truly has no shame.

    If George had been born in the 1800’s, he could have been Joseph Smith. 😉

  7. I think the analogy was amusing yet sad. Christian Existentialists like Dosteovsky would be saddened by your position. Yes, look to the beauty of the earth (referring to your nice piece about your kids and Texas vs. Utah) but don’t discard the beauty of faith. Just because your line of thinking rules Mormonism and religion out does not mean it’s the end all. For some faith is a gift just as for some loving others comes easier. To claim that Mormonism is false and to spend your time proving it is at best a waste of time. We do not save people from things that truly do uplift and inspire. We’d be better off trying to apply the tenents of charity then trying to destroy something that brings beauty into the world.
    And if you doubt the idea of beauty coming from any LDS theology, well then, take it from someone who has truly seen the darkness and survived a life of hell.

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