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.