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‘The Book of Mormon’: How to Practice Denial

I’ve been laughing myself silly all week, listening to the soundtrack (and watching YouTube videos) of the Tony Award-winning musical, The Book of Mormon. Its book, music and lyrics were written by Trey Parker and Matt Stone (of South Park fame) in collaboration with Robert Lopez, co-author and director of another successful Broadway musical, Avenue Q.

While the melodies may be a bit generic, they’re catchy and memorable; it’s the lyrics that truly stand out, however. Profane and irreverent, they shed light on some of the more absurd aspects of Mormon theology. They also expose the type of guidance offered by the Church of the Latter Day Saints to members struggling with cognitive dissonance, as well as feelings they find unacceptable.

When Elder Price (Andrew Rannells) and Elder Cunningham (Josh Gad) arrive in Uganda for their mission, the poverty, violence and widespread disease they encounter instantly challenge their starry-eyed idealism. They discuss their feelings of disillusionment with a group of other Mormons who arrived months earlier for their mission. In one of the show’s most memorable songs, “Turn It Off,” Elder McKinley (Rory O’Malley) explains his approach to dealing with pain and disappointment. If you like, you can watch the number for yourself by viewing the YouTube video linked at the bottom of this post; here are some of the lyrics:

I’ve got a feelin’ that you could be feelin’
A whole lot better than you feel today.
You say you’ve got a problem…well, that’s no problem!
It’s super easy not to feel that way.
When you start to get confused because of thoughts in your head –
Don’t feel those feelings – hold them in instead!

Turn it off!
Like a light switch,
Just go ‘click’!
It’s a cool little Mormon trick.
We do it all the time.

When you’re feeling certain feelings that just don’t seem right
Treat those pesky feelings like a reading light –
And turn ’em off!
Like a light switch,
Just go ‘bap’!
Really, what’s so hard about that?
Turn it off!
Turn it off!

The philosophy espoused in this song relates to the Mormon practice of dealing with questions, confusion and doubts about your religion by “putting them on the shelf.” Taking certain beliefs “on faith” lies at the heart of many religions, but this song advocates a more comprehensive approach to life where all painful feelings should simply be switched off and ignored. Elder Church relates a sad story about witnessing his mother being repeatedly abused by his father; Elder Thomas tells how his sister died of cancer while he was buying a new iPhone at the Apple store (her last words were: “Where is my brother?”) and the chorus of Mormon missionaries always gives the same advice:

Turn it off!
Like a light switch,
Just go ‘flick’!
It’s our nifty little Mormon trick!
Turn it off!
Turn. It. Off!

In my profession, we refer to this as denial. We usually think of denial as an unconscious process, one of the primary and most important defense mechanisms; but here, we see it being taught as a conscious method for coping with pain.

According to this song, denial also has its uses for getting rid of unacceptable homosexual desires. Elder McKinley tells about erotic fantasies concerning his best friend in 5th grade, and how he simply turned them off. When Elder Price says there’s nothing wrong with homosexual desire as long as you don’t act on it, McKinley vehemently disagrees:

Imagine that your brain is made of tiny boxes,
Then find the box that’s gay and crush it!!!

The campy production number that follows, where the missionaries sing and tap dance their support for simply “turning off” homosexual desire, undercuts McKinley’s position with brilliant irony.

You may be familiar with the LDS’s anti-gay positions. They provided as much as 50% of the financial support for California Proposition 8, which made same-sex marriage illegal; Evergreen International, an organization based on church tenets, advocates “conversion therapy,” where men who struggle with same-sex attractions are reconditioned and made “not gay.” As I’ve often said before, denial is a powerful force; when backed by the authority of church leaders you revere, it can even work miracles!

Either that, or it’s just plain crazy. Watch the video. You decide.

And if you’re interested in learning more about the LDS position on homosexuality, read this article from Wikipedia:

‘The Book of Mormon’: How to Practice Denial

Joseph Burgo PhD

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APA Reference
Burgo PhD, J. (2011). ‘The Book of Mormon’: How to Practice Denial. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 13, 2020, from


Last updated: 23 Sep 2011
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