Mythic/Membership Consciousness on Big Love

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the big family on Big LoveMy girlfriend and I recently finished watching the fifth and final season of HBO's Big Love, a drama about a present day polygamous Mormon family in suburban Salt Lake City. One husband, three wives, eight kids, three adjacent houses, multiple businesses keeping them afloat. Big Love's lead characters see themselves as pure adherents to Joseph Smith's revelations, since the mainstream Mormon church has disavowed plural marriage since 1890.

The excerpt quoted below (from Season Five, episode Six) jumped out at me because it contained a perfectly forthright expression of one lead character's mythic/membership stage belief that their religion is divinely inspired, and to tinker with it is to lose everything.


The scenario: Bill (the husband) founded his own church in a storefront to distance himself from the corrupt fundamentalist compound of his youth, where polygamy is still practised. He acts as the "priesthood holder" - the priest - with two other men and his eldest son. Barb, his first wife, feels called to the priesthood herself, something she'd concealed from Bill, as their doctrine bolsters patriarchal authority. She plans to get baptized in Bill, the husband, on Big Loveanother Mormon sect which allow women to be priests. In a meeting with all three wives and Renee, a priest from this new church, Bill states his position:


Bill: Look, the fact is, either you believe in the Book of Mormon or not. Either you believe in Joseph Smith and the restoration of the priesthood or not, and if you do, then I don't know what we're talking about… Honey, I know you have faith in what you're saying, but religion is divinely inspired. It's not just "I feel" or "I like." The woods are full of kooks wandering around in robes saying "This is what God wants." Without a divinely inspired gospel to ground a religion, anyone can say anything they want, and that's why I'm having a real hard time with all this! What is it you want? What do you have to have?


Barb: I have never asked for anything for myself in all these years. This is an opportunity for us, for our church, for a church we can grow together.


Bill: That would destroy a church that's barely establishing its roots.


Barb, the first wife, on Big LoveRenee: Even the LDS church has evolved on present day revelation.


Bill: And that's how they manipulated the truth to cut off the principle [of plural marriage], that's left the church divided and bleeding all these years. Barb, I can be moved to make many compromises, but this is one thing I just will not do.


Barb: Then I can't go to your church anymore. Excuse me. (she leaves)


Family is of paramount importance at the mythic/membership stage, and is a major theme on Big Love. The characters often reference the Mormon belief that marriage lasts for eternity, and they'll all be joined, still married, in the afterlife. For Barb to break from Bill's church - and possibly, from the family - is devastating. And such is the stuff of good drama.

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