Mitt Romney's comment about "binders full of women" during the debate the other night could not have been more unfortunate, especially considering his family's history of polygamy. Anything that inadvertently conjures up images of the young women in Roman Grant's "joy books" on Big Love is probably not a place Mittens wanted to go...

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As the Republican National Convention gets into full swing today, one of the topics that probably won't be talked about very much is Mitt Romney's religion. It's odd that this has become such a non-issue during the campaign, given that a) Romney is the first Mormon ever to receive a major-party presidential nomination, and b) the Mormon Church is the fourth largest church in America.

Wait, what? The fourth largest?

Yes, I too was startled by that statistic, which I've been hearing time and again from various outlets—for instance, in an "On the Media" story from late last year about the LDS Church's "I'm a Mormon" ad campaign. I was catching up on that episode via podcast when this statement from LDS Internet and Advertising Senior Manager Ron Wilson caught my ear:

"Even though the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the fourth largest church, fifty percent of the population didn't really know who we were."
The fourth largest church. I was raised Mormon, which means I was raised with the Mormon inferiority complex. Somehow that assertion didn't strike me as quite right. It sounded like a small man reporting his height in inches, not feet. I decided to do some digging.
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All you other Mitt Romneys are just mass-debating.

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Fear the Mormon robot squad!

            

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Mitt Romney is used to being called "President Romney." From 1986 until 1994, he served as what's called a stake president in the LDS Church. A stake president is the lay ecclesiastical leader who oversees a local group of Mormon congregations (wards) and their bishops. Mitt led the Boston Stake, comprising about 4,000 Mormons at the time, all of whom would properly have referred to him as "President Romney" and addressed him as "President." Not only that, but once released from the calling he would still have been called "President" by his flock, as a courtesy, in recognition of his past service. Once a president, always a president.

(One wonders whether, once Mitt became governor of Massachusetts, church members started addressing him as "Governor" or continued addressing him as "President." Hmm. I could see it going either way.)

I don't want to sound prejudiced, but that past as part of the LDS hierarchy is one of the reasons I instinctively dislike Mitt Romney. I don't know if it's chicken or egg, but there's a certain demeanor that men at the level of stake president and above seem to bring to the calling. Not all of them, but certainly a majority of them. There's a bland kind of handsomeness. There's an aura of being not quite present, of being above everything and everyone around them. There's a core of certainty to everything they say, backed up as it is by the full weight of a highly centralized doctrinal structure. Their delivery is usually grave, as if they're delivering difficult news straight from the mouth of God himself, except when there's a forced, cheesy jokiness that seems calculated to soften the rest of this authoritarian, patriarchal baggage. And there is never, ever a sense of the real person underneath. The role inhabits the man, not vice versa.

The best way to get a look at the parade of blandness that is the LDS leadership is to tune in to a televised General Conference in early April or October. If you don't see a marked similarity between the way Mitt Romney comes across and the way most of the church leaders present themselves as they address the worldwide membership of the Church—well, let's just say I'll be surprised. There's a good reason Mitt comes off as such a robot to so many people. The Sanctibot-1850 is a proud Mormon tradition.

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To follow up on yesterday's belated review of The Book of Mormon, I wanted to tell you about a funny thing that happened after the show. As at most Broadway productions, we were invited to contribute to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS by depositing cash in the buckets that cast members would be holding various exits. When we reached the main floor from our nosebleed seats, I pulled a twenty out of my wallet and made a beeline for Lewis Cleale, who was still in his Joseph Smith costume.

Now, you have to understand that I came to the show in costume. Laura had dug up my old missionary name tag, which I proudly wore together with a white shirt and tie (much to the amusement and/or chagrin of our theatergoing companions). Imagine the confusion and concern of the poor actor, dressed as the founder of Mormonism, as, after a production lampooning the faith, a stout Mormon missionary marches straight up to him. According to my friend Chris Connolly, the man flinched as if I might attack him.

Imagine his relief when all I did was tell him what a great job he'd done as I dropped money into his bucket. Yeah, that was fun.

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It used to be that when people would find out I'm a former Mormon, they'd ask me whether or not I watch Big Love and how closely it matches my experience of growing up in Utah. (Answers: "Yes" and "Not much.") Over the past year, though, that has changed. Now they ask whether or not I've seen The Book of Mormon.

The answer to that is yes. In fact, as soon as the Broadway production was announced, Laura and I started making plans to visit New York and see it. With my background, how could we not? We put together a group of friends that included my agent and got tickets for April 9th, about two weeks after the show's official opening. I bought our tickets early enough that it wasn't hard to get seats for a group of eight on our preferred date. But by the time we actually saw it, the hype had revved up to such a wild extent that people were asking us how on earth we'd managed to score tickets.

The Book of Mormon—from South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone and Avenue Q co-creator Robert Lopez—was the most celebrated new musical of the 2011 Broadway season, and it's easy to see why. It has everything an audience in search of some dangerous New York City titillation could ask for—dirty words, blasphemy, violence, Mormons, sexual innuendo, frequently all crammed together into catchy production numbers—all consumable from the relative safety of a plush theater seat. It's been a giant hit with crowds and critics alike, landing nine Tony Awards (including Best Musical), five Drama Desk Awards (including Outstanding Musical), and who knows how many best-stuff-of-the-year lists. It kicks off a national tour this August, and a Chicago production will take up residence in the Bank of America Theatre this December. People are falling all over themselves to tell you how good it is.

Is it really that good? I don't think so. Did I enjoy it? Yes, to an extent. Was it funny? Yes, to an extent. Was it anything like my experience as a missionary? Yes—but to a very small, almost irrelevant extent.

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But what shall we do with Number 4?

            

Private printing has arrived!
I know it's not nearly as cool as getting a carton of books from a traditional publisher, but the private printing of The Accidental Terrorist from my Magick 4 Terri auction has arrived, and I think these books turned out really darn well, if I do say so myself.

I've signed and numbered every copy, and I'm excited to get them out to the winners. In fact, I'm heading off to the post office right now to overnight them.

But this only makes a vexing question more vexing. Of the five books I ordered, I'm sending three (Nos. 1-3) to the auction winners and keeping one (No. 5) for our own bookshelf.

But what shall we do with No. 4? I've considered several different options for disposing of this volume, but none that I've quite found satisfactory. If you have any suggestions for where I should send it or what I should do with it, please let me hear them.

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Sneak peek! Auction prize book cover

            

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I've finished designing the books that will go to the three winners of my Magick 4 Terri auction and placed my order with Lulu.com. With a little luck, the lucky recipients will have their copies of this special private edition of The Accidental Terrorist before New Year's Day. (By the way, I decided to upgrade them to hardcover with full dust jacket. Yeah.)

Here's a sneak peek of what the cover looks like. Eventual publishers of the commercial edition, please feel free to steal my design.

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Epidode #61 of The Accidental Terrorist Podcast is now available, in which Bill explains how you can bid to win your very own privately printed copy of his memoir The Accidental Terrorist. Listen up! (Or simply click here to learn more and bid now.)

http://www.shunn.net/podcast?at=61

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ShunnCast #55: Magick 4 Terri Auction

            

Epidode #55 of "ShunnCast" is now available, in which Bill explains how you can bid to win your very own privately printed copy of his memoir The Accidental Terrorist. Listen up! (Or simply click here to learn more and bid now.)

http://www.shunn.net/podcast?id=55

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The Accidental Terrorist 30th Anniversary Sale

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About the Book

What happens when an ambivalent young Mormon missionary is pushed to the limit in a challenge to prove his faith? Hint: the outcome is explosive. The Accidental Terrorist is the long-awaited memoir from Hugo and Nebula Award–nominated author William Shunn, based on his popular podcast. Available now from Sinister Regard!