If The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had not uttered a single word about this Sunday's episode of "Big Love," it wouldn't have exploded into the hotbed of controversy it has become. Now, a lot more people are sure to watch Sunday night's episode.
In a statement released on Monday, the Church criticized an upcoming scene inside an LDS temple that shows sacred practices, rooms and garb. "Certainly Church members are offended when their most sacred practices are misrepresented or presented without context or understanding," officials said.
No one outside of the network has seen the episode, including myself as of this writing. So how does anyone know that these practices will be "misrepresented or presented without context or understanding?"
For three years, the writers of "Big Love" have been nothing but responsible and accurate in their portrayal of Mormon characters, including a sympathetic teen-age church member who befriends one of the polygamist's daughters and a not-so complimentary characterization of a self-righteous brother-in-law who is at odds with the polygamist. After all, who hasn't met at least one self-righteous member of the Church -- or any church, for that matter?
Which leads me to the second point of re-enacting sacred ceremonies in a fictional program for mass consumption.
I can never pretend to understand the sanctity of divine LDS temple ceremonies. As my mother-in-law, who is a devout Mormon, told me: "It's like trying to explain to someone who's been blind from birth how beautiful the sunrise is."
But while I respect the sacred nature of these practices, I also believe nothing -- no church, religion, idea, government entity, or leader -- is above parody, satire, criticism and open discussion. Just because one group deems a subject too sacrosanct to discuss doesn't mean it becomes off limits to everyone else for inspection and debate.
That includes a cartoon depicting Muhammad, which Muslims deemed sacrilegious, or a re-enactment of the JFK assassination, which our film critic wrongly opined should be off limits in the movie "Watchmen."
Some of our contemporary culture's most meaningful and worthy commentary has arisen from TV shows that don't worry about offense, such as "The Daily Show" and "South Park."
HBO has no reason to apologize for offending anyone and is under no obligation to make its series the way the LDS Church wants it to. Its only responsibility is to make the most entertaining, thought-provoking and artistic series it can. So far, it has.