If you’ve stumbled upon the Amazon page for The Book of Mormon recently, you may have noticed that readers from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints seem particularly effusive these days.* “Life changing. The greatest Book ever written,” says one comment. “This is a totally legit book,” says another. Well, the reason, it turns out, is that the leaders of a Brigham Young University dorm have been imploring students to leave positive reviews. According to the Salt Lake City–based network KUTV, campus leaders took to Facebook to whip up hype for Joseph Smith’s underappreciated masterpiece.
“Hello wardies!” one member of the Provo Young Single Adults 9th Ward group wrote. “Many people against the Church have, sadly, written negative comments about the Book. … The challenge for us is to go to the amazon website and write a positive rating and review. … I personally found that my love and testimony for the Book of Mormon has increased tremendously as I wrote down my testimony as a review, and I know it will be the case for you as well.” The post helpfully provided instructions for creating an Amazon account (and recommended that students just borrow their parents’ accounts if they didn’t want to start their own.) And it established a deadline: “Please accomplish this challenge by the end of the week (3/6). Thank you for serving the Lord!”
And lo! The glowing critical appraisals poured in. One five-star review currently on display raves: “This book is true. It has the ability to help you find peace and happiness in this life. It is another testament of Jesus Christ.” Another said: “Best thing that ever happened to me was when I first read this book. I felt like everything in my life finally made sense.”
But when news of the church’s missionary work reached Reddit, a great anger rose in the hearts of the people. And they scattered single stars on the page of the budding lit-world darling. They wrote:
A trite, misogynistic, racist collection of demonstrably false stories written by a convicted con artist and peddled as Gospel truth by a masonic country club of ancient white men who gleefully scam their ovine followers out of time, money, and critical thinking skills while infusing the Utah State Government and Congressional Delegation with hyper-religious special interest puppets whose utter lack of spiritual value might be forgivable were it not for its complete dearth of literary merit.
I had hoped it would be as entertaining as some of my other favorite fantasy/fiction works. Boy, was I disappointed. Derivative, far-fetched. … Don’t waste your time. Even if your Mormon elders are trying to force you to write a five-star review.
Who is winning? Currently, 42 percent of the Amazon reviews for The Book of Mormon are five-star, while 54 percent are one-star. Then again, a not-unrepresentative five-star review gushes: “This manuscript makes for great bathroom material! … Its soft, silky feel works great if you’ve forgotten to put a new roll on. … Agreed it’s nothing like Charmin, but the economics are there for starving students.”
As Melville House points out, there’s nothing in Amazon’s terms of service to prevent people from flooding products with, ahem, bad-faith reviews. Anyone who is not an “artist, author, developer, manufacturer, publisher, seller, or vendor” of The Book of Mormon can offer a consumer evaluation of the holy text or vote on the judgments (and Judgments) of others. Even Jesus could leave a comment!
Then again, His divinity might be better spent trying to rescue the Holy Bible from an absolute critical thrashing.
*Correction, March 21, 2016: This post originally misidentified the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the Jesus Christ Church of Latter Day Saints.