Posts Tagged ‘South Park’

All About Mormons

September 13, 2016

The creators of South Park, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, have a curious relationship towards religion. They are not religious and enjoy mocking religion in their show, yet they deny being atheists and have been just as quick to make fun of the pretensions of Atheism and the New Atheists such as Richard Dawkins, and they have admitted to having  a certain curiosity and respect for religious belief. In fact, a closer look at the South Park episodes which ridicule religion shows that they are really opposed to hypocrisy or bad actions justified by religious belief.

Parker and Stone have a particular liking for Mormonism. Growing up in Colorado, right next to the Mormon promised land of Utah, they knew many Mormons and have expressed an appreciation for their politeness and niceness, even while regarding the story of Joseph Smith and Mormon beliefs as ridiculous. Their feelings about Mormonism and religion in general are expressed in the seventh season episode, “All About Mormons“.

In this episode, a Mormon family, the Harrisons, moves to South Park and one of the boys, named Gary, is in the same class as the series regulars.  The Harrisons are nice and polite and eager to befriend everyone in South Park, particularly the Marshes and while they do not want to force their religious beliefs on anyone, they are more than willing to tell their neighbors the history and beliefs of the Mormon religion and it’s prophet Joseph Smith.

The Harrisons

The Harrisons

This history is told through a series of musical flashbacks.

Stan is not impressed with their account of Joseph Smith and points out the inconsistencies and logical fallacies that suggest that Joseph Smith was simply making up his stories about the golden plates and the Angel Moroni.

"All you've got are a bunch of stories about some asswipe who read plates nobody ever saw out of a hat and then couldn't do it again when the translations were hidden!"

“All you’ve got are a bunch of stories about some asswipe who read plates nobody ever saw out of a hat and then couldn’t do it again when the translations were hidden!”

The next day Gary confronts Stan at the bus stop and explains why he is a Mormon even if the stories are a little silly.

Look, maybe us Mormons do believe in crazy stories that make absolutely no sense, and maybe Joseph Smith did make it all up, but I have a great life, and a great family, and I have the Book of Mormon to thank for that. The truth is, I don’t care if Joseph Smith made it all up, because what the church teaches now is loving your family, being nice and helping people. And even though people in this town might think that’s stupid, I still choose to believe in it. All I ever did was try to be your friend, Stan, but you’re so high and mighty you couldn’t look past my religion and just be my friend back. You’ve got a lot of growing up to do, buddy. Suck my balls.

The sentiment expressed by Gary, and presumably shared by Parker and Stone is one that I would hope if widely adopted, might promote greater tolerance and civility between persons of different faiths, and with those with no faith. Still, it doesn’t satisfy me because it ignores the question that is most important to me. It is good if the religion you follow makes you a better person, but the question I think more important is, is the religion true? Can the assertions and claims made by this particular religion be shown to be true or false?

I do not mean the metaphysical claims made by nearly all religions concerning deities or the afterlife or anything of that sort. These matters cannot be shown to be true or false this side of eternity and properly matters of faith Nor do I expect that every word of the Book of Mormon or spoken by Joseph Smith to be literally and completely true. That is a burden that even my own mainstream Christianity couldn’t bear. I do think it is fair to ask whether, in a broad sense, the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith are what they claim to be. Is the Book of Mormon really a historical record of Jewish refugees who settled in the New World? Is Joseph Smith really a prophet of the Lord who translated this account?

The answer to both questions would seem to be no. Studies of the DNA of the Native Americans show that their ancestry is almost entirely from Northern Asia or Siberia. There is no indication of any ancestors of Semitic or Middle Eastern origin. There is no archeological evidence that any of the events described in the Book of Mormon ever took place Not a single city or country named in the Book of Mormon has ever been positively located or identified, nor do any individuals named in the Book of Mormon appear in any historical record outside the Book of Mormon. In contrast, many places in the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, can be located on a map and many people named in the Bible can be attested in other sources. It may well be that some of the accounts in the Bible are slanted, or even fictitious, but there is no question that there really were places like Israel, Judah, Jerusalem, or Babylon and that people like the kings and prophets of Israel, Jesus and his apostles really did exist.

As for Joseph Smith, he had something of a reputation as a con artist who practiced folk magic, specializing in money digging, or searching for lost treasure by occult means. It is possible that Smith reformed after the visions he claimed to have had, but Smith’s actions even after he founded the Mormon religion do not seem to be those of an honest man, still less a prophet.

Does it matter it there is any truth to the Book of Mormon or the story of Joseph Smith, so long as it improves people’s lives? Perhaps not, but it seems to me that a faith built on untruths is a faith built on sand rather than solid rock. I do not believe that such a faith can endure.

For my part, if it were shown that the claims of Christianity were false, I would be obliged to change religions. I could not take comfort in the idea that it does not matter whether the stories the gospels tell about Jesus are true so long as I follow the teachings in the gospels because Christianity is not based on the teachings of Jesus, or Paul, or anyone else. Buddhism could still exist even if it were shown that there was no such person as Gautama because his teachings about life and suffering stand on their own regardless whether he existed or not. The same could be true of Confucius or Socrates or many other sages. The teachings of Christ are not much different from the teachings of other sages and express the same truths common to the whole human race. The central message of Christianity is a historical one, that the man Jesus of Nazareth was God in human form who was crucified for our sins, who died and was resurrected, defeating sin and death. If Jesus were shown to have never existed or were shown to have been just an ordinary man, than I, and every other Christian, have been wasting our time. As Paul put it,

12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised.16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either.17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1Cor 15:12-19)

Is this true of Mormonism? I don’t know. The family values taught by the contemporary Mormon faith certainly have little to do with the polygamous Joseph Smith. It may be that the faith is better than its founder. And yet, the family values that Mormonism teaches are, or used to be, the mainstream within the Judeo-Christian tradition. If one can have the family values without the silly stories about Joseph Smith, why bother with the silly stories? If the Mormon religion gives life meaning but is shown to be based on falsehoods, than then meaning one derives from the faith is also based upon falsehoods. I think I would rather have a faith based on truth.

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Betting on the Devil

March 23, 2016

South Park is a vulgar show. The characters, especially the children, routinely use foul language. (The creators, Matt Stone and Trey Parker insist that children really talk like that and that only hippies and Democrats believe children to be sweet and innocent. Judging from my own memories of childhood, I am inclined to believe that they are right.) There are crude sexual situations and toilet humor in many episodes, and more than a little violence. The show is irreverent and even blasphemous and they is nothing that Parker and Stone won’t made fun of. One might think that South Park is a show with no redeeming features at all.

I disagree. I wasn’t actually aware that South Park was still on television after nineteen seasons, since I do not get cable, but last year, I began to see praise for the nineteenth season’s take down of political correctness and I started to watch the latest episodes online. I found, to my amazement, that South Park was as funny and relevant as ever. I started to see that South Park is actually a very good show, perhaps the best on television right now. It has characters you can come to care about, interesting plots, including the multi-episode arc this season and even some well thought out lessons, for those who care to look. Despite the vulgarity, the essential values of South Park are surprisingly wholesome, even, believe it or not, Christian. This is all the more remarkable considering that Parker and Stone are agnostics.

As evidence for this startling assertion, I would like to go all the way back to the first season of South Park to an episode titled Damien. In this episode there is a new kid, named Damien attending South Park Elementary who happens to be the son of the Devil.

Damien

Damien

He is in South Park to deliver a challenge from his father to Jesus, depicted as hosting a public access cable show, Jesus and Pals. Satan wants to meet Jesus for the final confrontation in the boxing ring.

South Park Jesus

South Park Jesus

At first, all the residents of South Park are certain that Jesus will easily defeat the Devil and place bets on Jesus. Then Satan appears in South Park. While Jesus is a 135 pound weakling, Satan is a muscular 350 pounds. There seems to be no way Jesus can possibly beat Satan.

Satan

Satan

 

Everyone in South Park rushes to their bookies to change their bets to Satan winning the fight. In fact, only one person bets on Jesus. Jesus warns the residents of South Park not to bet on the Devil, but no one listens. The day of the fight arrives and the two combatants meet in the ring. Satan pounds away at Jesus, taunting Him all the while and daring Jesus to hit him. Finally Jesus manages to get a blow in and Satan is immediately knocked out, or so it seems. It turns out that Satan has thrown the fight. It was his plan to lose to Jesus all along and he was the one person who bet on Jesus to win. Satan taunts the people of South Park for their foolishness and then returns to Hell wealthier from his winnings.

This is a silly story and the portrayals of both Jesus and Satan owe more to popular culture conceptions than to Christian scripture or traditions. After all, Jesus was a carpenter by trade and his associates were working class men. He was hardly likely to be the effeminate wimp that He is all too often imagined to be. The episode does have a moral that Christians ought to consider. A lot of times, people are betting on the Devil to win.

The final conflict between the forces of good and evil is not going to be in a boxing ring and Satan is not going to take a dive. The book of Revelation is full of confusing symbolism that Christians have been arguing about for centuries, but the end is quite clear, Jesus wins.

The real Jesus

The real Jesus

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. 12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns.He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God.14 The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. 15 Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:

king of kings and lord of lords.

17 And I saw an angel standing in the sun, who cried in a loud voice to all the birds flying in midair, “Come, gather together for the great supper of God, 18 so that you may eat the flesh of kings, generals, and the mighty, of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all people, free and slave,great and small.”

19 Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to wage war against the rider on the horse and his army. 20 But the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who had performed the signs on its behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped its image.The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur.21 The rest were killed with the sword coming out of the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves on their flesh.

And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time. (Rev. 19:11-20:3)

When I say that there are many Christians who are betting on the Devil to win, I do not mean, of course, that there are people who believe that Satan is going to defeat Heaven and rule the universe. I am referring to a certain lack of faith that God will overcome all of our difficulties in the end. People who are worried about the economy or terrorism, or declining morals, or even their own personal problems , are, in a way, betting that the Devil is winning. We must have faith that God as the Author of history has a plan for the world and for each one of us. Whatever our personal or national difficulties, we must not lose faith that Jesus will win in the end and His will will be done. As Jesus himself has commanded us.

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[e]?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:25-34)

So stop worrying and betting on the Devil.

Scientology Book Author Reveals Church’s Inner Workings

July 31, 2011

From Yahoo News and Reuters. Janet Reitman has written a book on the mysterious and somewhat frightening Scientology cult titled Inside Scientology. They really don’t like negative publicity so I imagine that researching this book must have been at least a little dangerous. Of course I don’t think they still break into offices but you never know. L. Ron Hubbard’s  paramilitary organization SeaOrg is still in business.

Judging from this interview though, I am not sure that Ms. Reitman has revealed anything particularly new or surprising to those who already know about this cult. We already knew they were more of a business than an actual religion, that they attract not too bright celebrities to improve their public image, etc. Here are some excerpts

A: Is Scientology still a big religion in celebrity circles?

Reitman: I totally think that celebrity Scientologists are hesitant to be public about it these days, but I don’t think they’ve ever had as many celebrities as people think. There are really very few. Cruise is a big celebrity. Travolta is a long-time celebrity. Jenna Elfman had a TV show, but most of these people aren’t huge celebrities. Kabbalah has gotten the superstars. Demi Moore, Ashton Kutcher, Madonna — those are big stars.

Q: How effective has Cruise been as the public face of Scientology?

A: I don’t believe he’s been an effective face in terms of getting new members, but he’s been very effective in terms of getting the existing members excited. There was a specific strategy in place to make Cruise into the model Scientologist. It was a promotional strategy and it’s been good and bad.

Existing members are not necessarily aware of how the church is perceived. They are told they should not read newspapers, they would not have watched the “South Park” episode that makes fun of them, and they would not have read the magazine article that became the basis for my book. So from their viewpoint, Cruise’s behavior would be perceived completely differently than what we see. It would have made them really excited to see him jumping on Oprah’s couch.

 

Q: Why do you think Scientology remains so controversial?

A: I think it has to do with its history of secrecy and also its history of litigiousness. I do think that’s changed slightly. In so many ways it tries to not be so secretive anymore. It tries to be less aggressive than it was in the past. You don’t see them filing those giant lawsuits any longer. I think it’s a residual effect. They pled guilt to conspiracy once. They conducted a domestic espionage operation. And you have all these people who left the church coming out about their experience.

Q: What shocked you the most about Scientology?

A: I didn’t expect to find out how much of a business they were. They are almost like a multi-level marketing firm. They have a very shrewd marketing sense. They are drilled on how to sell. They use a book written by a car salesman that talks about sure-fire sales techniques and it shows you how to close the deal. It’s an essential part of their training.

I think that L. Ron Hubbard’s death might have caused them to mellow a little, along with the very negative publicity when the details of more of their more unsavory and illegal actions came out.

I am not sure I will get around to reading this book. I already know enough about Scientology. On the other hand, if I discover hundreds of one star reviews on Amazon.com that were obviously written by the kool-aide drinkers, I might just buy it out of spite.

 

 


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