Tuesday, March 26, 2013

I Hope God has a Wicked Humor

One of my Holy Week traditions that doesn’t involve church is watching the South Park episode “Fantastic Easter Special.” It’s shaky theology at best, sacrilege at worst, but it gets me in the Easter mood. South Park is known for being crass (and it is) and ridiculing just about every group there is (and it does). But when it aims at spoofing culture, religions, or politics, it usually has a pretty good message with it. 

The episode begins with the Marshes (who are Catholic) dying eggs together for Easter. Stan asks his dad, Randy, why they color eggs.
Randy: “Easter celebrates the day Jesus was resurrected after being crucified for our sins.”

Stan: “So we dip eggs in colored vinegar, and a giant rabbit hides them?”

Randy: “That’s right.”

Stan: “You don’t see the missteps in logic with that? Look, I’m just saying that somewhere between Jesus dying on the cross and a giant bunny hiding eggs, there seems to be a gap of information.”

“Look at the pope’s hat. It makes no sense.
Except that it was originally designed for a rabbit.”
Stan keeps asking questions and learns that his father is in the Hare Club for Men, a group that has preserved the true heir of St. Peter since the first century. The story spoofs The DaVinci Code more than the Church. It is revealed that at the Last Supper, Christ made a rabbit the first pope. The show sets up the logic, St. Peter = Peter Rabbit, therefore the pope = rabbit. The Easter Bunny is a symbol to point to this. (The egg symbolizes an odd-shaped piece of bread in front of St. Peter on DaVinci’s Last Supper.) The club protects the line of rabbit popes, but the ninjas kidnap them and take them to the Vatican.

Pope: “Trying to tell people that St. Peter was a rabbit is blasphemy. You must admit you are wrong or burn in hell.”

Randy: “It’s saying stupid things like that that made Jesus want to put a rabbit in charge.”

At the Easter Vigil at the Vatican, there is a “rabbit stew” for the poor, where the Hare Club members (and Snowball, the heir of St. Peter) are being sacrificed. Stan and Kyle plan to hand over the rabbit in exchange for Randy’s freedom. Stan makes a deal, but is double-crossed (yes, double cross pun) and arrested. The pope keeps arguing with Bill Donahue of the American Catholic League that ninjas, arrests, and double crosses aren’t very Christian. All in all, Pope Benedict comes out pretty good for a South Park Catholic spoof.

Then (reoccurring South Park character) Jesus shows up.

Stan: “Jesus, you did answer my prayer!”

Jesus: “Actually, I was answering the prayer of Nick Donovan.”

Nick Donovan: “Oh, that’s me! Neato!”

Jesus confirms that he intended a rabbit to be pope.

Bill Donahue: “Kill him.”

Pope: “What?!”

Bill Donahue: “He goes against the Church. He must die.”

Pope: “Alright, that does it, Bill. I’m pretty sure killing Jesus is not very Christian.”

Because of that remark, the pope is arrested with Jesus and the others. (I just realized that this 2007 episode has a news anchor say, “A strange turn of events here at the Vatican. Pope Benedictus has stepped down.” Spooky.)

Jesus and Kyle are in a jail cell together. Jesus asks Kyle to kill him so he can resurrect in St. Peter’s Square and save the day.

Kyle: “Dude, you don’t understand. I’m a Jew. I have a few hang-ups about killing Jesus.”

But he does it, and Jesus appears outside just in time to save Snowball and take out Bill Donahue with a ninja star. 

Snowball is seated as pope.

Cardinal 1: “Your Holiness, what should we tell the world about how to run their lives? …It isn’t saying anything.”

Cardinal 2: “Yes, just as Jesus intended it.”

This was really the only critique geared at the Church in this episode, that a man shouldn’t speak for all people in a faith or that a hierarchy shouldn’t tell people what to do. It’s a valid point. It’s fair to question authority. The writers of South Park have a different conclusion than me on the matter, but overall, I don’t mind someone raising that concern.

And as always, there is a valuable lesson to be learned.

Randy: “Stanley, I’m so proud of you. You’ve learned so very much this Easter.”

Stan: “Yeah, I’ve learned not to ask questions. Just dye the eggs and keep my mouth shut.”

I like South Park’s approach to religion. It rarely criticizes the theology and doesn’t belittle believers. It pokes fun at contradictions, specific leaders, or how religion can be easily abused. I saw the Broadway musical Book of Mormon a couple of years ago. Trey Parker and Matt Stone referred to it as their “love letter” to Mormonism, for while they criticize the some of the beliefs and the idea of sending teenagers on missions to dangerous countries, they also show Mormons to be genuinely nice people trying to make some good in the world and why faith is important to those who follow it.
Last year, when I watched this episode with Catholic eyes for the first time, I wondered if I’d find it offensive. But it was as funny as ever. Maybe it’s because this particular episode pokes fun at conspiracy theories more than the actual Church. But I also think that it’s not blasphemous to take a joke. It’s ok to laugh at one’s religion. Christianity believes some strange things. I can believe them to be true and still recognize how absurd they seem. I can laugh at the practices that appear odd outside of context and weird cultural traditions and the ways Christianity veers off from the mainstream. I don't think that makes me less reverent. My faith is still of utmost importance to me. But I also enjoyed a good-natured joke. I just hope God shares my wicked sense of humor.

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