Being a Christian, I am often surrounded by friends and family members who abhor South Park. They often expect me to hold the same sentiments they do, and yet I must admit that I like South Park. They think that South Park is a boldfaced attack on Christianity and morality. I don’t, and I do not think that liking South Park is a contradiction of my faith or that enjoying it makes me less of a Christian.
I once got in an argument with some family members about South Park. I was told that South Park was evil and wrong because it is a cartoon aimed at children. But South Park is not aimed at children. It is aimed at adults and has a warning at the beginning of each episode saying that the film should not be viewed by anyone. I was then told that it doesn’t matter whether South Park is aimed at children or not, that because it is an animated program that it therefore falls into the “children’s programming” category, for all cartoons are aimed at children. Again, I had to disagree. After all, some of the earliest cartoons were made for adult audiences. The early Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies cartoons were played in theaters and targeted adults. As Wikipedia says, “…the early thirties cartoons never directly catered to a younger audience… By the late thirties, the series had become edgier, and was more obviously targeted to the adult moviegoers of the time.” It wasn’t until the 1970s that Looney Tunes “…began to be edited to remove scenes featuring innuendos, ethnic stereotypes and extreme violence.” The history of the animated program being targeted towards adults is very clearly established, and one must not restrict a certain type of programming to a certain type of audience.
It is true, however, that many children are naturally drawn to South Park and other animated programs like it because they enjoy cartoons. Many children are raised watching cartoons and gravitate toward animated programs. What, then, should be done? Should South Park be banned, just because some children may watch it even though it isn’t targeted towards them? I say no; if explicit documentaries about violent murders and rapes can be shown on cable television, so should South Park. South Park is already shown in the evenings, around ten o’clock my time, which is an appropriate time slot for an adult cartoon. The truth is that it is up to parents, in my humble opinion, to keep their children from watching shows that were not designed for them. It is their responsibility, not the network or the producers or creators, to regulate what their own children watch.
All of this said, South Park is a vulgar show, which I cannot deny. It is also an interesting and intelligent show (at times). While I do not speak for all Christians, it has become my conviction to not deny myself the good for the sake of avoiding the bad, and I believe that this stance is rooted in scripture. We, as Christians, are to be in the world but not of the world (John 17:14-15). Part of being in the world, I believe, is understanding that we cannot seclude ourselves from the rest of society and make nice little “safe places” for ourselves where we will not be bombarded by the evils of the world. This cuts us off from the people of the world with whom we, as ambassadors on this earth, must associate with. If we never watch the news, never listen to music, never watch movies or television, never read secular books or go to public places, we will become alien wraiths who do not fit into the puzzle of humanity, and this is the last thing we want to be. We are told not to be stumbling blocks (2nd Corinthians 6:3) and yet what do you think we become to non-Christians who see a bunch of stuck up and uptight Christians? If one doesn’t want to watch South Park because he finds it offensive that is fine, but he must realize that there are a lot of offensive things in this world that can harbor a kernel of good, and it would be a shame to miss these things out of fear of being offended.
It is my conviction, therefore, to allow myself to enjoy the good of South Park and ignore the bad of South Park. I find the social commentaries and political allusions down right hilarious. I find some of the jokes and extreme vulgarity (like killing a Kenny look-alike by suffocating him in the “humidor” of the bus driver) unfunny and pointless. But I don’t focus or dwell on that. I find South Park funny for different reasons than others might, and that is fine with me. Now, if a Christian can’t get past the vulgarity and see the ingenuity and wit that are often there, that is fine with me too. And as a brother to them I would never talk about South Park or force them to sit down and watch it if it bothers them, for I should not exercise my freedom to watch it around them if it causes them to stumble (1 Corinthians 8:9). But the same courtesy should be extended to me, and I should not be vilified for finding partial enjoyment in something that happens to be partially vulgar.
What is often brought forth as the gleaming pointed argument against South Park are some of the directly anti-Christian episodes. First, I do not consider the show to be against Christianity. I think it is often against Christians, but so am I at times. One thing modern evangelicals (of whom I consider myself a member, though in a technical sense) is that they can’t seem to separate the Christian from the faith. Just because a man claims to be a Christian doesn’t mean that he is acting like one. Just because a man claims to be representing Christianity properly doesn’t mean that he really is. Just because Christians have their own little cultural quirks doesn’t mean that those cultural quirks should be representative of Christianity. I have no problem with making fun of Christians because some Christians just need to be made fun of. For instance, the Faith +1 episode was downright funny because it pointed out some blatant truths about the Christian music subculture. There is very little Christian music, from my point of view, that is any good at all, and instead of sitting here and getting mad at Matt and Trey for making fun of Christian music, maybe we should just get better. There was also an episode that had a statue of the Virgin Mary shoot blood out of its hindquarters, and when this episode aired there was a huge uproar amongst Catholics (but mind you, there were no riots, no church, mosque, airport or clinic was bombed, and no one was killed via a suicide bomber in response). And it is true; it was a disgusting and vulgar thing to see. But it also raises an interesting point; why is this vulgar and disgusting, but when people think they see blood pouring out of the eyes of a statue it is fine, dandy and even “holy”? In truth it is just ridiculous and gross, and there is absolutely no scriptural foundation for considering blood pouring out of any orifice, let alone that of a statue or painting, to be holy or spiritual in any way. We as Christians have just attached some sort of traditional and spiritual significance to such things when we don’t need to.
And then we come to the direct “mocking” so-called of Jesus himself. South Park has depicted Jesus as a machine-gun wielding Rambo-wannabe, as a vulgar-tongued individual and even as a fool. I can’t see why Christians would be upset by this because the Jesus depicted in South Park is, well, not Jesus. There is a reason why the Old Testament tells us not to depict God with an image, and one of the reasons is that if he has no recognizable form, there is no way he can be mocked with images. But because of the iconophiles we have this idea of what Jesus looks like—a long-haired hippie in a robe—and we attach some sort of significance to this image. In truth, no one knows what he looks like, and the likelihood that a Jewish rabbi from Israel had white skin, blue eyes and long brown hair is not very good.
People have gotten upset with Matt and Trey recently because they said in an interview that it was “open-season on Jesus”. This did not offend me, however, because if you understood the context of the statement you would see that this was actually a criticism of the disparity between how Christianity and Islam are regarded by the secular world. Why is it just fine and dandy to make fun of Christianity and Jesus, but if we make fun of Muslims and Mohammad we are sure to get beheaded or otherwise assassinated? Does it say something about our culture when it is acceptable to make fun of anything Christian, but if we make fun of anything Islamic it is “insensitive”, “intolerant” or not politically correct? This is an injustice and this is not equality. Radical Muslims have a knife to the throat of the entire western world by telling us what we can and cannot do or say, on pain of death. When the Pope said some very innocent remarks the other day in a speech, he was ridiculed by the Muslim world and people were killed. The irony is that the Pope quoted an ancient source who was criticizing Islam’s propensity towards violence. This statement offended Muslims and so they reacted… with violence. It took South Park to show us how blatant this hypocrisy is with their Cartoon Wars episodes, for no one else had the guts (or the will) to highlight this disparity.
Lastly, Matt and Trey are not Christians, so we who are should not expect them to act like ones. How can we get offended and upset at them for making fun of that which they don’t understand? “The story of Jesus makes no sense to me,” said Trey in a recent interview. “God sent his only son. Why could God only have one son and why would he have to die? It’s just bad writing, really. And it’s really terrible in about the second act.” This very clearly demonstrates to me that neither Matt nor Trey understand Christianity, and they can hardly be expected to hold in reverence a faith which makes no sense to them. This was most clearly seen in their episode The Passion of the Jew, which is really one of the only episodes that bothered me, because it made irresponsible conclusions based on ignorance of Christianity.
Father Mackey, the only recurring religious figure aside from Jesus, said that the crucifixion was really a rather small part of the New Testament when in reality it holds an incredibly significant place and was important enough to be repeated in all four gospels. Everything in the gospels leads up to Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. Indeed, the entire Old Testament leads up to these moments, for the prophets all predicted the arrival of the messiah who would die and rise again. To Matt and Trey, the Bible is just a good book filled with fantastic stories that should be taken with a grain of salt and not actually believed. How then can we expect them to understand the significance and reason behind the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ if they don’t believe that the Bible is true? Trey said that he didn’t understand why Jesus had to die; well, I will tell you why. If all men sin (Romans 3:23) and the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23) then those who sin must pay the price of death. This is why the Israelites sacrificed animals in the Old Testament. They were transferring their sin onto the beasts and killing them to pay that price. The problem with this is that men continued to sin, even after sacrificing the animal, and so they would have to sacrifice another, and another, and what if you died before sacrificing an animal to pay for your sin? What then? This is why Jesus had to die. He came to earth and while he was on that cross he took on the penalty for the sins of all of humankind, past, present and future (1 Co 15:1-3, John 1:29, 1st Peter 3:18, 1st Peter 1:18-19). The only being who could have paid the price for all of man’s sins was God; no man could have done it. And because Jesus rose again, he defeated death, Satan and the grave and bridged the gap between man and God so that all who might seek God would find God. That is why Jesus had to die, that is why God had only one son, and that is why it gets “really terrible” around the second act—because sin and death are terrible things.
The Passion of the Christ was just a movie, but it was a good movie and a fair representation of the crucifixion, though it must be stated that the Bible has far more to it than just the crucifixion. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that we are to condemn the Jews for the death of Christ. Jesus and all of his disciples were Jews. The members of the first churches were filled with Jews. The point is that it was man—all of man, not just the Jews—who are responsible for the crucifixion, for it was for all of man that Jesus died. Kyle was incorrect to feel guilty for the death of Christ, because the Bible does not condemn the Jews and neither does Gibson’s movie. This is really my biggest complaint with any of the episodes, because it misrepresents the movie and the Bible.
But how can I expect two men who do not understand Christianity to depict it properly? Matt and Trey said in the interview that Christianity was “superfunny” and a “ridiculous religion” story. We can’t be surprised at such talk, for this very mentality is predicted in scripture. “…but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong…” (1st Corinthians 1:27). Christianity will always sound like silliness to non-Christians, though it might make perfect sense to those who are Christians. That is the way of the world and that is the way it will always be. We need not be surprised.
I like South Park because it picks at those open sores within our culture that the politically correct refuse to acknowledge. Yes, it is often a vulgar show, but I refuse to let this spoil for me that which is funny, witty and intelligent about the show. This is my decision and others need not necessarily take up the same position as me, but I encourage Christians to not “rabble, rabble” against the show when it says something they don’t like, and instead either fix those things within our subculture that are ripe for parody—or ignore it.