Religion is Like a Penis

I know I haven’t posted in a while, but I couldn’t help myself when my dad passed this along. The Zen of South Park just seemed like the perfect place for it.

The book is almost done. It’s been “sitting in a drawer” for a while, but it wants to come out and be finished. Where does one find the time to finish when life seems to have moved on?

Matt Stone and Trey Parker Interview with Charlie Rose Reveals Zen Buddhism at the Heart of South Park

I really enjoyed this interview between Matt Stone and Trey Parker and Charlie Rose.  Not only was it fun and interesting, but Trey Parker said something that vindicates the very title of my book. The Zen of South Park.

He said:

“The people screaming on this side, and the people screaming on that side are the same people.” After watching South Park, “all in all, at the end of the day they’ll be a little more Zen Buddhist.”

Well, if calling my book The Zen of South Park doesn’t make more sense than putting peanut-butter and jelly in the same jar, I don’t know what does.

What did you think of the interview?

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Enjoy posts on specific South Park episodes.

“All About Mormons” (712) Is South Park’s Explanation of Joseph Smith and Mormonism

I know that on a blog called The Zen of South Park, a blog dedicated to a book on religion and South Park, you would expect a pretty long post on South Park‘s episode about Mormonism. But you’re not going to get it.

This episode is incredible, relatively accurate and an amazing portrayal of Mormonism for a few reasons that I will list succinctly.

1. It totally calls out the bullshit story.

2. It doesn’t actually judge Mormonism’s quality based on it’s bullshit story as evidenced by the kind behavior of the Harrison family and this speech at the end by Gary:

“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.”

3. A religion is judged based on the quality of the religion to its adherents, not the veracity of its story. Mormonism makes it out on the good side of this dividing line during this episode.

What did you think of this episode? Are you Mormon? Can you shed a little light on the accuracy of the story as believed by Mormons for us?

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The Zen of South Park is Happening All Around You

In a recent episode of Lovephones with Dr. Drew and some douchebag who isn’t nearly as good as Adam Corolla, someone called in to discuss the difficulties he was having with his girlfriend’s devoutly Mormon family. After the guy voices his problems, to which many people were likely thinking, “Dude, get out while you still can,” Dr. Drew advises this guy that “if you’re motivated” you can make it work.

When the caller continues on about what gung-ho Mormons this family is, what ardent McCain supporters and how veritably nuts they are, Dr. Drew asks, “Did you see that episode of South Park?” and then relates this problem to the South Park episode called “All About Mormons” when Stan befriends a Mormon kid, who in the end tells Stan that Mormonism may be weird but it works for him and if Stan isn’t mature enough to overlook his religion and just accept him as a person then screw Stan.

This is what The Zen of South Park is trying to do – no, not screw Stan. Use South Park as a conduit for understanding situations in our own lives. My book demonstrates the applicability of South Park and its many valuable lessons in everyday situations like dating people of different religions. In America, a land with so many different races, ethnicities, religions and so forth, many of us can find ourselves having trouble relating to someone we like or at least that person’s family. And South Park has a lesson for us to learn and some advice to help move life forward. That is the essence of The Zen of South Park.

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Read about All About Mormons.

“The Biggest Douche in the Universe” Knocks John Edwards and Being a Phony

I really love this episode, primarily for its central message. A friend of mine once argued with me that this episode didn’t have very much to do with religion. Believing that it did, however, I was relentless about the connection between John Edwards and cult leadership.

Why? Because John Edwards acts like a charismatic cult leader. He fakes knowledge about unknowable truths, goes to great lengths to convince others of his powers and then tries to take money from them by selling them on his lies. Of course, many charismatic cult leaders do not know that they are telling lies and thoroughly believe what they are saying, but for Edwards, this isn’t the case. What’s more, Stan knows it and resolves to stop the biggest douche in the universe from destroying Kyle’s life and messing with others’.

Stan explains that by lying about things that no one can know – life’s ‘big’ questions – Edwards is literally slowing down the progress of humanity. His conversations with Edwards are delightful and poignant. Telling lies, even if it’s to give people hope, literally slows down the progress of humanity – and especially if it’s to make a quick buck – is despicable behavior. John Edwards is the biggest douche in the universe, as any trip to his real website will verify.

To read interviews with ex-cult members whose leaders were not charismatics but who truly did believe what they were saying, click HERE for Grace Lyerly and HERE for Tifany.

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Read about other South Park episodes.

An Announcement About The Zen of South Park’s Revamping and Restructuring

Dear Loyal Reader,

I want to let you know that The Zen of South Park blog will be changing from today forward. Don’t worry – I’m not going anywhere so there’s no need to cry. I am, however, going to be changing what I do on a couple of days. I’ll explain first and then post the schedule.

From now on Mondays will no longer be days for interviews (though when I have them I’ll just post them when they seem appropriate). Monday will be Fun with the Bible day. This may mean different things on different days but basically, I’m going to pick ideas, themes, scenes or passages from the Bible – both the Old and New Testaments (probably on a rotating basis) – and discuss them in ways that hopefully you haven’t thought about before. Whether religious or secular, already familiar with the Bible or not, Fun with the Bible Mondays are for everyone with any interest in learning a little and being inspired about the Bible’s functionality even in the twenty-first century.

Wednesdays will be Quran days. That’s right – we’re going to read the Quran…together! We will begin with the Prologue today and then every week we will read only 100 verses (about 10-15 minutes, don’t worry). I will say my piece about them and then I invite you to respond and say what you thought. This will be an open discussion, and so long as everyone is respectful, I think it will go very well.

The Quran is the holy book of the Muslim religion and should therefore be treated with a great deal of respect. Though we will be reading it with a critical eye like we would any other text, I will not be approving any callously disrespectful or prejudice comments. That said, I think it’s very important for everyone to read the holy books of other religions because it helps us understand other people better, and with the current state of world affairs, I think that reading the Quran is of special importance. I hope you’ll join me on this sure to be fascinating day to read and think about the Quran. Don’t forget to go get yourself a copy or click HERE for multiple translations to read online (click HERE to read the first Quran post)!

The final change in our schedule will be Sundays, which from now on will be Zen days. As The Zen of South Park blog, I thought it was time to incorporate a little Zen into our lives. I will begin by reading very short essays by the Zen master, Dogen, from his Shobogenzo, and providing a few comments on them. When I run out of these Zen essays I will start writing about sayings of Buddha from the Dhammapada and then move onto other texts from Eastern religions.

On all three of these days (Monday, Wednesday and Sunday) I will announce each week what I will be reading the next week so that you can keep up and prepare it yourself if you want to be ready to comment or participate. Jump in at any time or stage.

As for Topical Tuesdays, Around the World Pic of the Day, Movie/Book Review Day and Religion in the News day, all of those will stay as they are. Moreover, I will continue discussing the South Park episodes that are being aired daily, making the schedule:

Sunday: Zen Topics
Monday: Fun with the Bible
Tuesday: Topical Tuesdays – join me and my good friend and fellow author Chandler Craig (chandlermariecraig.wordpress.com) to see our different takes on the topic of the day.
Wednesday: Quran Read-a-Long
Thursday: Around the World – I will post a photo of me at religious sites around the world with a discussion about the location’s significance
Friday: Movie/Book Review Day
Saturday: Religion in the News

To see an index of my blog articles by subject matter and theme, click HERE.

I hope you enjoy the blog’s new structure and stick with us as we begin exploring some of these new subjects.

Best Regards,

Jay

The Zen of South Park Progress Report

I am glad to say that I’m finally back to work on The Zen of South Park. After packing in Atlanta, moving to San Fran, finding an apartment, setting it up with furniture and crap and then a few nights of sickness, I have, at last, begun to sit at my desk daily and plug away.

And it feels great.

We all have projects that we love, and they become such a part of us that to neglect them is like leaving your child in the rain while you go to the local bar. And then beating him when you get home. It’s just not cool – you know?

I am in the very serious editing stages of the book, which is to say that I have quite solid drafts of every chapter and am now perfecting them by tweaking jokes, analyzing word choice and examing the overall structure of each chapter for consistency, flow, and logic. I actually really enjoy this stage of editing because you can see your book go from a piece of writing to a manuscript. While doing this I am also taking notes on the single point of each section in each chapter so that I can properly write an introduction and conclusion.

As I always reiterate, There are no great writers – only great editors.

How is your project going right now? Did you catch the South Park marathon last night? Which episode did you enjoy most. Personally, I love the “Cartoon Wars” episodes. If you’d like to read an essay I wrote on them, called “A Defense of South Park,” click HERE.

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Read about other South Park episodes.

Imaginationland, Director’s Cut Edition, Sunday Night at 10: The Debate Between Imaginary and Real

Like you, I’ve seen the commercials for the Imaginationland spectacular that’s coming up this Sunday night. What’s the difference between the three episodes aired week after week and one long sit-down? I have no idea, other than the time between commercials. Will there actually be never before seen footage? It’s entirely possible, but I wouldn’t know.

Do you know anything about it?

Last week the Imaginationland trilogy was nominated for an Emmy – South Park‘s eighth, god bless them – and perhaps this has something to do with that, though I’m unaware of the specifics in scheduling decisions. Since Matt and Trey aren’t big on pandering to the Emmy-Hollywood-Celebrity crowd, I’m pretty skeptical that the two are related, though I am sure that Comedy Central is interested in grabbing a third Emmy for its most popular, highest rated and most watched show (are all those the same thing?).

I, for one, absolutely love the Imaginationland trilogy. It’s brilliant. At first I wasn’t too keen, because towards the end of the first episode I didn’t see it wrapping up to a point, but upon realizing that it was more than a single episode – and then three episodes! – I became enthralled by the depth to which the entire trilogy was taken and the sensational points that arose out of it.

Imaginationland is about the existence of the make-believe – how real imaginary things are. This hour and a half of philosophical speculation interwoven seamlessly with a plot about Kyle finally having to lick Cartman’s particularly vinegary nuts – How do you like your sundays Kyle? With extra nuts? – is nothing short of genius.

From the perspective of The Zen of South Park, Imaginationland adds particular vibrancy because the understanding that imaginary things – like many of the religious figures we revere, and even, say, maybe, God – are real and can have far more importance and influence than tangible things has a dual effect. At once it provides us with historical fodder while simultaneously affirming the fact that historicity can be far less important than perception. For instance, haven’t people like Superman or Jesus, with their values of justice and the importance of fighting for truth been more influential and important than almost every other person? What about Luke Skywalker – imaginary – vs. Mark Hammell, tangible. Skywalker is more important (by far) and has had far more of an impact on the world. Can we really say that just because he’s imaginary he isn’t really real?

If you haven’t seen it or if you have, I highly recommend that you plunk down in front of your tv this Sunday night at ten and take a look at Imaginationland – and potentially an extended version, at that.

Have you seen it? What’s your favorite part? What do you think about this debate between imaginary and real?

For more going on in the world of South Park, check out my quick question about the South Park video game, HERE. Don’t forget, a review of Step-Brothers is coming later this afternoon (and hopefully X-Files sometime soon!).

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Read about other South Park episodes.

“Starvin Marvin in Space” – An Excellent South Park Episode about Missionaries and Truly Helping Others

Episode 311 is absolutely one of my favorites. The entire episode is relevant to religion, and as the subject of The Zen of South Park, it is central to my chapters on the Bible and Christianity.

The episode begins in Ethiopia where Sister Hollis, a missionary, is trying to get an Ethiopian tribe, which includes Marvin, to read from the Bible. She has basically made it clear that these destitute and starving Ethiopians will be given food enough to survive only once they read the Bible and accept Jesus. Disgusted by this approach Marvin leaves in an alien spaceship that he found in the desert in search of a better place for his tribe to live where they can be free from Christian missionaries.

The contrasts in this episode between allegedly helpful missionaries who claim to follow Jesus but who actually disgrace what he stood for, and sympathetic aliens that do wish to help yet have no concept of Jesus because being good doesn’t necessarily require any knowledge of Jesus, are outstanding and profound. What’s more is Kyle’s speech with the word Marklar everywhere:

“Wait, wait. I think I can explain this whole thing. Marklar, these Marklars want to change your Marklar. They don’t want this Marklar or any of his Marklars to live here because it’s bad for their Marklar. They use Marklar to try and force Marklars to believe their Marklar. If you let them stay here, they will build Marklars and Marklars. They will take all of your Marklars and replace them with Marklars. These Marklars have no good Marklars to live on Marklars so they must come here to Marklar. Please, let these Marklars stay where they can grow and prosper without any Marklars, Marklars or Marklars.”

Don’t miss this truly sensational South Park episode. Did you see it? What did you think? Do you have experience with missionaries or are you a missionary? Would you like to join me for an interview about your activities so we can all understand that not all missionaries are as they have been portrayed in this episode?

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Read about other South Park episodes.

Author and Computer Scientist, Hank Simon, Talks about Publishing and Writing

Hank Simon has been a wonderful asset to me as I began the writing, querying, proposal and publishing processes with The Zen of South Park. I wanted to bring him on as a guest blogger this Monday so that you could get to know him a little better and reap the benefits of some of his advice just as I have. Please don’t hesitate to leave questions and comments at the end of the post and he will return to answer them accordingly.

What do you do for a living?

I’m currently a computer scientist/engineer at a major corporation. I’m responsible for the long-term, strategic design of how information flows across the enterprise using Service Oriented Architecture approaches.

What book(s) have you written? What are they about? How do they relate to your day job, if at all?

I’ve written and contributed to 7 non-fiction books about technology. They relate to highly technical topics, such as XML, wireless, expert systems, and spectroscopy. I wrote them because, as a thought leader in advanced technology and R&D, I found a gap in information about these topics. So, as I gathered this information for a forward looking applications, it was natural to organize my findings as chapters in my books.

When were they published and with whom?

McGraw-Hill was my most successful publication in 2001, as well as a few smaller companies, ranging from 1999 – 2005.

Did you have an agent when you were trying to get them published or did you go straight to publishers?

I was very lucky in this aspect, because I was publishing many articles – more than 100 – in various trade journals, as well as making presentations at international conferences. This experience gave me lots of exposure to editors in various publishing houses, and they approached me with ideas for the books.

When you wrote query letters and proposals, what was the most difficult part?

The proposal is the most difficult part, because I had to get a feeling for the marketplace and clearly define my audience. I also had to defend my book idea compared to existing books already published. This was both a blessing and a curse. I found that the easiest way to slip into the market was to discover a gap or niche that I could fill. That niche is unique in all cases, and sometimes it is not a niche that I could fill. It was difficult to admit that.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors trying to get published?

Read a lot by authors that you like and topics that interest you. But if you don’t like authors, don’t choke on them. For example, I read voraciously, but I don’t like many authors who write more than 600 pages. That means I have never waded through War and Peace. In contrast, I do like some of the older authors, Thurber, Benchley, Twain, Shalom Aleichem, Hemmingway, Herriot, Asimov. And I also like Grogan, and Rowland for their straightforward style. When I write, I try to blend aspects of these authors in order to improve my own style. And, I try to write at least 1 hour everyday, saving the edit process until I have a completed piece.

Are you working on any projects right now? Can you tell me about it (the writing process/publishing process/etc.).

I’m working on a Dog book that uses my dog as the central character, to highlight his personality and intelligence, to show interactions with other dogs, and to use this as a canvas to paint the relationships of people and the dogs that they meet along the way.

What advice do you have when it comes to writing?

Write everyday in a style that you like to read. Don’t try to win the Noble Prize.
Write and create first, edit later. It is tremendously easier to create and then edit.
And it is more productive to write a complete work and then edit. If you keep editing, you will stop creating and will get discouraged.
Plan to take 2x or 3x as much time to cut & edit, as you do creating.
Plan for your first book to take about a year from start to publication.

Who is your favorite author? What’s your favorite book?

I like the Harry Potter books.

If you could write one kind of book that you haven’t yet written what would it be?

I’d like to write a book on “Managing Ignorance” to complement Peter Drucker’s classic on Managing Knowledge. I could see many Dilbert opportunities.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Writing is very hard and time consuming. And, it is a job that requires discipline to remain in isolation while you create. Non-writers don’t appreciate the long hours, and the hard work needed to turn a phrase and to chip away everything until only the finely crafted piece remains.