Cartman Wants to Feel Jesus’ Salvation All Over His Face in South Park Episode 709, “Christian Rock Hard”

As an episode about South Park exploiting the Christian music industry in order to win a bet with Kyle, you can only imagine how much I love “Christian Rock Hard.”

So, now you know the premise, and what’s left to enjoy are Cartman’s experiences creating his awesome band. By taking the lyrics from old songs and replacing key words with Jesus, we’re left with a series of sensual, sexual and disturbing song about Cartman and Jesus. The songs also have great names that recall issues like salvation, crucifixion, sin and forgiveness. The names of the other Christian rock bands, like “Trinity,” also speak to South Park‘s amusing understanding of Christianity.

At Christfest, where Cartman hopes his band will perform, there is a stand selling bibles and another selling items with your favorite psalm printed on them. A particularly hilarious scene is when Cartman and the band are in the record company’s president’s office about to have their band signed. Cartman challenges God to strike him with lightening if he is being insincere about his love of Jesus. Butters scoots away.

In the meantime, in addition to mocking Christian rock and Cartman’s exploitation of evangelical Christians everywhere, the show comments on a social issue prevalent at the time: downloading big bands’ music from Napster and the internet. This lambasting of Metallica and others for their self-obsession, greediness, conceit and lack of interest in the music when compared to the money is both blatant and, I’d say, deserved. Sure, musicians have a right to protect their music – it is theirs after all – but to try to stand in the way of what, we can see 6 years later, is an unstoppable progression in the way music is acquired and listened to, is foolish and short-sighted.

What did you think about this episode? What was your favorite part?

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Fun with the Bible: Jesus as the Passover Sacrifice in the New Testament Gospel of John

My latest column in the Nashville Free Press is all about Passover and Easter and what that means for Jesus being John’s Lamb of God. Enjoy “Lamb – It’s What’s For Dinner.”

If you liked that then you’ll also enjoy my previous post, The Synoptic Gospels and John Crucify Jesus on Different Days – Want to Know Why?

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Santa Goes to Iraq and Jesus Dies in an Amazing South Park Christmas Episode, “Red Sleigh Down,” (618)

Boy, is Comedy Central getting us in the Holiday Spirit by airing some great South Park Christmas episodes, beginning tonight with “Red Sleigh Down,” perhaps one of the most brilliantly conceived and executed 23 minutes of satire ever to have been created in the history of satire. Do you think that’s saying a lot? I certainly do. Take it as a sign that you’re not going to want to miss this episode.

Santa goes to Iraq in order to spread the Christmas spirit to a part of the world sorely in need of some holiday cheer, but Iraqis, uninterested in his western capitalism and false promises, shoot his sleigh out of the air, take him into their lair, and torture him in an excruciating fashion.

The boys and Mr. Hankey (everyone’s favorite Holiday Season icon), in an attempt to rescue Santa, locate Jesus. Jesus takes them all to Iraq where they burst into the militants’ compound and save old Saint Nick. However, on the way out of the compound, Jesus is shot and killed. That’s right. Jesus is killed on his birthday. Jesus died to save Santa, making Christmas a day on which we should remember how Jesus died in order to save us. The theological implications and real world scenario derived from Christian theology make this a sensational episode – among other hilarious and disturbing moments.

Rather than flee Iraq, Santa steers his sleigh back towards Baghdad and shoots missiles at the capital city; these missiles don’t actually destroy anything, but rather, they explode as holiday decorations, presents and cheer.

What an amazing episode, and boy do I hope you watch it. What did you think of the episode? What was your favorite part?

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Fun with the Bible: The Synoptic Gospels and John Crucify Jesus on Different Days – Want to Know Why?

What!? The gospels have contradictory stories?! Yes, I’m afraid it’s true. Now, I’m not going to do all of the legwork for you – you’ll have to read through the stories (at least the key parts at the end) to see for yourself what’s going on – but I will tell you what’s written and, as briefly as possible, what it means.

The Synoptic Gospels are Matthew, Mark and Luke, which are all telling effectively the same story. In their story, there is a Last Supper (you remember – Jesus gives out the bread…’my body’ … etc.), and that Last Supper is what Jewish holiday meal? Passover. Correct! So, Passover is the same day every year: the night of the 14th of the month of Nissan. That means that the next day, the 15th of Nissan, Jesus is crucified (making the 15th a Friday, right?), and then he is resurrected on Sunday the 17th (three days later – Bible counts each of the days whether it’s whole or not).

You with me?

Now, in John, there is a symbolism different than in the Synoptic Gospels: there is no Last Supper (well, at least not an important one that’s mentioned and thought to be Passover), and Jesus is actually crucified on the 14th of Nissan (which is thus, in this story, a Friday) and resurrected on Sunday, which in this story is the 16th of Nissan. But why different dates?

Well, on the 14th of Nissan, during the day, Jews would sacrifice the lamb that was then eaten that night during Passover (an important ritual we won’t get into here). The lamb was always sacrificed on that day, the 14th of Nissan, and the Passover meal eaten that night. For John, Jesus was the Lamb of God (no other gospel uses this language) and John wanted Jesus to be the Passover sacrifice – the ultimate sacrifice that atoned for our sins (which is mostly the purpose of sacrifice – atoning).

John felt this symbolism stood above all else in importance – making Jesus the ultimate passover sacrifice – and so he crucifies Jesus on Friday, the 14th of Nissan. However, considering the Last Supper, as the Passover meal that had the symbolism of the bread and wine as Jesus’ body and blood, to be of utmost importance, the writers of Matthew, Mark and Luke made Jesus’ crucifixion the following day, Friday the 15th of Nissan (since the Passover meal is always the night of the 14th).

Pretty crazy and cool, huh? Today, the symbolism of either gospel is used to create a much larger theology though the dating ultimately makes the two stories irreconcilable with their portrayal of facts. Fascinating theology but impossible factually. Which one is true? We’ll never know, but both are holy canon in Christianity and considered to be 100% accurate.

What do you think? Did you go read for yourself and see? Is anything unclear or would you like to know more? Please just ask – the fascinating literature surrounding these facts in the first few centuries after Jesus (and the simultaneous development of Judaism and its understanding of Passover) is incredible.

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Quran Day: The Cow 21-29 Speaks of Allah’s Omniscience and Other Qualities

God’s Characteristics

I was struck throughout these 9 verses by the flurry of ways that Allah, as He’s portrayed here in the Quran, reflects issues that the biblical reader will notice immediately. Then suddenly, at the end, there’s a huge difference (a difference that a biblical reader, though not necessarily a religious Christian or Jew, might notice).

In verse 29 of the Cow, we learn that God is omniscient; that is, he has knowledge of everything. Though predictable that the Quran would make sure to let us know this seemingly obvious fact, it is noteworthy that the Bible doesn’t actually tell us this about God.

Jews and Christians will insist that God is omniscient – after all, how could He not be? – but show me where it says that in the Bible. It doesn’t. The Jewish and Christian conception of God that developed in the centuries surrounding the year 0 was one of an omniscient and omnipotent deity, but God was not always thought of like this. In fact, there are instances in the Bible where we see that God just doesn’t know certain things (in Gen. 3 He has to look for Adam and Eve and calls to them because He doesn’t know where they are).

My point is that by the seventh century and the development of Islam, the concept of God in monotheistic traditions had developed in such a way that God was quite obviously omniscient, as the Quran states outright. God, we learn in these verses, is also the creator and the controller of nature.

Covenant?

One point I would love to understand better in these verses is from 27, when God’s “covenant” is spoken of. A covenant was a two-party agreement in the Ancient Near Eastern world, and either the word is being used generally or I’m having some trouble with it. Can anyone tell me what the Arabic word is?

Usually a covenant is not God’s, per se, but God’s covenant with person x. Is it implied that this is God’s covenant with mankind or individuals? Is this common language and should we understand what is being said?

Man as Creation’s Culmination

It seems a bit unfair of me to compare everything in the Quran to the Bible but as one who has studied that text and since the Bible is known to the Quran, I feel justified making such comparisons. Verse 29, that God made all that lies within the earth for you, is an interesting combination of the two creation stories in the Bible.

In Genesis 1, everything is created and human beings (not Adam and Eve) are the final creations: they are the culmination of creation. In Genesis 2, a different creation story (just read them and you’ll see that they are two different tales) tells us that man is created, and then everything else is created for him to enjoy.

These two different ideas – man as culmination of creation and as the catalyst for additional creation – seem to be harmonized in the Quranic verse, “God made for you all that lies within the earth.”

What do these verses make you think about? The notion of resurrection is also present in these verses? What is the Muslim understanding of resurrection? Are there any notions here about God that you find are the same as or different from those expressed in the Bible?

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The Cow 21-29

21. So, O you people, adore your Lord who created you, as He did those before you, that you could take heed for yourself and fear Him. 22. Who made the earth a bed for you, the sky a canopy, and sends forth rain from the skies that fruits may grow – your good and sustenance. So do not make another the equal of God knowingly. 23. If you are in doubt of what We have revealed to Our votary, then bring a Surah like this, and call any witness, apart from God, you like, if you are truthful. 24. But if you cannot as indeed you cannot, then guard yourslves against the Fire whose fuel is men and rocks, which has been prepared for the infidels. 25. Announce to those who believe and have done good deeds, glad tidings of gardens under which rivers flow, and where, when they eat the fruits that grow, they will say: “Indeed they are the same as we were given before,” so like in semblance the food would be. And they shall have fair spouses there, and live there abidingly. 26. God is not loath to advance the similitude of a gnat or a being more contemptible; and those who believe know whatever is from the Lord is true. But those who disbelieve say: “What does God mean by this parable?” He causes some to err this way and some He guides; yet He turns away none but those who trangress, 27. Who, having sealed it, break God’s covenant, dividing what He ordained cohered; and those who spread discord in the land will suffer assuredly. 28. Then how can you disbelieve in God? He gave you life when you were dead. He will make you die again then bring you back to life: To Him then you will return. 29. He made for you all that lies within the earth, then turning to the firmament He proportioned several skies; He has knowledge of every thing.

Fun with the Bible: Philippians 4:8 and Paul’s Understanding of What is Right

The Basics

Philippians 4:8 reads: “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

People love to quote this verse of the Bible. I see it all the time on Facebook profiles, but to be fair, it’s a great verse.

The plain sense of this verse in isolation tells us quite simply that we should think about that which is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable and worthy of praise. Seems simple enough. Don’t turn your mind to evil things – think only of what is right and good. A pure mind leads to a pure heart and a pure body. It’s a simple exhortation about walking the right path and being good people. That’s a wonderful message to send others.

The Context

But, as I’ve been known to say, there’s a lot more to any biblical verse than the line itself – there are all of the lines around it, which we call context. Let’s just read the very next line, which says, “Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.” Now, when we put these two lines together, we’re getting a little bit closer to what Paul meant.

The context for this letter is that Paul, the architect of Christianity, is in jail (we’re unsure where), and the people of Philippi have written sending him a gift and their best wishes. Paul is writing back, and though his letter is generally lighter and spirited, he has a concern: other people preaching the gospel different from his message.

Reading the letter to the Philippians in full – the context, obviously, of verse 4:8 – we learn that these other people have a different concept of righteousness than Paul, one based on law and not, as Paul would have it, on Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection (what Jesus himself wanted we won’t get into now). This conflict between the early followers of Jesus was quite a serious one and wasn’t over until after Paul’s death. What we see, though, is that there is a competition between Jesus’ followers to convert people to their version of belief in him. Paul wants to ensure that the people he converted to Christianity maintain his brand of Christianity. When Paul says in 4:8 to act and think on these things, he knows what true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable and worthy of praise things are: the things he’s taught the Philippians.

A Dual Lesson

So what can we take away from this? In the first place, we learn about the importance of reading in context if we want to understand what a line of the Bible means the way it was originally written. People love this line – as they should – but I imagine that it’s rarely thought about just as Paul thought about it. Though Paul’s theology was still developing at this point, he meant something very specific when he exhorted people to meditate on what was just and good, etc. – he meant, among other things, Pauline Christology.

As luck would have it, no one in the world (or at least no founded church that I’m aware of) follows Pauline Christology exactly. Yes, Christianity today is descended from Pauline Christological conceptions and Paul definitely won his battle with the early Judeo-Christians who favored the law, but there has been significant development since then in Christological thought. If we read all of Paul’s letters start to finish and create a theology precisely on what he said, this becomes rather apparent.

In part, the result of this has been the cherry-picking of certain lines from the Pauline letters, particularly Philippians 4:8, a favorite amongst many. On the one hand, this process ignores what I see as a fascinating history that for me, deeply enriches the original text and this line, but on the other hand, doing this allows Christians – and non-Christians, for that matter – to take the very best gems of Paul’s thought and carry them around in their pockets for use when necessary.

If people walk around telling themselves to think about that which is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable and worthy of praise – and they don’t have a warped conception of what these terms refer to but just use it as a reminder when they are thinking about doing something they really shouldn’t – then I couldn’t be happier that the Bible is influencing them in positive ways.

What do you think of this verse? What do you think about the context of the verse? Have you been told that the verse means something else? Was this something else explained to you with the verse’s surrounding context or as an individual line? Will you share that with us? If your denomination understands this verse a certain way will you please tell us about that? I would be delighted to learn more.

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Zen Talk: Dogen’s “The Issue at Hand” Waxes about Being As Is

“Kindling becomes ash, and cannot become kindling again. However, we should not see the ash as after and the kindling as before. Know that kindling abides in the normative state of kindling, and though it has a before and after, the realms of before and after are disconnected. Ash, in the normative state of ash, has before and after. Just as that kindling, after having become ash, does not again become kindling, so after dying a person does not become alive again. This being the case, not saying that life becomes death is an established custom in Buddhism – therefore it is called unborn. That death does not become life is an established teaching of the Buddha; therefore we say imperishable. Life is an individual temporal state, death is an individual temporal state. It is like winter and spring – we don’t think winter becomes spring, we don’t say spring becomes summer.”

These words from Dogen’s Shobogenzo essay, “The Issue at Hand,” reassure me not only about the nature of time but also about the nature of life and death. The notion of individual temporal states removes the usual power that the idea of death has.

I have never been particularly scared of death. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t want to die and when confronted with the prospect of immediate death I am scared. However, the actual idea of death, which is to say, no longer being a part of this life on earth, doesn’t upset me. I am not scared of death as an unknown. Perhaps it’s this lack of apprehension regarding death that has never made me feel the need to pursue religions that insist on making me feel better about what happens after we die, with notions of Heaven and Hell, salvation, etc.

Those ideas are all meant to fill a need: to comfort people and their fears about the great unknown, death. For instance, Christianity is a very ‘other-worldly’ religion. That is, this life is about guaranteeing salvation and a ticket into Heaven and eventually about being resurrected back into life. These concepts are all central to the purpose of Christianity and are meant to address a very basic and understandable human fear about death. The purpose of Christian ritual and belief, then, is aimed primarily at seeing these things through – in a manner of speaking, at preventing, or beating, death.

On the other hand is the Buddhist approach above. Life and death are both individual temporal states: they are times, or periods, and they each have an equal value as such. We are not meant to prize life and cling to it obsessively, insisting that it is all that matters. Yes, life should be valued, no doubt, but we should also embrace its fleeting nature, seeing existence not as our conscious self in time but as ourselves among everything else as existence.

Did you read this week’s essay? Did you enjoy it? What do you think about when you read the quoted section above? What is your philosophy about life and death?

I have spoken in brief about a fraction of a concept in part of a paragraph in this essay. I recommend you read “The Issue at Hand” in Dogen’s Shobogenzo to begin getting the full effect. Then read it again. I read it three times before anything started to register.

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