Was Pope Benedict XVI’s Visit to Israel Worth It

Check out my latest article in the Nashville Free Press: The Pope’s Visit to Israel – Was It Worth It?

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The Art of Taking Ourselves Less Seriously For the Public Good

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In “Red Hot Catholic Love,” Father Maxi Saves the Vatican and Catholicism

This is absolutely one of my favorite episodes.

The parents are afraid that the priest is molesting their children and so they became atheists, abandoning God, the Bible and religion. Meanwhile, the boys learned that shoving food up your butt makes you crap out of your mouth. Thus, everyone starts crapping out of their mouths and being atheist. Father Maxi goes to the Vatican to put a stop to the molestation that has been allowed to run wild and in doing so actually destroys the Vatican entirely.

At the end of the episode, standing amidst the Vatican’s rubble, Father Maxi declares:

“You’ve forgotten what being a Catholic is all about: this book. You see, these are just stories – stories that are meant to help people in the right direction. Love your neighbor. Be a good person. That’s it! And when you start turning the stories into literal translations of hierarchies and power, well, you end up with this. People are losing faith because they don’t see how what you’ve turned the religion into applies to them! They’ve lost touch with any idea of any kind of religion, and when they have no mythology to try and live their lives by, well, they just start spewing a bunch of crap out of their mouths!”

A fantastic episode – do not miss it!

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The Vatican’s Newspaper Forgives John Lennon for Thinking the Beatles are Bigger Than Jesus

The paper was the semi-official L’Osservatore Romano, which recognized that Lennon’s remark was just the youthful ebullience of a young working class man who was shocked at his own unexpected success. Who will die out first, Christianity or Rock and Roll?

The article came along with the 40th anniversary of the critically acclaimed White Album.

Well, I must say, who the hell cares if the Vatican, or some subsidiary paper, forgives you. What does that mean anyway? Does it mean Lennon isn’t burning in Hell anymore? Does it mean that we can all rest easy that Catholicism isn’t holding a grudge?

I don’t think the paper was trying to do anything official or spark any controversy but I think it’s pretty presumptuous to think that your forgiveness matters to anyone – but I guess we are talking about the Vatican here, which is the institution par excellence for forgiveness and thinking itself extremely important in that department.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for forgiveness, but John Lennon wasn’t a Catholic and I’m fairly sure that he doesn’t give a shit what the Vatican thinks about him wherever he is. It’s a bit presumptuous is all.

What do you think about this?

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Jesus Returns in “Fantastic Easter Special” and the True Secrets Behind the Papacy and Vatican are Revealed

Guess who frickin’ loves this episode? When I first watched this episode, my jaw hung open the entire time.

Talk about bringing theological concepts full circle. That’s one of the things I love most about South Park and religion: the show’s ability to employ the theological concepts that we take for granted and craft them in such a way as to make us think about why we call them what we do and think about them as we do.

In this episode, Jesus’ resurrection, the relationship between Jews and Jesus, the meaning of Easter and so much more are explored in a fascinating way. Plus, the juxtaposition of the religio-historical Jesus’ life and that of the South Park Jesus’ life is hilarious.

The eleventh season hardly ever missed a beat, and episode 1105, “Fantastic Easter Special,” not only lives up to its name but bulldozes right on through the season. Oddly enough, I had just been sorting out my Christianity material around the time this episode was aired and couldn’t help but think to myself why there had not been anything ever done on Easter aside from an off-handed joke. And then here came this episode – an awesome response to my mental query.

Have you seen it? What did you think? Favorite line?

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In the News: Protestants and Catholics Still Over Centuries-Long War

U.S. President George W. Bush has just gone to the Vatican where he was welcomed warmly by Pope Benedict XVI. That is, an evangelical leader of the free/WASP/non-Catholic world (perhaps that’s giving a lot of credit to Bush, but allow it for the sake of comparison, please) has met with the Pope, the spiritual leader of the world’s billion or so Catholics.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to not the sixteenth century.

Now, of course, pope’s and U.S. presidents have been meeting for years now, and the Catholic Church and the Protestant world (though it isn’t so easily grouped in a unified way as Catholicism) have long since made amends…effectively. I for one, would like to state quite clearly how awesome that is.

We really take for granted in our day how wonderful it is that there is a relative amount of unity, a high degree of peace and a general disregard for the differences between Catholics and Protestants. The Christian world is pretty much A-ok on an inter-denominational basis. Sure, the Christian and Muslim worlds are effectively at war (though I neither believe that it is as ubiquitous as I have made it sound nor as dichotomized as Christian v. Muslim), but it’s great that Catholic-Protestant relations are at the height of their strength. Why am I harping on this issue, you ask?

Well, it really wasn’t like that for a very long time. The Puritan roots of this country can be traced back to a need to escape the Anglican Church because it was too close to and corrupted with popery – or Catholicism – Puritans claimed. People in the colonies hated, persecuted and banned Catholics in various places for a very long time. Life as a Catholic in America wasn’t easy for a while. Now, can I blame Protestants (back-in-the-day Protestants, that is), for being terrified of and hating Catholics? Considering the Church’s history and the way it treated dissenters, no, I really can’t, but let me be frank: relations never had to normalize.

Wars between Catholics and Protestants in Europe were on an unimaginable scale, comparable to parts of the crusades, in certain areas of Europe killing up to a third of the population (sometimes more deadly than the Black Plague), and many people believed that Catholic and Protestant countries would never be at peace with one another. Slowly but surely, however, countries realized that interests other than religion set them at odds with one another and unified them with each other, and today, in our post-industrial, post-Cold War, newly hyper-globalized world, issues like whether you are a Protestant or Catholic country are really not the issues at hand. And that’s spectacular.

But then again, we’re not talking about countries, per se. The Holy See may be a country, but at the end of the day, it’s the Roman Catholic Church through and through, and I still think it’s awesome that an evangelical Protestant leader and the pope can greet each other warmly and genuinely, get along, discuss their common goals and interests (even if, unfortunately, some of those happen to be banning abortion and stem-cell research and continuing to promote abstinence – issues we will get to in due time, I’m sure), and be so friendly. It’s important, and not what one would expect after a few centuries of animosity and wars. If in the seventeenth century you’d asked who a Christian’s biggest enemy was, he’d say, a Catholic – never a Muslim, a Democrat or Oprah Winfrey or anything like that (don’t you love topical humor!).

So, that’s my thouhgt: we shouldn’t take for granted that the Protestant and Catholic worlds are effectively at peace (save a few small pockets of course), and when U.S. Presidents and Popes are hanging out together, we should appreciate that we’ve come a long way since the Thirty-Years War.

Note about tomorrow’s post: I will be posting in the afternoon because tomorrow is Movie/Book review day and I am going to see a matinée of The Happening. I have pretty low expectations but a close friend is a screenwriter of horror movies so we’re going – let’s see if it can break the low bar I’ve set. Check back tomorrow afternoon for the review of The Happening.

In the News: Left Behind….Mentally Speaking, that is

It is no new observation on my part to point out http://www.youvebeenleftbehind.com, a site that promises to send out emails to the loved ones of those who disappear at the Rapture for believing properly in Jesus (for more on this go to http://blog.wired.com/27bstroke6/2008/06/service-lets-yo.html). Of course, this service will cost you a nominal fee. Now, I’m guessing that those taken at the Rapture don’t just want to brag that they played the whole Jesus-card properly; they want their friends and family to take note and take this opportunity to repent and become good believing Christians so that when Jesus really comes they can bounce before things get ugly.

Okay, I classify all of this under the giant rubric of belief – and it’s totally acceptable. Who would I be to knock faith, to disagree with it or to challenge it. It’s faith: inherently, none of those things really work with faith anyway. What I do disagree with, though, are a few other things about the whole predicted Rapture/Apocalypse/Jesus’ return extravaganza. Let’s start with an example: the year 2000, what people thought was the Millennium (though it was really 2001).

People said that Jesus was coming back, that the world was going to end, and the lesser believers amongst them freaked out about the technological Y2K possibilities. What did I do at this time? I offered to take bets – as many bets as I could. You had a prediction, I said, I will bet you absolutely anything that your prediction won’t materialize. I wasn’t asking people to renounce their religions if I was right and nothing happened; I was just asking for, say, ten dollars. If someone challenged that, if he were right he could not collect (presuming of course that he would be gone or busy attending to Jesus since he would have been here), I reassured him that my eternity in Hell would be ample enough punishment (though if the Rapture ever happened I’d be one of the first on board to a life with Jesus).

So what am I driving at here because it’s not mocking Christians or mocking Jesus? In fact, I love Jesus. He’s probably my favorite historical character  (tied, perhaps, with Buddha and Louis XVI). Jesus was amazing – you don’t have to believe in his divinity to know that. So, what I’m getting at is prophecy, and in particular, when prophecy fails. In fact, there’s a fascinating book called When Prophecy Fails (available now through Amazon.com by visiting http://www.thezenofsouthpark.com). It is about a modern group whose leaders make predictions that obviously prove false – they thought the group would be rescued by UFOs. The inevitability of all prophecy of this nature (end of the world) failing is obvious, but the question becomes, just like after the year 2000, what do people do when they’re proven wrong, as the passing of the predicted date obviously shows them to have been? Well, they make excuses and keep on believing. It’s a fascinating phenomenon that this book details through a case study, and Christian predictions about the Apocalypse and Jesus’ coming are the quintessential example.

People have been predicting Jesus’ second coming from the moment he ‘left.’ And guess what – they’ve always been wrong. Always. And I’ll take any bet about it. This brings me to the point of prophecy. The prophecies that predicted Jesus’ return were speaking in the immediate sense. They never expected people to reinterpret what they said to make the time longer and longer. Every reinterpretation confirms who wrong these predictions were. So what is prophecy in the Bible?

Prophecy, in the Bible, is meant for a specific time and place, and that time and place is the prophet’s time and place. When Isaiah spoke to the people about being bad and on the edge of destruction (or about wonderful futures) he did it to persuade them to change their behavior and bring a new, better situation about – or be punished. Prophets had a message for their own age. Peoples’ attempts for centuries to reinterpret those predictions for their own times are foolish and misguided. They were messages to other people. Of course, the lessons can still be valuable (i.e. be a good person) and transcend time and place – that’s what’s made them continually applicable – but that doesn’t mean that the prophetic prediction was really talking about now – it was a threat to the people back then.

I look at the messages of South Park in a similar way. Though they will resonate as true for generations to come, they are messages for the people of our time, exhorting us to change our ways, think differently or behave differently – just like those biblical prophets delivered. To call Trey and Matt prophets would be ridiculous, but I am drawing a comparison between who their message was for and what can be done with it. It is for us now, to change our ways, but it can be used later as a means of saying, South Park said the Vatican would be destroyed if priests didn’t stop molesting children (last night’s episode – 608, Red Hot Catholic Love) and I’m still waiting for it to happen. They didn’t say it would be destroyed – they just created a wild scenario to demonstrate how important change right now is. Prophecy worked the same way. If you’d like to read more on this check out my essay under Bonus Material at http://www.thezenofsouthpark.com.

In short, when someone tells you that the world is ending and Jesus is coming, ask what they’ll give you if they’re wrong – maybe they’ll sing a different tune or at least you can get a free meal out of it.

Do you think that the Rapture is coming? When? Do you believe in prophecy or think I’m an idiot for what I’ve said? Tell me why – I’d love to hear and know what you think and why.

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Enjoy some Fun with the Bible posts and start to learn for yourself what’s really going on in the book of Revelation.