Is Christianity A Joke?: Learning From South Park (by George Elerick)
In stand-up comedy there are a couple of behind-the-scenes jokes that erupt as a sort of secret handshake amongst those who have been in the comedy world for a while, one is the The Aristocrats joke and the other is the Shaggy Dog joke. The Aristocrats joke as seen on South Park is a taboo-defying joke which tends to sound a lot like the movie ‘Crash’ which was itself a taboo-defying cinematic sardonic take on things like racism, judgement, multiculturalism and a host of the social faux pa’s. The joke is meant to end with a punchline that leads nowhere. In the comedy world this is referred to as a Shaggy Dogg joke. To give you a bit more context, let’s listen in on the explanation of the Shaggy Dog here:
A boy owned a dog that was uncommonly shaggy. Many people remarked upon its considerable shagginess. When the boy learned that there are contests for shaggy dogs, he entered his dog. The dog won first prize for shagginess in both the local and the regional competitions. The boy entered the dog in ever-larger contests, until finally he entered it in the world championship for shaggy dogs. When the judges had inspected all of the competing dogs, they remarked about the boy’s dog: “He’s not so shaggy.” Notice what happens here the narrator sets up the story as if a punchline is meant to conclude with some remarkable punchline, but it doesn’t, if anything it leaves the listener either frustrated or confused or both! (Wikipedia)
Christianity is an interesting place as of right now. There is a lot of talk about the end of the institutional Church along with the end of evangelicalism. To some Christian’s both were seen as a shaggy dog, things that never led Christianity anywhere. Other’s see them as the punchline we’ve all been waiting for. So who’s right and what’s wrong? I mean these seem to be the questions that have been driving the direction of Christianity for the last thousand years or so, but I wonder if these questions are a distraction, nothing more than something to keep us from discovering a punchline amidst the confusion of it all? Maybe the answer is in South Park! Rather than simply allowing Christianity to end up being the butt of its own joke, maybe it needs to take itself seriously, but not as some ethical community driven by a deified Jesus. Don’t get me wrong, those things about Jesus are important, but what if they have become the punchline that has led us nowhere? What if the loving your neighbor to the point of self-sacrifice (isn’t that how most understand the meaning behind the ‘agape’ love we so often speak of in our church services?) was literally more important than the virginity of Mary? Or what if attacking injustice with peace was central to our theology rather than what Augustine said about God? I wonder if like the rambunctious children from the fictional town in Colorado, as iconoclastic as they may be might have something to teach us?
In the Aristocratic joke the purpose isn’t merely to lead nowhere, although that is what it seems. It challenges socialized conceptions, rules, taboos, and anything in between that we have become too accustomed to. Isn’t that what Jesus did? He says to a bunch of the religious leaders a few times, “You have heard it was said, but I say!” He was proclaiming a new way to see things, at times, even through sarcasm or even name-calling to wake the religious elite out of their conditioned slumber. Is that us? Has the Church been sleeping? If so, we need to wake up. No longer can we sit idly by and allow Origen, Athansius and the other Church Fathers to tell us what we should and should not believe, is this not why Christ at one point tells an outsider that God desires us all to worship in Spirit and Truth.
Spirit is something we can’t touch or even define, it just is what it is. But to get back to Spirit we have to sacrifice a few things to get their, but let’s not be naive, the gods’ we all have are personal. The pantheon’s we praise tend to be inside rather than outside and they don’t call it spring-cleaning for nothing. If we are to have a future, no longer under the guise of Christendom, but as the organic movement of Christ-followers, maybe its time to be a part of the crew from Colorado and become iconoclastic toward those aspects of theology that blind us from the real sin that exists in the world, things like: poverty, injustice, war, racism, gender inequality, the gay question, famine and whatever else atrocious things we think of. The world needs to changed for the better, not more theology, it seems to me this was the challenge of the prophets. But much like Kenny, most of them ended up dead before the episode even finished…
George Elerick is a cultural theorist, author, & human rights advocate. He lives in England with his beautiful wife and amazing 4-month old little boy. Catch up with him at his blog, follow him on Twitter, and purchase his new book, Jesus Bootlegged.