Sunday, August 2, 2009

South Park and The Mustard Seed

A few days ago, I re-watched the classic South Park episode, All About the Mormons, in which one of the South Park kids (Stan) becomes friends with a new kid (Gary) whose family is Mormon.

Believe it or not, there are 2 scenes in the episode which bear directly on The Mustard Seed.

In the first one, Gary's family has dinner with Stan's family. Stan's dad is impressed by Gary's loving family and is interested in becoming Mormon. But Stan is skeptical and prods Gary's dad (Gary Senior) for more information about his faith. Gary Senior tell Stan's family the story of Joseph Smith and the creation of Mormonism - a story that - to put it mildly - is quite illogical.

From the South Park transcipt:

[Gary Sr., the Mormon Dad, tells the story of Joseph Smith]

Gary Sr.:And that's how it happened.

Kids:Yeah! All right! [the Marshes sit there without a word to say]

Stan:...Wait. Mormons actually know this story and they still believe Joseph Smith was a prophet?

Gary Sr.:Well sure. The story proves it, doesn't it?

Stan:No, it proves he DID make it all up. Are you blind?

Mark:Well, Stan, it's all a matter of faith.

Stan:No, it's a matter of logic! If you're gonna say things that have been proven wrong, like that the first man and woman lived in Missouri, and that Native Americans came from Jerusalem, then you'd better have something to back it up. All you've got are a bunch of stories about some asswipe who read plates nobody ever saw out of a hat, and then couldn't do it again when the translatios were hidden!

Randy:Hey, Stan, don't denounce our religion.

Stan:[crosses his arms] I don't wanna be Mormon, Dad!

Shelley:Me neither.

Gary:Hey, that's only cool, guys. You can believe whatever you want!

Gary Sr.:Yeah, it's great you have your own beliefs.

Gary:Yeah! Hooray for the Marshes!

Stan:Oh, stop it! [stands up] That's another thing! Why do you have to be so freakin' nice all the time?! It isn't normal! You just weasel people into your way of thinking by acting like the happiest family in the world and being so nice to everyone that you just blindside dumb people like my Dad!

Randy:Yeah! [moments later they are standing outside, and the door is slammed on their faces. They turn around, and Gary Sr. sighs]

Gary Sr.:Well kids... Who's up for a water balloon fight?! Kids:Yeah! All right! [they leave the Marsh house in high spirits]

I like this scene for a few reasons...First, Gary Sr. claims that his story "proves" Mormonism when it actually proves the opposite to anyone who bothers to examine it...Then, when an 8-year old boy challenges him, Gary Sr. backs down and says "it's all a matter of faith." When when even THAT statment is challenged by Stan ("no, it's a matter of logic!"), Gary's family STILL isn't fazed...Gary says - with no trace of anger - "you can believe whatever you want." Finally, when they're kicked out, Gary's family acts as if nothing had happened. They joyfully leave for a water balloon fight!

Stan notices that Gary's family converts people by "acting like the happiest family in the world" - and what makes it worse is...they REALLY ARE HAPPY!

A couple of points...Although Mormonism is a powerful example, couldn't we make all of these criticisms about Christianity too? The conviction that irrational stories "prove" the validity of one's faith? The idea that merely stating "it's all a matter of faith" is a reasonable defense of one's faith. The use of a family's happiness to convert unhappy people (who never realize that it's the family's love - not their faith- which is the source of their happiness?)

The episode ends with Gary and Stan talking at the bus stop the next morning...

Gary: Listen, I just wanted to let you know you don't have to worry about me tryin' to be your friend anymore.

Stan:I don't?

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.

I like Gary's monologue a lot...again, we have the idea that the truth doesn't matter ("I don't care if Joseph Smith made it all up") because it makes him feel good...he justifies his church because it teaches "loving your family" and "being nice" and "helping other people." Gary never bothers to think that those 3 things HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH FAITH!

I love the South Park creators for giving us this show because it demonstrates - in a surprisingly creative way - the silliness of most religions, and the poor arguments used to defend them.



South Park Fan said...

Thought you might find this site ( interesting which seems to distinguish between how accurate the South Park episode is and not.

Todd White said...

Thanks. I think you're making a useful point: The South Park episode was NOT a fully accurate portrayal of the Mormon religion. The TV show had some distortions and exaggerations, which is unfortunate.

For the purposes of MY essay, however, I don't think South Park's exaggerations affect the validity of my observations. What I found interesting about the episode was NOT the history and rules of the Mormon faith; it was how the Mormons FELT about their faith, and how non-Mormons (like Stan) felt about their faith, from an outsider's perspective.

I certainly have no hostility towards Mormons. In fact, what made the episode so credible to me was how they portrayed the Mormons as happy and kind - which is consistent with my experience.