In honor of Book of Mormon, here's a pop history of religious satire
"I believe that ancient Jews built boats and sailed to America/I am a Mormon, and a Mormon just believes," sings Elder Price in Matt Stone and Trey Parker's iconic musical, The Book of Mormon. And while the theological irreverence of a song like "Spooky Mormon Hell Dream," or the existential send-up of self imposed ignorance in "Turn It Off," may seem gut-bustingly revolutionary, Parker and Stone are building on a tradition of god-mocking that is as old as belief itself. From Chaucer and Voltaire, to Kevin Smith and Bill Maher, comedians have continued to pull from the bottomless well of religious satire, which never seems to run dry. And while we could spend all day sifting through the vast libraries of chuckles-at-god's-expense, here's instead a microwaved version of what's been going on in the world of spiritual sarcasm in just the last forty years.
Monty Python's Life of Brian
In ancient Israel, public stonings were not only a necessary form of capital punishment for breaking the laws of Yahweh, but a common social ritual like tennis or cruiser bike rides. Though there were ABSOLUTELY NO WOMEN ALLOWED, as we learn in this hilarious parody of a ritual that, when you stop to consider the logistics, must have been an exhaustingly gory and time-consuming affair. Surely at least once in history some poor soul, after throwing his twenty-seventh rock to no avail, must have exclaimed "goddamn this is taking all day!" in which case he would find himself next in line for geological execution.
The Flying Spaghetti Monster
Praised by Christopher Hitchens and scorned by religious fundamentalists, the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster has quickly become a beloved Internet sensation and icon of the new atheism movement. Used as a caricature of those who purport unfalsifiable beliefs as fact, the parody religion began in 2005 when Bobby Henderson wrote a satirical open letter to the Kansas State Board of Education in response to their decision to permit intelligent design as a part of the school's science curriculum. Proposing that the earth was created by an unseen Spaghetti Monster and that the decline of pirates is the cause of global warming, the thousands of followers of this movement -- known as "Pastafarians" -- have turned the one-time snarky letter into a cultural phenomenon that now includes several books, videos, plays, conventions, artworks and, of course, merchandise.
The Invention of Lying
After living his whole life as a loser in an alternative universe where no one has ever told a lie (consequently making them aggressively, nastily honest), Mark Bellison transcends reality by discovering how, in his words, to "say something that wasn't." This leads to a spree of Groundhogs Day style indulgence of wealth, power and sex. But after he comforts his dying mother with the made-up fantasy of a pleasant afterlife, all the humans of the world demand to know more. Bellison soon discovers that answering the world's questions about life, death, morality and true happiness are more difficult than he'd thought: even with the power of unquestioned lies.
South Park, Season 7, Episode 12: All About Mormons
After the blindingly cheerful Harrison family moves to South Park, Stan Marsh finds his family quickly converted to their odd Mormon religion. A precursor to their smash musical, The Book of Mormon, South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone wrote this episode as a brilliant love letter to all the fascinatingly wonky things about Mormon belief. Like most South Park episodes, Stan finds himself as the logical center to the irrational adult world, as the Harrison family gradually explain to him how the Book of Mormon came to be.
Without having the comedic intent of Monty Python or Ricky Gervais, the creators behind the documentary Marjoe merely set out to capture the strange hysteria, rituals, corruption and sociological weirdness of the 1970s Pentecostal movement, and ended up with one of the most truly fascinating pieces of religious satire of all time. At the center of the film stars Marjoe, a one-time child preacher sensation, now turned hippie-conman traveling the country, putting on Evangelistic sermons for bucket-loads of cash. Later he explains to the camera the tricks of the trade, illuminating the undeniable link between money, sex, rock and roll, and a good ole sweaty revival meeting.
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