Who killed God?

Cardinals and Christians should calm down about South Park, and learn to love its parables and earthy transience.

Shirley Dent

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You bastards! You killed Kenny!….and Jesus.

That just about sums up the pitiful state of Britain 2001, according to Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, leader of England and Wales’ five million Catholics. Murphy-O’Connor reckons Jesus has been done in twice – once on the cross by godless centurions and again on MTV by moral-less, South Park-watching morons.

But the cardinal didn’t have much to say about the constant death and resurrection (in every episode) of South Park’s white-trash kid Kenny – a missed opportunity if ever there was one, seeing as Kenny’s is the only resurrection we seem to believe in any more.

This is true – even though the devout, such as Brian Appleyard, try to lay Stalinism and Nazism at the atheist’s moral doorstep (1). For the record, no Nazis ever declared themselves to be rational humanists. And it wasn’t a humanist or atheist leader who organised a gala reception for Hitler’s fiftieth birthday or watched silently as the Jews of Rome were driven in open army trucks through St Peter’s Square on their way to deportation and death. No – it was Pope Pius XII who did that.

Appleyard also points to The Simpsons as an example of good, God-fearing Americans. True, Homer, Marge, Lisa, Bart and Maggie put on their Sunday best every week and trip along to church – but they seem to spend most of the time sleeping or ignoring the reverend. And when their evangelical neighbours the Flanders crack open the emergency baptism kit to rescue the Simpson kids, Homer desperately tries to save his babes from the dreaded waters of re-birth. Hardly traditional believers.

Let me put you straight on the South Park ethos. South Park and the glorious life, death and resurrection of Kenny week in week out is what happens when godless humanity gets down and dirty with its own butt-naked truth – transience. But rather than fret about this transience and make up nonsense stories about afterlives and martyrdoms, hey, let’s laugh at it and live it.

Murphy-O’Connor getting hot under the collar about how we’re all missing out on ‘glimpses of transcendence’ has about as much meaning as South Park’s weirdo schoolteacher Mr Garrison going hammer‘n’tongs with his puppet Mr Hat about the metaphysics of the Vietcong: it is authority talking to itself in a pantomime of its own making. Meanwhile, the rest of us are getting on with the mucky mess of the ‘here and now’. Just like those foul-mouthed brats from South Park.

So the Cardinal and Appleyard should stop worrying and learn to love South Park. After all, it’s full of parables. As a humanist, my particular favourite is the apotheosis of Starvin’ Marvin and his family to the planet Marklar, where everybody is known as Marklar, and lives in equality, tolerance, with visions of new worlds of peace and prosperity…all of which escaped the clutches of the Christian missionaries and their TV channel, whose answer to the starving millions is to give them a) a Bible and b) more Bibles.

Yes, Brian Appleyard, isn’t it funny, as the humanist David Starkey points out and as you yourself note, that the faiths of the world are founded and flourish in conditions of scarcity? Marvin’s flight (literally) from faith is an old-fashioned tale of the triumph of rational science over Christian blundering. And let’s be honest, as soon as Africa gets its fair share of scientific progress and technology, who could blame it for packing up with all its natural resources and buggering off as far away as possible from a planet and people (economic and religious imperialists, I’m talking about you) who have ceaselessly exploited it and meddled in its affairs?

As humanity seems poised to embark on a crusade and jihad (depending on your religious point of view and the size of your coalition) at the beginning of the twenty-first century, it seems almost trite to point out that it wasn’t atheists flying those planes on 11 September. Trite – but true.

Shirley Dent is assistant editor of New Humanist magazine.
(1) New Statesman, 17 September 2001

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