Monday, July 2, 2012

Imaginary Jesus

on pop theology, philosophy, theology, culture, pop culture, christianity
Hello everybody!  Today we have a guest post from Josh Kiel.  It's really good, so I hope you all enjoy it as much as I did.

by Josh Kiel

I'll just say it, I think South Park is a great TV show.  For all of its blatant offensiveness and scatological humor it does have moments of deep insight where it critiques our society and our culture.  This post is about one of these moments, though possibly an unintentional one.

A few years ago, the creators of South Park made a trilogy of episodes titled “Imaginationland.” As you can assume, Imaginationland is an imaginary place where all the characters of human imagination live.  The plot of this trilogy involves Imaginationland being attacked by Al Qaeda terrorists who, in an attempt to “make our imaginations run wild,” end up unleashing the bad characters of Imaginationland upon the good. The story climaxes in a battle between good and evil, with one character from the real world, Butters spurring the good characters onto victory by imagining weapons for them.

There are a variety of points that this episode attempts to make regarding fear, terrorism, the power of our minds to control us and so on, but there is another interesting statement that the creators may or may not have intentionally made. It just so happens that the creators of South Park include Jesus as one of the imaginary characters in Imaginationland.  At first, I saw this as outright blasphemy, but then, late in the episode there comes one very brief moment that stuck out in my mind and gave me pause.  In this scene, the real person (Butters) is imagining reinforcements and enhancements for the imaginary characters in order to turn the tide of the battle. As part of the reinforcements Butters imagines Jesus with an M-60 machine gun.  It is in that moment that I think the creators of South Park, perhaps unintentionally, justified Jesus presence in Imaginationland.  Throughout history and even today there have been calls to fight a "Christian War" in the name of Jesus  I can only believe that these calls come under the banner of an Imaginary Jesus.

From observing the culture of Christianity today I see multiple instances of an Imaginary Jesus expressed in a variety of ways.  Some are easy to spot. Imaginary Jesus is the War Jesus, the Prosperity Jesus or the Santa Jesus, or the It's Okay to Hate the Gays/Muslims/Atheists Jesus.  There are more subtle ones as well such as the Holier Than Thou Jesus or the Look Out for Number One Jesus (on whose side I occasionally err), or the Self-Loathing, You Must Doubt Your Redemption Jesus.  I see all of these versions of an Imaginary Jesus as efforts by us to try and change who Jesus is as opposed to changing ourselves when we fail to live up to who we're called to be. 

Christ came to Earth for the salvation of all mankind through his death and resurrection.  To be followers of the one who came not to judge the world, but to save it and who also instructs us to love God with all our hearts and love our neighbors as ourselves is a call to display these characteristics in spite of being broken people in a broken world.  I know that when I fail to exhibit these traits there is a desire to justify my failure in some way, to convince myself of my own righteousness instead of my need for forgiveness.  I think this is where a lot of our Imaginary Jesus depictions come from.  In the end so many versions of Jesus boil down to an inner conflict in which we try to justify our relationships with the people around us and the person we have been called to be.  We try to make Christ more like ourselves instead of striving to make ourselves more like Christ.  When we think of Jesus do we see the Incarnation of Freedom and Redemption or the Lord of Oppression and Hate? Do we see him healing people or holding a machine gun?

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