I was recently watching some older episodes of South Park and I was reminded of how my love of comedy and satire helped fuel my passion for atheism and skepticism. In my personal experience a lot of people have assumed that passion came out of reading the works of people like Dawkins and Hitchens or from having a strong interest in intellectual pursuits like philosophy, history, and science. Yes I do have those interests, but I think things like the Simpsons, South Park, Monty Python, Mystery Science Theatre 3000, and Kids in the Hall, and various stand-up comics helped to spark those interests.
In my post “Cats and Disbelief” I explained that I had a difficult time believing in god from the time I was a young child and couldn’t shake my sense of skepticism. Being skeptic while others around me seemed to easily accept religious teachings was a very distancing and lonely experience at times. It feels very odd when you can easily see the ridiculous nature of things but no one else around you seems to notice. One thing that leads people to feel lonely is the feeling that they are the only one that is that way, that they must be a freak. Believers often act as if it’s freaky and strange that people would not believe in god. I realized I wasn’t a freak or alone in my skepticism of Christianity when I saw an episode of the Simpsons called “Lisa the Skeptic” in which she digs up a skeleton that looks like an angel that sets the town into a religious fervor and Lisa questions the existence of god. Hearing Lisa question it made me feel more confident to question it myself and that episode has stuck with me for years.
The South Park episode that got me thinking about this is titled “The Biggest Douche in the Universe”. In this episode, Stan realizes that popular TV psychic John Edwards is a fraud and then makes it his mission to prove that to Kyle and the general public. If you don’t remember or never heard of John Edwards, he was like that Long Island Medium woman on TLC but his hair wasn’t as fabulous. The following exchange from the episode between Stan and John Edwards struck me because it reminded me of all the times people ask me why I have a problem with religion and talk about it:
John Edwards: “Everything I tell people is positive and gives them hope, how does that make me a douche?”
Stan: “Because the big questions in life are tough. Why are we here? Where are we from? Where are we going? But if people believe in asshole douchey liars like you, we’re never going to find the real answer to those questions, you aren’t just lying, you’re slowing down the progress of all mankind, you douche.”
Like Stan, I don’t see the point in people feeling positive and hopeful if we’re never going to make progress and stagnate in blissful ignorance. It bothers me when people act like the squishy nice feelings that come from believing religious claims outweigh the negative impact of religion on individuals and society as a whole.
I think comedy and satire are great tools to get people to think. People are often intimidated by intellectual things, but good timing and sound commentary can make them let their guard down a bit. Sometimes I wonder what I would have turned out like if I hadn’t grown up watching the types of things I’ve mentioned. I’ve also probably taken more from comedy than I ever did from going to church or trying to believe in god. So, thank you comedy.