-Rev Melissa Fain-
In this post I will try to define propaganda, explain how it has been used in Christian circles, and using Matt Stone and Trey Parker, explain why we need to stop. I will conclude with traditional Japanese Kabuki, and express how Matt Stone and Trey Parker are lovingly playing the role we as Christians need in order to fully see our reflection.
Propaganda: It's purpose
Propoganda (within a modern definition) is not about the truth, it lacks objectivity, and rallies a group against another group. We consider it in the throws of war. It helps us hate the bad guy, whoever that might be.
It's interesting, because the term is rooted in 17th century Catholicism. It comes from an evangelical purpose, where it was about propagating the word of Christ to the world. It wasn't negative or positive, it simply was.
Then, three centuries later, war changed everything. Imagery and words can influence a people against another people. It doesn't have to be correct, just effective. Many assume propaganda is offensive and racist imagery. That makes it all the more powerful as a tool to turn the masses. Social media propagandizes almost everything from groups of people to the type of burger you should buy on Friday. It's made even more effective because we are too lazy to do the research.
When the church took the word back, it was tainted. Christianity is built on the truth. There are scriptures throughout the Bible just on this one subject. Here's the one we should focus on today:
19 “This is the basis for judgment: The light came into the world, and people loved darkness more than the light, for their actions are evil.20 All who do wicked things hate the light and don’t come to the light for fear that their actions will be exposed to the light. 21 Whoever does the truth comes to the light so that it can be seen that their actions were done in God.” -John 3:19-21 CEB
I have been witness to action being purposefully kept in darkness. Darkness festers; lightness grows. Bringing issues out in the open will burn away the disease. People are afraid of bringing issues out in the open because there might not be any truth left to save.
What does this have to do with propaganda?
As a church dies one of the symptoms is a turn to propaganda to rally the troops on the losing war. Christ calls us to relationship; to dine with the sinner, to reach the unreachable. Yes, love the atheist. When a church turns to propaganda they ignore the relationship, and focus on the hate. Those outside the church become enemies, not neighbors. It's impossible to love our enemies. You must see them as neighbors first. It's a step into darkness choosing propaganda over love. Those we are called to reach, are not our enemies.
Love letter to religion.
Thanks to my ministerial colleague back when I was a wee sapling in college, I already had a respect for Matt Stone and Trey Parker. A few weeks back I mentioned a South Park episode where Jesus and Satan were going one on one in the boxing ring. Everyone openly rooted for Jesus while secretly placing bets on Satan winning. It was a very honest reflection. But, did anyone actual bet on Jesus? Yes, one. Satan. In a perfect twist. Satan throws the fight, which is exactly what Satan would do. Jesus wins, because Jesus would always win. The people ask for forgiveness for not listening to Jesus, and Jesus offers forgiveness. Like I've already written: It was a very honest reflection.
Many years later, in an interview with The Vulture, Matt Stone considered the question, "What would an atheist love letter to religion look like?" He was talking about The Book of Mormon, a musical that took Broadway by storm.
Both Parker and Stone respected Mormons as a people, a good people. They wanted to tell a story that was funny while respecting the congregants surrounding it. They poked fun at the system and not the people. You still loved the characters when the curtain dropped.
That's their gift. Any organized religion could gain something from watching anything they put out as long as they do so with even an ounce of self-reflection.
Japanese Kabuki: Understanding from without
Japanese Kabuki is a traditional operatic style, where every character, male and female are played by males. This tradition goes back generations to the Edo Period, when it became illegal for females to be in the theater. It's highly stylized, where every movement has a purpose. These movements are so important that the words are often secondary. (Which could be a good thing. They still perform using an archaic form of Japanese that even native speakers struggle understanding.)
Kubuki becomes this reflection of the subtle movements of 1600's Japan. It is not meant to be offensive to the characters being portrayed by another "type." The males playing females take those roles to express the highest respect for femininity. It is believed, since they can truly see the feminine form from without, they are the only ones truly capable of capturing it.
Let's set aside the double standard that the male form isn't treated likewise, and return to Parker and Stone. It's really difficult to see your own dysfunction within yourself. It's in our nature to get used to our specific standard of living. Things we interact with every day begin to become invisible to ourselves. If we had to process every single thing we saw every day, our brains would explode. Yes, that includes things that could be dangerous to ourselves or others. Stone and Parker are our religious Kabuki reflections. It is because they are not part of the system, that they can reflect the system so well.
The general Christian response has been to demonize them. They become propaganda to rally a dying system to keep fighting. Our duty to share the Gospel is being subverted, not by Parker and Stone, but by ourselves. They are not our enemies. They are a mirror. Perhaps we need to look into it, rather than cover it over.