Atheism For Dummies
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The edgy and risky animated series South Park sprang from nontheistic heads — in this case, atheists Trey Parker and Matt Stone. For many people, believers and non-believers alike, shows like South Park play a valuable role in knocking the big questions down to manageable size.

South Park goes after its targets relentlessly, sparing no one, including Parker and Stone’s fellow unbelievers:

  • In one episode, a boy is fostered into a “strict agnostic” home in which a tyrannical father demands absolute uncertainty. The correct answer to any question is not knowing, and Dr Pepper is declared the only proper drink for an agnostic because “nobody’s sure what flavor it is.”

  • The boys seek the origin of Easter traditions, only to learn (in mysterious Da Vinci Code fashion) that St. Peter was actually a rabbit.

  • In the midst of the Catholic child sexual abuse scandals, the local priest goes to the Vatican to demand a better response, only to learn that the doctrine of celibacy for priests can’t be changed because the document it was written on has been lost.

  • A family of Mormons moves to town, and one of the boys is drawn in by their kindness, then repulsed when he learns the Mormon origin story, then convinced that the family’s kindness is more important than the odd beliefs of their church.

  • After an episode in which Scientology is lampooned — largely through a straightforward description of its beliefs — Isaac Hayes, one of the voice actors for the series who is himself a Scientologist, quit the show.

  • One character travels to the future to find that everyone is an atheist. There’s no more religious war — instead, the United Atheist Alliance now battles the Unified Atheist League.

  • An episode in which a character in a bear suit is said to be the prophet Muhammad drew death threats from a New York-based Islamic group and was censored by the Comedy Central network — even though the suit opens at the end to reveal not Muhammad inside, but Santa Claus.

About This Article

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Dale McGowan, PhD, writes the popular secular blog The Meming of Life, teaches secular parenting workshops across North America, and is executive director of Foundation Beyond Belief, a humanist charitable organization. He has been interviewed in major publications, such as Newsweek and the New York Times, and was 2008 Harvard Humanist of the Year.

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