Bible in Pop Culture Week 6: Cartmanland and Job

“Cartmanland,” the sixth episode of season five of South Park, contains a specific reference to the Book of Job. In the story, Cartman’s grandmother dies and leaves her entire life savings to Cartman, because she believes the rest of her family would just spend the money on crack. Cartman decides to use the money to fulfill his dream of having a theme park all to himself. So, he purchases a theme park that was on the verge of going out of business and renames it Cartmanland. Cartman uses the park solely for his own fun and makes it a point to advertise on television that no one else may enter the park or ride the rides.

Kyle is horrified that a person as despicable as Cartman is experiencing such good fortune and questions his faith in God. Kyle’s faith is further damaged by the discovery that he has a hemorrhoid. Kyle and Stan decide to try to break into the park by climbing the fence, but this only makes Kyle’s situation worse: his hemorrhoid breaks and becomes infected, leaving him hospitalized. Kyle’s parents try to cheer him up by reading him the Book of Job, but they forget to mention the ending, where Job receives more material wealth than he previously had. Kyle is horrified and his health begins to fade as the hemorrhoid infection spreads to his lungs.

Kyle’s health only improves when he discovers that Cartman’s plan to have Cartmanland all to himself fails and he ends up worse off than he was before inheriting the million dollars. Cartman had to allow in guests to defray operating expenses, was fined by the IRS for not keeping tax records, was sued by Kenny’s parents because Kenny died in the park, and ends the show by losing the park and being $13,000 in debt to the IRS, sprayed with mace and crying, restoring Kyle’s faith in God.

History in the “Confessions” of St. Augustine

St. Augustine in his study.

St. Augustine in his study. Source: Wikipedia

Saint Augustine’s Confessions is a book about the early life and conversion to Christianity of Augustine of Hippo, one of the most famous Christian scholars of antiquity. The book starts off with a description of childhood, then moves on to describe Augustine’s quest for knowledge both among the Manichees and through study of the traditional liberal arts, including oratory and rhetorical skills. An intensely personal account by design, Augustine reveals his internal struggle as he reminisces about the loss of his childhood friend, whose name he does not reveal, as well as his struggles with sexuality and his doubts about the nature of God. Essentially, the book is meant to show Augustine’s path from a confused childhood to a position of solid conviction in the Catholic faith, but Confessions can also be used as a source of historical information. This essay will examine the first seven chapters of Confessions to discover what it implies about the late 4th and early 5th century Roman society that shaped Augustine’s life.

One of the more interesting things that can be discerned from the book is the potential for mobility available in Roman society, both in terms of physical and social movement. Of course, Augustine’s case is not indicative of the norm, but he was able to advance from being the son of a modest family in Tagaste (in modern day Algeria) to being a well-respected and socially connected professor of rhetoric in Milan, before his conversion, which is related in chapters outside the scope of this essay. Augustine’s reasons for leaving his home village were originally related to study opportunities and a need to leave a place that reminded him strongly of the death of a childhood friend. His ability to travel within the empire for education purposes is interesting because it implies that there was a system in place that allowed for the boarding and education of students during his time. His ability to rise through the ranks of society based on his intellectual abilities shows that class distinctions were not set in stone and he specifically mentions that many Roman offices were available to anyone with the right amount of money. In a modern context, this has a negative connotation, and perhaps it did in Augustine’s time as well, because in his writing he felt the need to explain that as a system it allowed the state access to needed revenues and acted as a pathway to success for those born to lower classes.

In his writing, Augustine mentioned that not all families were willing to support their children’s education outside of their local towns, even when they were better-off economically than Augustine’s own family. Augustine did not go into detail about this point, but it leaves the reader wondering what motivations a family might have for not wanting to promote the education of their children at all costs, as Augustine’s did, when it might lead the family to greater success. If the story about Alypius and the responsibility of a “house” for a crime is any indication, the Roman family unit probably shared equally in success as well as culpability for crimes and failures.[1] Was it a cultural expectation that children would follow in the footsteps of their parents, leading to a lackadaisical attitude towards aggressive social advancement, or was the lack of interest in education outside of Tagaste something specific to that locality?

Much of Augustine’s writing in Confessions deals with education, because he wrote about both his time as a pupil and as an educator. His writing makes it clear that corporal punishment was a well-used form of discipline that acted as a motivator for children to pay attention to their studies. The fact that Augustine and, presumably, other children endured caning as a punishment and prayed for respite instead of abandoning school indicates that there was some measure of compulsion in attendance, either from families or from the state. Also, unless the phrase was added by the translator, the inclusion of the “three Rs” as a figure of speech (reading, writing, and arithmetic) shows that areas of study for primary school students in the late 4th century were fairly consistent with modern education standards.[2] His later education reveals a break with modern ideals about the purpose of studying the liberal arts, however. According to Augustine, forming logical arguments that revealed the truth about a matter were of secondary importance to style and delivery. Eloquence and the ability to convey a sense of conviction were more important than being able to logically argue a truth.

Similarly related to education, student culture in Roman society is revealed through Augustine’s writings. Bullying was alive and well in the 4th century. Schoolyard gangs even had nicknames, like “The Wreckers”, who would find “shy and unknown freshmen… to persecute…by mockery…to feed their own malevolent amusement.”[3] Augustine dealt with this group as a student by staying on friendly terms with them, but refused to participate in their mockery and acts of vandalism. Augustine wrote that in Carthage, students would burst into a classroom and purposely disrupt it with “mad behavior.”[4] Later, as an adult, Augustine complained of a practice common among Roman students, who would sit with a teacher for a number of classes and then transfer en masse to another instructor to avoid making payment.[5]

Augustine’s writing reveals quite a bit about religion during the late 4th and early 5th centuries in the Roman Empire, most obviously because the book is about his journey to conversion to Catholocism, but the first seven chapters of the book also discuss the Manichees and give an example of religious syncretism among professed Catholics. Augustine wrote that he spent nine years as a follower of the Manichee religion and through his writings, we can see that it was institutionally similar to the Catholic Church, including having Bishops, but professed very different concepts of God. The instance of religious syncretism that Augustine took time to mention was his mother’s practice of tomb veneration through the offering of plates of fruit and the ritual sipping of wine at the burial sites of Catholic martyrs. Augustine mentioned that his mother was not alone during these ceremonies, so the practice must have been widespread. I also make this conjecture based on the fact that in later centuries, and continuing up to the present, Islamic scholars in the Middle East have been condeming the same practice among Muslims regarding veneration of the tombs of saints, martyrs and especially Sufi pirs.

This brief selection of information from the first seven chapters of Saint Augustine’s Confessions shows how historical information about an author’s society can be revealed by analyzing that author’s work, even when recording historical information is not the main purpose of the work. This essay examines the chapters on their own, but by comparing what Augustine wrote to other available information, one could further the process of reconstructing Roman society and elaborate on the circumstances surrounding Augustine’s life and conversion to Catholocism.



[1] Saint Augustine, Confessions (Oxford University Press, 2009), 101.

[2] Ibid., 15.

[3] Ibid., 38.

[4] Ibid., 80.

[5] Ibid., 86.

 

References

Saint Augustine. 2009. Confessions (Oxford World’s Classics). Translated by Henry Chadwick. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc.

 

A Car Blessing in the Philippines

Do people actually do this in any other country?  I’ve never heard of it before.  Is it strictly a Catholic thing?

A car being blessed by a Catholic priest in the Philippines.

In the image above, you can see a group of people gathered around a new vehicle.  The man in the white top and black pants is a priest, probably from the nearby Our Lady of Peace Cathedral, which is a popular pilgrimage destination for people who are about to embark on trips.

I’m not sure if there’s a process to this, if different parts of the vehicle are blessed at different times and I just stumbled across them as they were getting to the engine, or if having the hood raised and the engine running is just the standard way of having a vehicle blessed.

As weird as this seems, it makes sense in a way, and makes sense that they’d come to the Cathedral that’s known as a place for travelers to receive blessings to have it done.

If you stumbled across this post looking for information about how to get your car blessed at the Cathedral, click this link and then scroll to the bottom of the post to see a picture of the sign showing the hours for car blessings, as well as contact numbers.

Religious Procession Through The Town Center

Sometimes interesting things cross your path, in this case literally, which is why I’m glad I almost always have my camera with me!

We had just been dropped off in town by the tricycle so we could walk down the street and do a little shopping when we heard a bunch of loud bangs and then saw hordes of people with candles walking down the road we were supposed to cross.  When we got closer, we could see it was a procession coming from the Antipolo Cathedral and going down the main road.  I had no idea what was going on, but I figured it was a good time to take photos.

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After getting my pictures I asked my wife if she knew what the procession was for.  I’d seen her asking someone what was going on, but she wasn’t sure what the guy was talking about.  He had said, “It’s the last procession of the month!”  That doesn’t make sense though, because these photos were taken just a day or two ago, at the beginning of July.  If there’s more than one procession a month, which his answer implies, then the last one wouldn’t be at the beginning of the month.

Regardless, it was an interesting sight and it was very lively with the fireworks going off just above us.  They weren’t the kind that make patterns or lights, just loud noises, or I’d have taken photos of those too.

This also reminded me of a segment of the Filipino history book I’m reading.  When the Spaniards first started imposing their way of life on the natives here in the Philippines, Catholic missionaries would try to lure in the more stubborn people by holding frequent festivals in the towns.  The festivals and religious ceremonies and events were purposely gaudy and exciting as a way to entice Filipinos to come, enjoy and then hopefully convert, and after converting start paying tithes of course.

Since we’re talking about tithes, I also read that back then if you were a member of the church and didn’t pay your tithe, you were publicly humiliated for it during the sermon in front of all of the people from your town.  My wife says this practice still occurs in some churches in the Philippines, most notably the Iglesia ni Cristos, which is a Christian sect in the Philippines.

Which Sounds More Creepy? Muslim Call To Prayer Vs Catholic Rosary Chanting

The first time I heard the Muslim call to prayer was in Iraq in 2003 when my unit was set up near a mosque in the outskirts of Baghdad.  It was strange, but it didn’t sound necessarily bad.  In fact, there’s a very musical quality to it that’s easy to appreciate when you’re not letting prejudice and/or fear get in the way.

I thought Muslims were the only ones in the business of broadcasting prayers to the neighborhood over loudspeakers, but I was wrong.  Walking through a neighborhood in the Philippines one afternoon I heard this creepy chanting sound and I asked my wife what it is.  We were a bit far away from the source, so I couldn’t quite make out what was being said.  She told me that it’s the Rosary being chanted over loudspeakers from the Catholic church in the neighborhood.  It’s done every day around 2 or 3 PM, and if that weren’t enough, there are also announcements and other prayers broadcast to the neighborhood in the morning at around 6 AM I think.

While I don’t think I could quite appreciate living close to either one, having to listen to them repeatedly every single day, I would opt for listening to the Muslim call to prayer if I had a choice.  Maybe it’s that I don’t understand the words, but there’s just something oddly disturbing to me about the Rosary being chanted and the entire neighborhood being forced to listen to it, whether they want to or not.  What adds to the whole creepy factor is that more often than not, it’s children that are being made to recite the Rosary over the loudspeakers.  They’re supplied with an afternoon snack as a lure or compensation to get them to do it.

In the video below, I’ve mashed together clips of the Muslim call to prayer that I recorded in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and a clip of the Rosary chanting here in the Philippines.  Unfortunately, there weren’t children doing the chanting this time, which would have given you more of an idea of how weird it sounds on a normal day, but it’s creepy nonetheless.

Judge for yourself.

Feel free to comment, but don’t use the comment section as a Christians Vs Muslims bashing forum.  Comment only on this particular practice please.

Update: The full text in English of the meaning of the Adhan, or Islamic call to prayer, is included below, from About.com:

Allahu Akbar
God is Great
(said four times)

Ashhadu an la ilaha illa Allah
I bear witness that there is no god except the One God.
(said two times)

Ashadu anna Muhammadan Rasool Allah
I bear witness that Muhammad is the messenger of God.
(said two times)

Hayya ‘ala-s-Salah
Hurry to the prayer (Rise up for prayer)
(said two times)

Hayya ‘ala-l-Falah
Hurry to success (Rise up for Salvation)
(said two times)

Allahu Akbar
God is Great
[said two times]

La ilaha illa Allah
There is no god except the One God

For the pre-dawn (fajr) prayer, the following phrase is inserted after the fifth part above, towards the end:

As-salatu Khayrun Minan-nawm
Prayer is better than sleep
(said two times)