I’ve been an avid fan of Comedy Central’s South Park since its inception. My roommate at the time turned me on to the cult episode circulating on the Internet—the one where Jesus battles Santa Claus. This show has always offered biting commentary on hot-button issues, and when they turned their attention to Scientology, they invited (and won) a lot of controversy.
In that scathing episode “Trapped in the Closet,” the writers portray a montage of the backbone of the Scientology religion (which some appropriately label a cult) and manage to demonstrate how from a certain point of view, this religion is founded on a series of ridiculous notions involving aliens, etc. Watching this episode, how could anyone follow this faith?
In Colossians, Paul has similar beliefs about various cults vying for followers, and he is determined to steer people clear of them.
Like previous books in the New Testament, Colossians is another letter by Paul. Sitting in a Roman jail, he reaches out to tell the people of Colosse that, aside from reminding them about Jesus and God loving them, etc., he is looking forward to how devout they are (2:5). Why so concerned about them? Given this city’s location, they encountered a lot of traffic from the east, and these travelers brought info about a number of different religions, which Paul refers to as cults.
Part of the problem with these cults: they’re based on human traditions—as opposed to being inspired by God (I guess).
This is another example of an area of the Bible where I would have loved to hear about some of Christianity’s competition. Paul’s message is similar to what I learned in the D.A.R.E campaign:
-Don’t do drugs because they’re bad.
-Yes, but what do they do?
-They’re bad, that’s what they do.
If he went into detail, I might be more tempted to side against these “cults.” Of course, his audience probably already knows to what he was referring—but I feel a bit cheated still.
But in some ways, Paul is being consistent, for you can’t adhere too heavily to human traditions if a person should be striving for heaven, not earthly things (3:2). He also does a decent job providing evidence for Christianity. I don’t mean the same “bad” list of things to avoid (though a bit shorter than mentioned in previous books); no, he offers a warmer calling card: he tells these people to “clothe themselves with compassion” (3:12-14).
This seems to be best piece of advice offered throughout the Bible—and perhaps not often enough.
But before this warm point can leave things on a positive note, Paul again asserts the rules for the Christian household. Among the list, which includes wives being submissive to their husbands, husbands being good to their wives, kids obeying their parents, he affords a chunk of attention to how slaves are to behave towards their master.
Of course, they should be thankful and respectful to the people who have enslaved them (3:22-25). At least he follows this with cautioning masters to be good to their slaves. But shouldn’t he be advocating these good Christians free these fellow human beings? How is clothing yourself in compassion compatible with abiding by slavery—regardless of it being “just the way things were,” as some contend.
You’d think with all the tweaks to the Bible over time—parts thrown out, whole books eliminated for various reasons, etc.—that someone would have done some trimming here. He has such venom for “cults that embrace earthly traditions”; slavery sounds like an earthly tradition, not a heavenly one. Although the Bible puts forward a lot of good, worthwhile ideas, some fall short. And if we adhere to this book (as some like us to), then we have to follow the good with the bad. Is it any wonder that South Park has often taken aim at Christianity at times?