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The presumption of a benevolent and omnipotent God makes the existence of evil problematic. This dilemma, known as theodicy, is often used to prove the lack of a God. The Book of Job as well as the South Park episode “Cartmanland” explore this theme, but neither uses it to justify the renouncing of God. Instead, they use didactic stories that differ in their approach (and message) while still justifying the possibility of a benevolent God coexisting with evil.
In “Cartmanland,” theodicy is presented somewhat differently than in the Book of Job. In Job’s story, his suffering is used as proof to Satan that he will still praise God, even if his good fortune is taken away. South Park does not preface the episode with any kind of spiritual back story. In addition to this, “Cartmanland” differs structurally in its plot by telling two contrasting stories. Instead of focusing on a single protagonist suffering despite his righteousness, “Cartmanland” begins in reverse with the evil character, Cartman being rewarded. The righteous and suffering character, Kyle, is used instead as a subplot. Thematically, this still reiterates Job’s question of a good God allowing evil. But by placing the emphasis on Cartman being rewarded with a million dollars and an amusement park, the theme of injustice is expanded beyond its role in the Book of Job.
The question of God allowing good people to suffer is present when Kyle is afflicted with hemorrhoids, but this is used less as a focus and more of a foil to Cartman’s unearned good fortune. This is used as a plot device to insert Job’s theme of theodicy into an episode that could have easily excluded it, since Cartman predictably loses his fortune at the end of the episode.
Although justice is restored, “Cartmanland” is to some extent, a criticism Job’s story. Kyle’s parents use the story to convince him to remain faithful despite his suffering. During this scene, the summary of Job does not end happily with Job regaining his former status. Instead, the scene is anticlimactic, ending with Job losing everything. Kyle responds to the story by questioning whether anything happens after Job’s suffering, to which his parents say no. This provides a warped view of what actually happens in the Book of Job. This briefly raises the possibility that God may not be benevolent, an alternative conclusion to theodicy than saying he’s merely nonexistent. Ambiguity of God’s benevolence can be found not only within the Book of Job, but within the Old Testament in general. In this half of the Bible, God has few positive qualities as a character. He is consistently presented as a jealous and vengeful figure, having attempted to destroy the human species. The Old Testament provides no precedent to justify the presumption of a benevolent God. Although this idea is not fully explored within the episode, God’s existence and benevolence remain ambiguous throughout “Cartmanland.”
Not taking a definitive stance on God’s existence is another way “Cartmanland” differs from the Book of Job. In this way, South Park presents a more agnostic retelling of Job. This goes against the story of Job’s teachings, since everything that happens within the Book of Job is attributed to God’s doing. Theodicy is not as troubling in South Park since Cartman’s inheritance is his Grandmother’s decision, while Kyle’s hemorrhoids are coincidental. Without confirmation of divine intervention, “Cartmanland” has a similar ambiguity to the book of Esther, where God can only be involved in the story by “working behind the curtains.” The episode suggests either the absence of a benevolent God or an ambivalent God who allows coincidences to occur, while allowing one’s actions to determine their fate.
This approach toward theodicy differs thematically from the original story, which emphasizes how mortals cannot question God. Although Kyle does question God throughout the episode, this questioning is never condemned by God as it is in Job’s story, since God is not a character within the episode. The trope of “God works in mysterious ways” gets skipped over since God’s presence (or lack thereof) is ambiguous in the episode. The injustices presented in the episode however, can still be viewed as God testing Cartman and Kyle. This is a theme that the episode does retain, since no explanation is given about how Kyle receives afflictions.
“Cartmanland” and the Book of Job feature similar endings, where the protagonists are brought back to their previous state after a moral lesson is learned. This moral lesson however, is somewhat different in “Cartmanland” than Job’s story. In the Book of Job, the moral message is his lack of power as a mortal. He must accept that God’s will is beyond his understanding. So despite the happy ending, the Book of Job does not guarantee any sort of justice in the world, even from God. “Cartmanland” offers in addition to its happy ending, a sense of justice. Kyle learns that although Cartman is seemingly rewarded by God, his own actions and greed lead to his downfall. Seeing Cartman lose his dream restores his faith in God, and seemingly cures his hemorrhoids.
Despite the more agnostic approach toward theodicy found in “Cartmanland,” the episode successfully espouses God’s message to Job that humans have little (if any) control over their lives. South Park features a more secular explanation for this lesson, suggesting that what happens in life is mainly by chance. This explanation is still compatible with the idea of a benevolent God, while neither confirming nor denying such an existence.
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