Something’s up with Christianity lately. It’s in the news every day—church attendance continues to go out of style, while atheism is the new black. The religious and secular worlds are increasingly engaged in a war of words, with extreme terms like “hate,” and “bigot,” and “sinner,” and “evil,” being thrown about by the respective sides.
But why the decline? Why the war? Part of the answer lies in the reason why any good relationship might go back—disillusionment. Over the past few decades, the organized Christian Church has disappointed the world through a series of sex scandals, blame campaigns, hypocrisy, and other troubling, very human behavior. And this, after setting itself up as the Way, the Truth, and the Light, for hundreds of years. The problem isn’t with God, however. He actually is perfect. No—the problem is with religion.
And who would have thought the entirety of this issue could be bundled up in an animated movie featuring copulating food items?
Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan’s recent film, Sausage Party, is something of a rarity. It’s a crude, rude, gag-filled animated feature that actually conveys a hot dog pack of heavy truths. By the way, don’t take your kids.
Seriously. Don’t take your kids.
With that out of the way, let’s put on our gloves and give Sausage Party the examination it deserves.
The plot begins with Frank, a sausage with dreams of living in the “Great Beyond,”—a place where all groceries go after they “check out”. Frank and his hot dog bun girlfriend, Brenda, are chosen by a human shopper—humans are considered the gods—and taken toward the checkout counter, but, along the way, are warned by a returned jar of honey mustard that the Great Beyond isn’t what they thought.
This, of course, sets Frank on a journey of personal discovery, wherein he happens upon the Imperishables, everlasting foods which possess esoteric knowledge of the Great Beyond. It is at this point that Frank learns that the “gods” are actually taking groceries home and proceeding to skin, boil, fry, and eat them alive.
Naturally, this is a devastating blow to Frank, whose faith is shattered. Deciding to learn more about the humans, Frank finds a cookbook, which he reveals to the rest of the sentient groceries. They largely ignore him and his findings, afraid of losing their purpose and identities. Eventually, Frank gives a speech, revealing a way to harm and kill the human “gods,” and apologizing for not respecting the groceries’ individual beliefs, which rallies them to his side.
The foods eventually kill all of the human shoppers in the grocery store, and celebrate, in the end, with a massive sexual orgy.
This brief rundown of the plot gives you a good idea of the themes therein. The protagonists of the film disprove the idealized notion of an afterlife, wage war on their gods, slay them, and engage in the hedonistic rule-breaking they’ve always desired, finally ascending into an enlightened, post-religious society.
These themes aren’t mere happenstance, no matter what producer Seth Rogen might claim. All fiction is the product of the culture that creates it, a reflection of the problems of the time. And right now, the war between the secular and the sacred is a huge issue in the minds of many Americans. Sausage Party is all about the “evil, monstrous” gods who must be stopped in order for society to truly prosper. It’s a love-letter to atheism, and the denunciation of the oppression of organized religion.
And it’s absolutely right. But not in the way you might think.
Think on this. What is causing contemporary culture to be so skeptical of religion—particularly of Christianity? It’s not God, Himself. Read the Gospels—nearly everyone can agree on the wisdom of Christ, even if they can’t agree on His divinity. He hung out with people unlike himself, never engaged in ad hominem insults when arguing the merits of Christianity, gave to the poor, and was just generally a great guy. The Greatest Guy, if you will. If Christianity actually looked like the life of Jesus, the cultural feelings that distilled themselves into Sausage Party might not have come about.
Some might argue that the God of the Old Testament bears resemblance to the human “gods” of Sausage Party, but, again, this is a misrepresentation. If the church would take the time to talk about the cultural and temporal contexts that each verse of the Bible—particularly the controversial ones—reside in, there would be a much greater understanding of who God actually is. Instead, many Christians remain ignorant of the histories and cultures of their own Bible, and when they are unable to explain verses that seem to embrace slavery or murder or oppression, they simply become defensive, insulting, and angry. Subsequently, the impression of an evil God remains in the minds of non-Christians, cemented by the angry, red-faced hypocrite before them.
Because the Christian Church purports to be one thing, and displays quite a different thing, a kind of cultural disillusionment has occurred. God, when He is not dismissed out of hand, is now conflated with His human followers. He has, in popular culture, become one with the ravenous, destructive human shoppers of Sausage Party.
What can Christians do about this? For one thing, the admission of humanity is essential. The Church has built up an aura of separatism—members are somehow of a higher order of human than the rest of the spiritual plebeians. Churchgoers have labels for non-Christians, things like “unbelievers,” and “the lost,” and, especially, “the world”.
Christians need to take Jesus’ cue—go out into communities and be a person. Get out there, don’t be a jerk, and then, when people learn you’re a Christian, they’ll think, Hey! Maybe Christians aren't jerks, after all! This is a fantastic, and mostly unknown form of evangelism.
The Church doesn’t have to condone sin. Sin is sin, but the judgment, punishment, or reward for the way we live our lives rests with God alone. The place of the Christian is to teach and beckon, not to harm others, or to make them feel bad about themselves in order to lift up and separate Christianity from the rest of humanity. Scripturally, God loves all people, no matter their lifestyle or beliefs. Don't kick His kids.
The Church has to do its part in engaging the secular community in dialogue, admitting its humanity, most of all, in properly understanding and communicating its own beliefs. Stop trying to dehumanize those who disagree, and start talking. Because right now, the Church is acting an awful lot like those horrible shoppers in Sausage Party. Perhaps, if this ceases, we won’t have a culture whose escapism is escape from religion.