Reviewing Veggie Tales as an Atheist; Are You My Neighbor?

This episode covers loving your neighbor. “Neighbor” is Christianese for “everyone under the sun and possibly aliens.” I talk a lot about messages I received during my upbringing that I later had to unlearn, or edit, or heavily amend. This, however, is one of the cases where my Christian background did a great job preparing me for my life as a godless liberal social justice obsessed queer freak. “Love all the people,” is nicely transitive.

“Love thy neighbor” is also the origin of the famous Good Samaritan story. When Jesus declared this the second greatest commandment (the greatest was that God was like, the coolest shit ever, everything else can be at most moderately cool) somebody came up and said, “so… are we talking next door neighbors? People across the street? Three blocks over?” Jesus came back with the Good Samaritan story, which was cryptic religious leader speak for “neighbor includes those people you hate literally worse than the people who just invaded you.” To which the smartass said, “Oh. Well. Fuck.”

When Veggie Tales decided to tackle the issue, they figured if it was good enough for their Lord and Savior, it was probably good enough for them, so they start the episode off with the Good Samaritan. Except its Veggie Tales, so it’s a story about two rival vegetable towns who hate each other because in Flibber-o-loo they wear shoes on their heads, and in Jibberty-lot they wear pots.

For the record, my ten minutes of internet research revealed that the big difference between the Samaritans and the Jews was that the Samaritans had their big temple on Mount Gerazim and the Jews had theirs on Mount Zion, so the shoe/pot thing isn’t a bad translation. I mean, there were layers of historical racial tension and culturally significant symbolism inherent in these two places of worship, but I’m sure that in the town of Flibber-o-loo, the shoe demonstrates their humility before the great leader Uggs McStrappy, while Jibberty-lot contains those descendants of Uggs McStrappy who also intermarried with the descendants of his ancient enemy, Kettie Crocker, and the pots on their heads are symbols of their merging traditions from both lines, which to the people of Flibber-o-loo is an abomination. But you know, it was a ten minute short, so they didn’t have time for all that backstory.

The story is a pretty straight retelling. Larry the Cucumber, from Flibber-o-loo, gets assaulted and left for dead by bandits. He gets passed by two prominent other shoe-headed veggies before Jr. Asparagus, playing our Good Jibberty-lotian (doesn’t quite flow as well, does it?) rescues him.

And then he sings the moral, self-righteously and a little out of tune.
And then he sings the moral, self-righteously and a little out of tune.

Afterwards the two towns make up, unlike in the real world, where the Samaritans still got picked on for no good reason.

The second story opens with Dad Asparagus tucking Jr. Asparagus into bed, and taking the moment to talk about his upcoming birthday party. As Jr. lists off the friends he wants to invite, Dad asks him about Fernando. Jr. isn’t sure about Fernando, because, in Jr’s words, he talks funny and is kinda weird. Dad tries to explain that Fernando is actually just from another country and that different isn’t bad, but he can’t quite make the message stick, so he  leaves the room in hopes that something bizarre will happen to teach Jr. the lesson of the evening.

No sooner has the door closed than Bob and Larry show up to cart him away to a Star Trek parody. The USS Applepies is in danger of being smashed by a giant popcorn ball. All seems lost until Jr. notices the two weird new kids, Jimmy Gourd and Jerry Gourd, who do nothing but eat and sing. Jr. realizes that, when the ship’s main threat is edible, a couple of big eaters might be exactly what the situation requires. He launches the brothers at the popcorn ball, and they eat the whole thing in just enough time to wrap up the episode with a song about embracing our differences.

Hey, it’s an unconventional parenting strategy, but it hasn’t let Dad Asparagus down yet.

Dad Asparagus takes the time to clarify that, in the real world, the differences that bind us together are less likely to be “can eat a giant ball of popcorn in less than a minute thereby saving a spaceship,” and more likely to be “can introduce you to foods and things from their culture that you might like if you give them a try.” Then its time for Bob and Larry to wrap up the episode by clarifying, just in case any of us missed it, that its really important to be kind to people who are different than you. Its in the Bible and everything.

There are two arguments presented for loving your neighbor. Well, three, if you count the many times we hear “love each other because God loves us,” but that’s an argument we are told, not shown. In the second story, we are given a pragmatic reason. Different can be good. Diversity can bring things like fun new experiences, novel solutions to problems, and diversified strengths in case of unexpected obstacles, like popcorn balls in space. The first one gives us a more subtle, empathetic reason. It tears down the artificial sense of separateness that lifestyle and cultural differences give us. It reminds us of our shared humanity, and our desire for others to be kind to us. It says that our words and our external traits do not always predict our actions, and we shouldn’t be too quick to judge by what we see on the outside.

Both arguments are good, although I think the empathetic one cuts more to the heart of why loving each other is important. We should all value each other because we all share in the condition known as humanity. Many Christians assume that, without belief in God, atheists cannot understand love. This is completely false. You don’t need God to love. Love does not require the stamp of divine approval to be valuable. Like wisdom and happiness, it is a thing that is valuable for its own sake, without any outside justification needed.

"Love is a many splendored thing. Love lifts us up where we belong. All you need is love!"
“Love is a many splendored thing. Love lifts us up where we belong. All you need is love!”

So yes, in conclusion, great message, great episode, good times.

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