Reviewing Veggie Tales as an Atheist: Jonah Part Two

Throughout their narration, the Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything make a big deal about compassion and mercy. In one scene they give definitions that I quite like. Compassion is “when you see someone who needs help, and you want to help them,” and mercy is “when you give someone a second chance, even if they don’t deserve it.”

They go on to say that of the two, mercy is most important, but you can’t have mercy without compassion. This connection seemed obvious to me at first, but then as I thought over it some more, it seemed arbitrary, almost like Yoda’s “fear leads to anger” speech in The Phantom Menace. Then, as I thought about it even more, it became brilliant. Their definition of mercy creates a question. If someone doesn’t deserve a second chance, why would you give it to them? Often in my childhood, the answer was “because God says so.” Occasionally it was even, “Matthew 6:15. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” This is kind of a terrifying verse when applied to people are mistreating you, saying they are sorry, and then mistreating you again, especially when you can’t get away from them. I think about this verse every time I’m informed that the Duggars have forgiven Josh Duggar for his hypocrisy and abuse.

Thankfully, Matthew 6:15 is not the answer the Pirates are giving. They imply that mercy is an act of compassion. People who have done something wrong may be in need of help, and a second chance may be the help they need. This applies directly to Jr.’s conflict with Laura, and Bob’s with Dad Asparagus. In the first case, Jr. can only see the brat who got her comeuppance, but there’s a bigger picture, one where they are both kids who do stupid things all the time and both have need of a break now and then. In the second, Dad Asparagus messed up, and feels terrible, but there’s no way to undo what happened. He apologized, and because Bob has been blowing him off he is worried he has completely ruined a friendship. At this point, both Jr. and Bob have legitimate grievances, but neither of them are balancing that with the compassion to see things from someone else’s perspective.

But let’s stick a pin in that and get back to Jonah.

Jonah snooty face
He’s not having the best week.

Jonah is stuck in the belly of a whale. Khalil tries to cheer him up, but this is ineffective, because Jonah just can’t get past the fact that he’s about to be, what’s the word? Oh yes, digested. Just as Jonah admits he was wrong to disobey, a choir of angels comes down to encourage Jonah. They tell him the story is not over, and though they aren’t specific about what comes next, they do tell him that God is the God of second chances.

Jonah Khalil pose
Naturally, when the choir of angels showed up Khalil was down to boogie.

Three days later, the whale gets sick and vomits Jonah and Khalil up, conveniently next to Jonah’s old camel. Well, it’s not the most pleasant way out, but it’s better than the alternative.

Jonah goes to Nineveh, but he’s still not happy about it, muttering “get in, give the message, get out.” On his arrival, he almost gets an excuse to bail, when the guard will not listen to him. Luckily, or unluckily, depending on how you see it, he once again runs into the Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything.

The Pirates, not willing to let an idea go just because its completely bonkers, used all Jonah’s payment to continue buying up twisted cheese curls, and did finally get the golden ticket to the factory in Nineveh. They are more than happy to smuggle Jonah in. I guess they figure that last time they obstructed his mission, even unintentionally, everybody almost drowned. Can’t blame that reasoning. This turns out to be not such a good deal for Jonah after all, because on one of their previous trips to the factory (apparently the golden ticket is good for multiple trips) Pirate Larry mistook some bags for free samples. The penalty for petty and entirely accidental theft, in Nineveh, is “the slap of no return!!!!!”

They tie you up to a pole and drop a giant metal fish on you. In a big gladiatorial arena. Oh, and they nab your friends and traveling companions to be slapped as well. Cause that’s fair and all.

Jonah Nineveh
Worst. Week. Ever.

Jonah attempts to mount a legal defense mid-execution, and when he mentions that he had just survived three days in a big fish’s stomach, the Ninevites take notice. I don’t know if you noticed, from all the subtle hints, but fish are kind of a big deal to them. This causes them to pay attention to his whole turn and repent speech, and they let him and his friends go.

Jonah promptly goes to find a good vantage point to watch the city be destroyed.

Yeah, turns out that through all of this, he never considered that the actual point of his speech would be for the Ninevites to be given a second chance that they might actually take. This part is all true to the original Bible story, but most children’s versions leave it out. Slaughter a whole city? A-ok. Moral complexity in your prophets? Woah, let’s not get crazy here. But, if any children’s Bible series was going to pleasantly surprise us all, it would be Veggie Tales.

Jonah climbs a mountain, just to get a good view of the destruction of buildings, and presumptive death of human beings, including children. It takes him a while to realize that this destruction isn’t going to happen. The Ninevites repented, and they meant it. They got right to work changing their ways and generally making amends, so for once God isn’t going to go all fire and brimstone on them. God doesn’t explain that to Jonah right away. First, he grows a tree, just to give Jonah a bit of shade, and perhaps a subtle hint that he’s gonna be waiting a lo-o-o-ong time. Then, he sends a worm to eat the tree and cause it to fall down. Jonah completely and utterly loses his shit.

Jonah Khalil tree
And you thought he was just the quirky sidekick. Turns out, he was the worm all along.

This was all to teach Jonah a complex and subtle lesson, which can be roughly summarized as “You literally care more about a single tree than thousands of men, women and children. What the fuck is wrong with you dude?!?!”

This is spelled out to him by Khalil. In the Bible, it was God himself who points out the hypocrisy of Jonah’s reaction. Apparently, he finally realized that communication via storms and convenient whales is perhaps a bit ambiguous. As in the Bible story, Jonah does not see reason, but instead throws himself to the ground, wailing that it would be better if he had died in the belly of the whale. Khalil decides to leave him. That is Jonah’s punishment; no whales, no fire and brimstone. For failing to accept that other people deserve the same second chances he wants for himself, he is left to wallow in his own selfish indignation. It is, in my opinion, the most just comeuppance ever delivered in the Bible.

The reaction of the veggies back home is similar to mine when I first heard the unedited version of the story. What? What the hell kind of ending is that? What? In this film, the happy ending is found not in a Hollywood rewrite, but in Bob and Jr. learning the lesson that Jonah didn’t. Bob finally accepts Mr. Asparagus’ apology, while Jr. offers his ticket to Laura, repairing their friendship. Then, of course, the musician in question shows up looking for directions, gives everybody backstage passes and ends this episode on a big musical number.

Jonah twippo
He looks oddly familiar…

I mentioned earlier that forgiveness was often presented to me as something that is required, on pain of not being forgiven yourself. And when your religion says everyone is inherently sinful and needs to be forgiven to not be burned alive for all eternity, that’s a legitimately terrifying prospect to have imprinted on you. So its interesting to note that in this movie, Jonah himself isn’t forgiven. Jonah gets a second chance, but he doesn’t get a third chance. You could say this is because he isn’t sorry, so the lesson is still forgive everyone who is willing to say sorry, but I want to analyze things a little further. Jonah’s first crime is running away, his second is preparing to gloat over the destruction of a city, and what both of them have in common is that he is unwilling to see the Ninevites as being equally worthy of forgiveness. Earlier, I noted how his line “your messages are meant for me” implies a mentality where he is the center of the story. He expects to be told what to do and given opportunities to make up for it when he makes a mistake, but he doesn’t even want to consider that there are other sides to his own story. It’s his lack of compassion that makes him unable to truly get over his own faults.

And that’s the real difference between him and the Ninevites, as well as Laura and Mr. Asparagus. Mr. Asparagus had his own perspective, where he was just trying to keep everyone’s spirits up, but was willing to see that Bob had another, equally valid one where he wasn’t being given the help he really needed. Laura initially refuses to take Jr’s seat, which shows she isn’t a permanently selfish person, but a kid who, like Jr., is capable of moments of good and bad, and still learning to have more of the former than the latter. We aren’t shown the Ninevites’ reaction, but we are informed their change of heart was genuine. Jonah was willing to say sorry to get out of a bad situation, but his attitude towards the rest of the world didn’t fundamentally change.

In my experience, that’s highly accurate of toxic people. Anyone can move their mouth and say “I’m sorry,” but it is only people who can adjust their point of view who get around to changing their behaviors. This movie managed to emphasize the importance of compassion and mercy while still giving us permission to step away from those who are stuck in damaging old behaviors, and that’s a balanced, honest message that I can really get behind.

I’m working on my next series of Reviews as an Atheist, and I can’t wait to start sharing them with all of you. Until next time, thanks, as always, for reading.

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