People will go to great lengths to form common cause and foster interpersonal communion. Few television series have demonstrated this uniquely human trait as effectively as NBC’s Parks and Recreation.
In Season 4, Episode 6 — the aptly titled “End of the World” — small-city bureaucrat Leslie Knope must contend with her town’s amiable doomsday cult, reserving public park space for their recurring apocalyptic celebration. Alas, the world does not end, with Herb, the cult leader, admitting his calculations were off yet again.
In a subtly poignant scene near the end of the episode, Herb visits Leslie to schedule a new gathering.
A transcript of their conversation (found at marker 26:17 on Netflix):
Herb: Frankly, Leslie, I’m shocked. All the scholarly work that I did on these texts indicated that the world would end.
Leslie: Oh gosh, I’m as disappointed as you are, Herb.
Herb: Yeah, but when the world did not end, I went home and began to re-evaluate the texts—
Leslie: You don’t say.
Herb: —and I realized that I made some crucial errors.
Leslie: Well, math is hard.
Herb: Yes, well, the actual end of the world is six months from now.
Herb: Yeah! (Points to Leslie’s computer screen) May 19th.
Leslie: OK, let’s see what we’ve got. Oh, on the 19th we can’t give you the park. We have a spring spectacular free ice cream giveaway.
Herb: Whoa, oh, look here. I misspoke. Yeah, it’s May 20th… (voice trails off)
Leslie: That is free.
Leslie: OK, end of world, May 20th.
Herb: (Stands to leave) Oh, and could you put aside 10 tickets to that ice cream thing?
Leslie: (Smiles) Already did.
The implication, here, is that Herb and his congregants gather not out of true ideological fanaticism, but rather as a way to simply enjoy the company of their tight-knit coterie. Proclaiming the end of the world may seem a strange way to accomplish this, but, hey, it gets the job done well enough. Leslie, being the epitome of a kind-hearted public servant, is all too happy to oblige the cultists by playing along with their doomsday fantasies.
In real life, religion works much the same way. Humans are social beings, possessing an insatiable desire for companionship. A common faith, even one based on zany ideas with little in the way of supporting evidence, is an efficient way to construct and maintain tribal groupings.
Indeed, religious fervor has its downsides, but it also goes a long way in quenching the existential loneliness of the downtrodden masses. Because of this, organized spiritualism remains a vital institution — regardless of its truth value.
When it comes to the starkness of human existence, who are we to demean and criticize the coping mechanisms of others? Though there may be objective truth, and blind faith is poor logical tender, at times it’s wrong to attack warm falsity with bitter facticity.
Often, it pays to be a Leslie Knope, instead. ■