Hayes could simply have said he was leaving the show, with no explanation, or used the old chestnut that it was for unstated "personal reasons." Everyone would have known the reason, but it would have been far less insulting to people who've done right by him for many years. Instead, his spokesman is quoted in the Reuters article as saying "there is a time when satire ends and intolerance and bigotry toward religious beliefs and others begins" -- in other words, claiming that Trey Parker and Matt Stone are the ones being intolerant and bigoted. But Hayes didn't quit the show when they did far worse to the sacred cows of Christianity or Judaism or Islam or Mormonism. So it's okay to bash everyone else's religions, but his own is something different. I can't think of a clearer demonstration of bigotry and rank hypocrisy.
I can't even begin to convey how utterly depressing this is. Isaac Hayes was such a huge figure in my childhood, the absolute icon of cool. I mean, come on, the opening credits of Shaft with his theme music! His appearances on The Rockford Files, the coolest detective show ever! His amazing, influential albums! Sure, I was miffed when I learned he was a believer in a religion that I have a lot of trouble tolerating (mind you, South Park pointed out that "tolerance" doesn't mean approving of something but rather putting up with it...through gritted teeth if necessary) but his continued participation in the show did a lot to ease my qualms. I was raised to believe a sense of humor is a mark of sanity, above all...and if Hayes could take all the tastelessness and caustic wit of South Park with good humor, maybe that proved Scientology didn't necessarily turn its followers into mindless drones. Maybe, in spite of its egregiously silly teachings, it wasn't that much worse than any other religion. Well, now we have solid proof the exact opposite is the case.
I've lost a childhood idol today, and I'm genuinely upset by that.
Update: a friend has brought to my attention the following quote from the Isaac Hayes interview at the Onion AV Club on January 4th, 2006:
AVC: There's some pretty harsh satire on South Park. They don't really care who they offend.
IH: But that's their thing! They're success was built on that cutting-edge stuff. I've had to defend them a lot of times. One time on BET Tonight I defended them because Tavis Smiley, the host on that show, was coming at me. It was a call-in show, too, so people were calling in. I told them not to take this stuff seriously. If you do, you'll get in trouble. Just enjoy it. Remember your high-school yearbook? You look at those pictures now, you laugh, right? That's what South Park is. You got to laugh at it. Because we cursed, but we just didn't dare let the principals, the teachers, or the preachers hear it. And we didn't turn out bad, okay? Just look at it that way. Also, usually there's some kind of moral message at the end for the kids, by the Chef.
AVC: They did just do an episode that made fun of your religion, Scientology. Did that bother you?
IH: Well, I talked to Matt and Trey about that. They didn't let me know until it was done. I said, "Guys, you have it all wrong. We're not like that. I know that's your thing, but get your information correct, because somebody might believe that shit, you know?" But I understand what they're doing. I told them to take a couple of Scientology courses, and understand what we do. [Laughs.]
I've seen a number of fans suggesting that Hayes' action was forced on him by Church bigwigs and that they were responsible for his recent statement. The above quote makes that seem entirely likely. But if so, until he stands up for himself, my feelings are the same.