Monday, April 19, 2004

Christianity, Humor, and Satire

By Dave Armstrong (1999)

Malcolm Muggeridge observed that Christians in particular most appreciate humor, because the great majority of humor is based on human fallibility and foibles, and the Christian notion of original sin and universal human sinfulness and pride ties into that nicely. In the Christian worldview, it is second nature to laugh at oneself and mankind in general, for this reason. Satire in particular is thoroughly Christian, and many of the great and greatest satirists have been Christians (More, Swift, Erasmus, Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, Muggeridge himself, Garrison Keillor, etc.). Jesus Himself utilized mild sarcasm on many occasions (e.g., "take the log out of your own eye"). I love satire myself, and utilize it in some of my writing.

I find that people without particularly strong faith, to the contrary, oftentimes take both themselves and human beings in general far too seriously, and hence are too often dour and humorless and too self-important and pompous to really have a humorous outlook. I know this is a very broad observation, but I have found it to be true in my own experience.

After I wittily responded on a (Protestant) list to a humorous piece about "666" and names (such as Barney the Dinosaur LOL) supposedly adding up to 666 in their Greek or Hebrew numeric values, I received a scolding from a Christian whom I would consider (after several lengthy interactions) overly dour and humorless (his words and those of another participant are in blue). Here is how I replied:
This is NOT a laughing matter!!!

Is there anything you laugh about? No Christmas [he considers Christmas a pagan celebration] (like the Jehovah's Witnesses - do you hold that birthdays are idolatrous, as they do?), no poking fun at Christians' excess and folly . . . what a dreary life . . . . I suppose you would rebuke Elijah when he mocked the false prophets on Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18:25-29 is one of the funniest passages in all of Scripture - especially v. 27 in the TEV), or Jesus when He sarcastically rebuked hypocrites by referring to a "log" in their eye . . . or how about Paul wishing that false teachers would "mutilate" (castrate) themselves (Gal 5:12 - a pun upon circumcision)? All of these were very serious matters, too, but the human folly is what was ironically humorous. Lighten up a bit . . . life is too short . . .

Besides, I think it is altogether proper and spiritually healthy to mock and make fun of the devil and his demons. They can't stand that, anymore than the Pharisees could. Proud creatures can't stand not being regarded with abject fear and respect. So we laugh at them; they have no power over us, as long as we are in Christ and faithful to our calling.
    . . . The LORD laughs at the wicked, for he sees that their day is coming. (Ps 37:13)
Such a post is not worthy of this list.

Well, since the moderator [a Baptist] started this hilarious thread, I felt safe that it was permissible. I'm very glad that he has a sense of humor. Hell is the place where humor and laughter will die, not heaven, my Puritan friend.

For as the cackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fool. This also is vanity. Eccl 7:6.

So I am a fool. Am I a fool because I laugh, or do I laugh because I am a fool? But wait! What did Jesus say?:
    . . . if you say 'You fool,' you will be liable to the hell of fire.' (Mt 5:22)
If Paul and Jesus and Elijah could make fun of false teachers (and God the Father often mocks silly and disobedient men, too), certainly I can laugh about eschatological folly (which is legion, and now we have Y2K to add to it). As usual, I would rather follow my Lord than men's self-generated opinions. There are few things more ridiculous than "biblical numerology," which inspired [the moderator] to post his hilarious bit about Barney and 666 in the first place. :-))))))

Another Protestant Christian observed:

I also agree, and thought the joke was funny. But (and isn't there always a but LOL) I think we can go to far into making things funny, too. I'm not saying that is happening here, just an observation of other things.

Yes, I agree.

Some of the things we speak openly about now, joke about, and don't take seriously are the things not too many years ago, we would never speak of around children or in mixed company. I remember when divorce, adultery, etc, wasn't spoken of or discussed, and was seen as a terrible thing to have happen. How did these couple of examples become no-big-deal now? In my humble opinion, thru the stigma being removed thru humor, media brainwashing, etc.

I agree completely; this is a very good and insightful point. In fact, this is why I watch virtually no network TV - because sitcoms do (to sin) precisely what you observe, and I think it is an insidious, wicked thing. I have observed this very process through the years in many Christians. I can't believe what they sit and watch on TV. There are plenty of committed, "on-fire" Christians who show precious little perceptiveness about thoughtful and selective TV- or movie-watching, in my opinion. I also wrote two reviews on my website: on Ivanhoe and Titanic - emphasizing in both the anti-Christian propaganda and underlying themes in both. I was incensed by that because it unnecessarily marred otherwise great movies, and because I knew that added to the brainwashing of the American public.

So with something as serious as anti-Christ, etc, where we are the lights in the darkness to warn people, to be the watchmen so to speak for a nonbelieving world, maybe we need to be a bit careful that we don't desensitize (sp?) ourselves to the very things we should hold ourselves sensitive to......What do you all think? I very well could be totally wrong, I have been before ;))

I appreciate your thoughts. I would disagree (mildly) on a few points:

1) I would make a distinction between humor amongst Christians, and that in "mixed" company. I can't see myself making "666" jokes to a non-Christian, for the reasons you cite;

2) I also make a distinction between laughing about things which are sin, as if they are unimportant, and non-sinful (which I agree is wrong), and mocking the devil and his demons, which I think is spiritually healthy (because they long so much for us to respect them - just as prideful people do). Luther often mocked the devil when he came to tempt him - as you may be aware. The devil deserves no respect, so we need not (and should not) give him any;

3) One still has to account for the biblical "humorous" behavior I cited: Elijah taunting the prophets of Baal (who were soon to be executed); Jesus using the sarcastic "log in the eye" word-picture; and Paul saying he wished false teachers would "castrate" themselves.

It is indeed often a fine line where humor is concerned (and timing, too, is of the utmost importance). I think it is good for us to examine our use of it periodically. What we can never do, I think, is to frown upon humor altogether (pun half-intended). I think the so-called "Puritan" notion is at least equally as wrong and unbalanced as inappropriate use of humor. A life of Christian joy and peace simply won't permit that. Humor and laughter is too embedded in the human spirit - itself derived from the image of God. I can't believe that the saints in heaven will be walking around with long faces. I would consider that scenario completely absurd from a Christian viewpoint.

It looks like you and I would largely agree. I'm not so much disagreeing, as expanding a bit upon your comments, which I thought were excellent.

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AndreaM said...

Cool post Dave! Just recently saw the remade for off broadway play "Young Frankenstein" excellent example of humor gone WAY too overboard.

Now, as to your examples, brilliant. I am a devout Catholic but also a sinner, and I find a great way to wade through the muck of life I create and others around me create is through humor. I find it gives me understanding and keeps me from despair. Fine line as you pointed out...

Are you familiar with the "Bad Catholic's Guide" books? I think they are ingenious in this respect...

Dave Armstrong said...

Thanks, Andrea. I'm very often misunderstood on this, and get tired of that, so it is nice that someone agrees for a change.

I don't know about the books you mention.

Dave Armstrong said...

I see that you are a local and homeschooler too (my wife teaches our 4). Great!