Jesus Never Laughed

In The Case for Christ, evangelical psychologist (and demon-believer) Dr. Gary Collins rendered this appraisal of the mental health of Jesus:

“We don’t see psychological difficulties in Jesus. He spoke clearly, powerfully and eloquently. He was brilliant and had absolutely amazing insights into human nature. He was loving but didn’t let his compassion immobilize him; he didn’t have a bloated ego, even though he was often surrounded by adoring crowds; he maintained balance despite an often demanding lifestyle; he cared deeply about people; he responded to individuals based on where they were at and what they uniquely needed.

…[D]isturbed individuals frequently show inappropriate depression, or they might be vehemently angry, or perhaps they’re plagued with anxiety. But look at Jesus: he never demonstrated inappropriate emotions.”

One might suspect this verdict was delivered with less than full clinical objectivity. But I have a question for Dr. Collins: If Jesus was the epitome of mental health, experiencing all the natural and appropriate emotions that are ours, then I have a question: Where in the Bible does he laugh?

There’s no shortage of wrath in the New Testament, no lack of righteousness or judgment or even sorrow. But is there even a single instance of laughter – of genuine, spontaneous mirth, the kind that every child experiences?

Doing a search for “laugh” or “laughter” and its likely synonyms, I found only one reference in the gospels, and it goes to establish rather the reverse point:

Blessed are ye that hunger now: for ye shall be filled. Blessed are ye that weep now: for ye shall laugh… Woe unto you that are full! for ye shall hunger. Woe unto you that laugh now! for ye shall mourn and weep.

—Luke 6:21-25

Not only does Jesus never laugh, it seems, but he condemns those who do, claiming that sorrow and misery will be theirs in the hereafter. And it’s not just the New Testament, but the Bible in general that continues this theme. Widening the search, we find a few references to God laughing in the Old Testament, but these are not laughs of merriment. Here are some examples:

But thou, O Lord, shalt laugh at them; thou shalt have all the heathen in derision.

—Psalms 59:8

I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh.

—Proverbs 1:26

and also:

Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better.

—Ecclesiastes 7:3

Doing a Web search, I found that I’m not the only one who’s noticed this. Several Christian sites also note the lack of laughter in the Bible:

Not surprisingly, it is exactly in the same context as all the other scriptures that record God laughing. Never in joy, never during worship, never in mirth, never to be amused, only in derision against His enemies. He is not frivolous in his laughter, nor is He out of control. He laughs in judgment… It is a fearful thing to be the object of God’s laughter, or to take His laughter out of context. (source)

I had searched the scriptures to find any biblical precedent for “holy” laughter and there was none. To my amazement, I had discovered that there were surprisingly few references in the Bible to any kind of laughter, period. (source)

Thus, the Bible takes a dim view of mirth or laughter, showing much laughter as having its roots in scorn or folly. (source)

All these sites display the narrow, pinched worldview of the fundamentalist. Laughter is neither frivolous nor sinful. It’s an intrinsic part of human nature, a healthy way of expressing merriment and joy, and an appropriate response to the ironies and absurdities that are inherent in the world. It is the natural alchemy that transforms sorrow into happiness. Our lives would be flat and empty without the rich emotional color it gives them.

But the Bible, like most religious dogmatists, treats laughter as an unworthy subject. It’s not difficult to see why: in the cramped and rigidly proscribed world of fundamentalism, there is no room for irony, no room for taking either their own doctrines or the beliefs of others with any sort of light-heartedness. To laugh at something is to admit the existence of more than one way to view it, and that thought is anathema to the religious worldview that sees only in black and white. Of course, it’s not just Christian fundamentalists who feel this way; Ezra Levant helpfully provides an example of the same sentiment from the Ayatollah Khomeini:

Allah did not create man so that he could have fun. The aim of creation was for mankind to be put to the test through hardship and prayer. An Islamic regime must be serious in every field. There are no jokes in Islam. There is no humor in Islam. There is no fun in Islam. There can be no fun and joy in whatever is serious.

But we atheists can laugh. Not just at the follies and absurdities of religion, which are not in short supply, but at ourselves as well. The battles we face are serious, true, but as soon as we take them so seriously that we can no longer laugh, we have crossed the line from impassioned activism into dangerous self-righteousness.

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About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Arc of Fire, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.


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