Every Time a Bell Laughs an Angel Gets Confused


Are you interested in the subject of Christianity and humor? Me, too! And that’s why at church last Sunday during the celebration of the Eucharist I busted out a can of Cheez Whiz.

Turns out people don’t think that’s as funny as you’d think they would. And I have the thurible-shaped bruise on the side of my head to prove it.

For four years now I’ve been blogging on the massive Christian website, Crosswalk.com. The other day, Crosswalk’s executive editor Steve McGarvey asked to do an e-interview with me for a magazine article he was writing on the relationship between Christianity and humor.

“You’re a funny guy,” said Steve. “And you’re a Christian, right?”

Oh, Steve thinks he is funny. (And, curse him, he really, really is.)

Anyway, here’s our interview went:

STEVE: How do you think the Christian worldview should inform the way we think about humor and comedy as they occur in popular culture?

ME: I’m afraid the sheer density of that question has crushed my brain — which has shrunken my bald spot. Cool! But lemme say this: If you insist on “informing” your response to comedy with your “Christian world view,” then it’s a pretty safe bet that nothing will ever seem funny to you. Constantly screening for religious acceptability goes together with funny like a needle goes together with a balloon. Nothing kills humor like the application to it of what amounts, in this context, to dogma. That’s why the Church Lady is so funny: she doesn’t think anything is funny. Which, in real life, isn’t a funny condition to have at all.

STEVE: It seems like humor is a difficult thing to define, especially for Christians. Is there any way we can cut through the subjectivity of what people find funny?

ME: The reason humor is difficult for Christians to define is because humor is virtually impossible for anyone to define. What happens with a person when they’re suddenly moved to genuine, loud laughter is as rich and magical a mystery as we have. It’s much easier to understand why we cry, even, than why we laugh. A true, spontaneous laugh is simply a freak occurrence that’s in no way subject to definition or understanding. As for “cutting through the subjectivity of what people find funny,” that, too, is impossible. Ultimately all humor must remain subjective. By definition, that means that the only real measure any of us have of what’s funny is whether or not we personally laugh at it. If we do, it’s funny! If we don’t, not so much with the yukkability. You can’t “cut through” that any more than you can chew through a car.

STEVE: Most attempts by Christians to be professionally funny are usually dismissed as lame. Why do you think that is?

ME: Because most attempts by Christians to be professionally funny are usually so lame it’s like watching Dick Cheney try to break dance. It’s just painful. Humor has its own rules. You start trying to impose Religiously Inoffensive onto those rules, and you might as well start intoning from Leviticus.

STEVE: Most of the comedy that comes out of popular culture seems to Christians vulgar, mean-spirited, offensive, or in some way antithetical to the Christian worldview, be it, stand-up, sitcoms, movies, etc. What do you think our response to this should be from both our role as culture “consumers” and our role as culture “creators?”

ME: As cultural consumers, I think Christians should make a point of not laughing at any joke that begins with, “So Jesus walks into a bar.” We should also definitely not laugh at the Pope’s hat. And no producing a Krazy Straw when they start passing around the communion wine. Beyond that it’s an open call. Generally speaking, it’s my deep and personal conviction that under no circumstances should any Christian anywhere ever laugh at anything that actually and truly isn’t funny. And if something is funny, Christians should laugh—but modestly. If your body starts creating unexpected noises or excessive fluids of any sort, you’re laughing too hard. As for being culture “creators,” I think we Christians should leave the funny to comedians. And I think comedians, in turn, should leave the condemnation and frowning to us. That way everyone’s happy.

STEVE: As a whole Christians, at least evangelicals generally, seem to be a humorless lot. Would you agree? Why is that?

ME: I would guess that evangelicals, or Christians generally, are laughing and full of humor to the degree that they’re not thinking about untold millions of people roasting in hell. It’s hard to be really funny when you’re thinking about people screaming in mortal agony throughout all of eternity. Oh, sure, you can picture them simultaneously trying to roast marshmallows and/or complaining about the air conditioning, but how far down Chuckles Lane is that really going to take you? And when Christians think about why people don’t have to roast in hell, what’s the image that first pops into their head? Flayed Jesus dying on the cross. Again: way unfunny. And here I think we begin to appreciate why the founding fathers of the church determined that, in order to bestow upon the faithful at least a little comedy relief, they should design, in exactly the fashion they did, the Pope’s hat.

And … so on.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • It is a gruesome religion but John I'm sure you have a few zingers on the human sacrifice/cannibalism aspect of Christ's crucifixion. That Jesus, he's just good enough to eat for Sunday brunch.

    I will leave you with a quote from the great Robert Anton Wilson which seems to me on point:

    "“The Bible tells us to be like God, and then on page after page it describes God as a mass murderer. This may be the single most important key to the political behavior of Western Civilization.”"

  • Yikes. No, sorry, Brian: that's … a tad much for me. Thanks for playing our game, though. Pagan.

  • Jerri Harrington

    Hey, John, I think you may be hanging out with the wrong Christians! I love to laugh, and all sorts of funny things happen….along with really funny stories…with my Christian friends. I think the problem with Christians as a whole, and humor is…we tend to take ourselves too seriously and God not seriously enough. Jesus was pretty funny….a camel going through the eye of a needle? Someone with a log in her eye squinting to pull a speck out of her friend's eye?? Funny image! Whitewashed tombs! The problem the religious people in Jesus' day had with him was that the joke was on them and the lesson was about them. Maybe that's where our humor should be aimed today. It would be more productive. You do that well, John. And by the way, I wouldn't want to be caught DEAD after having made fun of Jesus, God or the Holy Spirit….would you?

  • Sure, Jerri: I don't think there's anything wrong with making fun of Jesus, God, or the Holy Spirit. Just the other day I was thinking, "Wouldn't it be funny if Casper the Ghost converted, and then the Holy Spirit tried to flfjlsjggjgslshhehelp

  • Sam

    Humor is like a frog. You can dissect it, but the thing dies in the process – (a paraphrase of an E.B. White quote)

  • That's actually a Mark Twain quote. I love it!

  • John,

    Not sure the context of your previous statement is coming across the way you meant it or I am too dense to understand it. Probably the latter.

    "I don't think there's anything wrong with making fun of Jesus, God, or the Holy Spirit." Could you elaborate on that thought?

  • It was just a set-up to a joke, with its prompt taken from the previous comment.

  • Seriously john- this is why I read you. On the one hand- you make me dust off dictionary.com and figure out what you're talking about.

    On the other hand you're hilarious with posts and comments and down to earth christian logic.

  • That's what I get for scanning instead of reading. Thanks for the clarification.

  • see… when i see that one painting by Michelangelo (creation of adam?), you know, the one with adam and god touching their fingers in the middle, i can't help but think that maybe god invented the pull-my-finger-joke…. and that's also when he created the golf stream…

  • Some Christians ask why Jesus hasn’t returned yet. I think I may have the answer.

    The last time Jesus was around, he had a bit of a traumatic experience. Some people beat him and then nailed him to a wooden cross. Definitely not anyone’s best day.

    And so let’s say Jesus returns today. He looks around, trying to get a sense for the place, trying to forget the last time he was here…and BAM!…crosses everywhere!

    If a group of people wore the object of my execution around their necks, I’d take my time about coming back too.

  • Hahahahaha. I have no response to this post; it was just funny.

  • Des

    Maybe there needs to be a course in seminary that teaches future pastors the art of adding humor to a sermon. Whenever you hear an attempt at it, I hear more groans than laughter.

  • Cindy

    I think that the comedian, Nazareth, is quite funny. Jeff Allen also makes me laugh.

  • John Okoronkwo

    don’t joke with an angel, bible say you should not say sorry to an angel, you must be careful what you say about an angel, lean more at http://www.everydaydevotional.com/