Variations on a theme: Why evangelicals don’t do scholarship, humor or philosophy

These are three different posts on three different topics. These are three posts all saying the same thing.

First, Peter Enns, with “The Deeper Scandal of the Evangelical Mind: We Are Not Allowed to Use It“:

The real problem isn’t simply a failure on the part of Evangelicals to engage the world of thought. Evangelicals earning higher degrees and publishing their findings in the wider intellectual community isn’t what’s needed.

The real scandal of the Evangelical mind is that we are not allowed to use it.

Calling for Evangelical involvement in public academic discourse is useless if trained Evangelicals are legitimately afraid of what will happen to them if they do.

A more basic need is the creation of an Evangelical culture where the exercise of  the Evangelical mind is expected and encouraged.

But, with few exceptions, that culture does not exist. The scandal of the Evangelical mind is that degrees, books, papers, and other marks of prestige are valued–provided you come to predetermined conclusions.

Second, Larry Shallenberger for Relevant magazine, asks, “Why Aren’t Christians Funny?

A vintage cartoon illustrating both: A) the sorry state of evangelical humor; and B) the reason why evangelicals are not funny.

Humor requires the ability to admit weakness and a willingness to laugh at it. A joke is funny because it exposes the silliness bound up in the act of being human. Self-deprecation makes for good comedy, but it’s akin to putting bullets in your opponent’s gun in a culture war. Weaknesses can’t be just hidden from one’s opponents; their very existence must be denied. Miroslav Volf wrote, in Exclusion and Embrace, that a people group must be convinced of its moral superiority to feel justified aggressing against another party. You can’t laugh at yourself until you cede the moral high ground.

… Bryan Allain, author of Actually, Clams Are Miserable says, “To me, for something to be funny it has to be on the edge. Whether that is the edge of decency, the edge of expectations or the edge of sanity; if it’s right down the middle, it’s not going to make someone laugh. I think Christians struggle with creating humorous art because too often we don’t want to stray near the edges. Pushing the boundaries can open us up to judgment by those outside and inside Christianity, so instead of risking that for the joke, we play it safe and nobody cracks a smile.”

And Jesse James DeConto discusses the intellectual implosion of his alma mater, the evangelical Cedarville University, with “Why My Evangelical College Shouldn’t Do Away With the Philosophy Department“:

Evangelical institutions like Cedarville have always had a rocky relationship with the humanities: Philosophy, literature, the arts — they’re all great as long as they support what we already believe. But if they make us question our assumptions, they’re dangerous. The Culture War has been fomenting at Cedarville since before I was there, and it always seemed the powers-that-be perceived my philosophy professors to be on the wrong side.

Back to Peter Enns:

Evangelicalism is not fundamentally an intellectual organism but an apologetic one. It did not come to be in order to inspire academic exploration but to maintain certain theological distinctives by intellectual means. These intellectual means are circumscribed by Evangelical dogma, though avoiding Fundamentalist anti-intellectualism.

As an intellectual phenomenon, the Evangelical experiment is a defensive movement.

An apologetic or defensive culture primarily concerned with preserving “certain theological distinctives” will not just defend its boundaries against anything that might violate them. It will defend those boundaries against anything that might transcend them. The transcendent — the good, the beautiful, the true — becomes the forbidden.

That’s why Cedarville wants to purge its philosophy department. It’s why the evangelical mind is not allowed to be used.

And it’s why a sense of humor will get you reclassified as a “post-evangelical” almost as fast as a hermeneutic of radically inclusive love will.

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  • mud man

    I would really like to call myself an Evangelical … Mark Noll point out that there is a long and distinguished tradition there, and the Bebbington quadrilateral (rightly divided) seems like a good place to set out from … but it’s an uphill slog for sure. As I said recently, if people really believed what they say then we would still have discussion, but we could let go of the rancor. I mean, God is the way he is, nie? (Or is not the way he is not, if you prefer.)

  • Heather Spoonheim

    Which god?

  • AnonaMiss

    I’m so glad I read your blog, Fred. From the article about eliminating the philosophy department,

    Baptists love their doctrinal statements.

    If I weren’t a regular reader, I would have missed the heartwrenching irony.

  • Matt Austern

    The really weird thing about that cartoon is that there are four steps from “NO DEITY” to “ATHEISM”. I kinda thought those things were synonymous. What distinction did the author of the cartoon think he was making?

  • AnonymousSam

    For that matter, “AGNOSTICISM” is beneath “NO DEITY.” How does that work?

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    I liked that NO ATONEMENT is after NO DEITY.

  • AnonymousSam

    Maybe they’re assuming belief in Jesus is separate from belief in God, so everything at NO DEITY or below is belief in Jesus exclusively? That would allow for atonement to some extent, I suppose.

    It’s hard enough to wrap my mind around this kind of thinking when it’s clear

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    I have no idea.

    I can see how the freaking out could work the other way around: you don’t believe in this specific theory of atonement and next thing you know you won’t believe in God!!! But saying that if you don’t believe in God you might end up not believing a particular doctrine about God is just backwards.

  • Andrea

    Yeah it’s definitely a peculiar scale of disbelief they’re working with!

  • Tricksterson

    I’m thinking that the latter half of the stairway, in fact maybe everything in between CHRISTIANITY and ATHEISM was just thrown in at random because to whoever did it they’re all basically different terms for the same thing.

  • Lacey Wrigley

    It’s saying they’ve lost the belief in the deity of Christ, not that they don’t believe in any kind of God. If Jesus isn’t God, there is no atonement and there is no resurrection. Once someone is unsure of those things, they no longer know what to believe about God, and are one step closer to believing he doesn’t exist.

  • AnonymousSam

    Interesting. That makes more sense. I wonder what it says about their attitude toward Judaism? “Congratulations, you’re marginally better than atheists!”

  • Ekatherineallen

    Atheism is lack of belief in gods, while agnosticism is the position on whether or not gods exists. I’m an agnostic – I don’t know if gods exist or not, and in practice I’m an atheist – I don’t believe on gods (as in, I don’t pray to Jesus or Isis personally). But you can still have religion without gods: Buddhism abd Taoism are good examples. So is deism (as practices by many of the US founding fathers: the idea that there was a deity who created everything, but that deity is very far removed from humans and we are on our own.

  • Ekatherineallen

    My bad, guys! My magnifier software didn’t kick in until after my reply was up – I couldn’t see the smaller words until now. Sheesh

  • AnonymousSam

    *Facepalm* I forgot about deism (and after identifying as a deist for about five years!). That probablywould fall under their “NO DEITY” category.

    Now that I think of it, the idea of judging people’s beliefs based entirely on their similarity to this particular variant of Christianity, actually having a sliding scale of similarity and better/worseness, really is quite disgusting. Judging on this basis is bad enough, but to have quantifiable degrees of just how “fallen” a person is by what aspects they believe and don’t…

  • Omnicrom

    It’s pretty clearly from a Christian point of view, and not a terribly enlightened one, so the intervening steps are all about fearmongering. Immediately after “No Deity” it has “No Atonement” and then “No Resurrection”, intended to scare Christians into line lest they start to doubt and walk down the stairs towards non-belief.

    I question whether the author knows much about Atheism, the more fundamentalist True Believers rarely do, but whether he knows that “No Deity” means “Atheist” or not the purpose of the comic is not definition but defamation. “Don’t Question lest you be lost to sadness and eternal hellfire!” is the message I’m getting pretty clearly.

  • Carstonio

    Excellent point about fearmongering. The cartoon seems like an attempt to keep the faithful from straying.

  • Wednesday

     I find it interesting that “No Ressurection” is specifically listed there, because that’s the same scare tactic that Ken Ham likes to use. If the creation of the Earth didn’t follow _exactly_ the way he says it does, then there was no Fall of the sort he says there was, and without _his_ version of the Fall,  there’s no need for Jesus’s death and resurrection.

    So if you reject Ham’s YEC, then Jesus died for nothing and there’s no ressurection, no salvation for you or anyone.

  • Mark Z.

    They’re all cargo-culting Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, where he argues that Christians must believe that resurrection of the dead is at least possible, because otherwise there was no resurrection of Christ and we’re all wasting our time here.

    What they miss (as they usually do with Paul’s letters) is that this argument isn’t aimed at establishing the truth of Christianity. It’s addressed to Christians who are trying to figure out the implications of their own theology.

  • ShifterCat

    Maybe by “No Deity” the cartoonist meant “No anthropomorphic deity”?  My great-grandfather was, according to my late grandmother, an impecunious preacher, and one of the reasons he remained impecunious was because he’d say things like, “God is the cohesive force of the universe”.  Congregations at that time all wanted to hear about God as an old man in a robe.

  • Hexep

    I think that at this point, we have all collectively put more effort into interpreting this comic than did the artist in producing it.

  • Timothy Conard

    i think just reading it required more mental effort than was put into producing it…

  • Hexep

    Nahhh, that kind of shading is extremely laborious.

  • hidden_urchin

    I think that at this point, we have all collectively put more effort into interpreting this comic than did the artist in producing it.

    Yes, well, we’re particularly skilled at that around here.  Our talent comes out in full force on Fridays.  :-)

  • hidden_urchin

    … and one of the reasone he remained impecunious was because he’d say things like, “God is the cohesive force of the universe.”

    It’s too bad he was born so early.  Had he lived in the latter half of the 20th century and rewritten his sermons with space battles and laser swords, using the Hero’s Journey to tie it together, then they would have been a huge hit.  What isn’t improved by space battles?

  • Dave

     > What isn’t improved by space battles?


  • ShifterCat

    Heh.  Yeah, he passed away before the first screening of Star Wars.

    A friend did tell me that his modern Unitarian church would have loved such sermons.

  • arcseconds

     God is gravity?

  • Tricksterson

    IIRC Einstein believed that God was essentially the sum of all natural law.

  • Water_Bear

    Einstein used the word “God” as a catch-all for the universe, hence “God does not use dice.” From what I’ve heard he was fairly agnostic. Unfortunately, being the most famous genius of the twentieth century means theists are eager to grab him up, especially the type who aren’t good with subtlety.

  • AnonymousSam

    In addendum to Tricksterson: Which is part of why Einstein is considered by some to be a pantheist.

    feeling lazy and not going into full detail about my spiritual beliefs,
    I identify as a pantheist as well, and would affirm that gravity is an
    aspect of divinity. Less specifically, the laws of physics themselves (including the aspects of them we don’t fully understand or haven’t even discovered) are a manifestation of what I think of when I say “God.”

  • arcseconds

    You and Einstein better lay of the Spinoza.  It’s giving you strange ideas :] 

  • Tricksterson

    Thank you, Spinoza was the other person I was trying to think of who expressed that view.

  • Gently Feral

    I think the reason “No Deity” is halfway down the flight of stairs is that it means “Denying the Deity of Christ.”  That’s more than one step from denying that there’s any sort of God at all, isn’t it?

  • ShifterCat

    There is one kind of humour authoritarians like, and that’s attacks on the Other — laughter as a baring of the teeth.  The problem with such “jokes”, of course, is that they’re not funny, as such; they’re an excuse for the in-group to show its hostility to the out-group.

  • Invisible Neutrino

    That’s actually just about the most perfect description yet that I’ve seen of the kind of humor often used by white guys on the Internet who self-identify as right-wing and/or Libertarian. The kind of humor they like to use is that teeth-baring tribalistic kind where you either respond “just right” and you’re in like Flynn, or you respond “wrong”, and they all but surround you like sharks to run you off.

  • Loki100

    Part of the problem for them is that humor, at least in the Western tradition is completely and firmly rooted in mocking the powerful. This goes back thousands and thousands of years, beyond even Rome and Greece. It includes the allowed fools of the court who pretty much alone could mock the king.

    Humor is almost always some form of social critique. It has to be, as the reason punchlines work is because they are surprising. So you have to start up with a situation that is expected, and then end in an incongruous, unexpected way. The best way to start out a joke, obviously, is reality, so you will almost always be commenting on that reality in some way. There are plenty of talking ducks and horses, but almost every joke starts off from some very real place.

    That’s why humor tends to criticize the way the world is, and the powerful people who run it. If ideologically you are in favor of the world the way it is, and the people who run it, you’re left making jokes about the most vulnerable populations in that world. Which isn’t making jokes really, it is just insulting and belittling people. That’s why the people that conservatives always claim are making jokes, such as Rush Limbaugh and Anne Coulter, never actually seem to actually make jokes.

    It also means you can’t be self-deprecating, because the entire point is to not criticize society. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler can make fun of feminism all day and all night, but conservative comics can’t make fun of conservatism. When you can’t mock society and the people in charge of it, you can’t mock conservatism. So they just become unfunny jerks.

  • Gotchaye

     I don’t think this really works, at least not anymore.  Maybe at one point conservatives were self-consciously pro- the already powerful, but they’re not now.  They’ve deluded themselves into thinking that the groups they don’t like are also powerful.  Yes, their persecution complex is dumb, but they do feel oppressed by atheists and women and ethnic minorities and gay people (and liberals generally, of course).  They think that the status quo is basically socialism.  They hate the status quo, as they understand it.  And some of their targets are well-chosen – most conservative political cartoonists direct most of their mockery at the most powerful person in the world.

    Obviously one can and ought to disagree with them, and probably conservative jokes won’t be funny to liberals (of course, liberal jokes aren’t very funny to conservatives) but if this is the psychology that makes humor possible then they should be able to produce it.

  • ShifterCat

    Maybe at one point conservatives were self-consciously pro- the already powerful, but they’re not now.  They’ve deluded themselves into thinking that the groups they don’t like are also powerful.  Yes, their persecution complex is dumb, but they do feeloppressed by atheists and women and ethnic minorities and gay people (and liberals generally, of course).  They think that the status quo is basically socialism.  They hate the status quo, as they understand it.

    Yes and no.  They’ll switch from “we’re an oppressed minority” to “we’re the majority, so what we say should go” according to convenience.

  • P J Evans

    They’ll switch from “we’re an oppressed minority” to “we’re the majority, so what we say should go” according to convenience.

    Both of which are wrong: in one case, because they’re not oppresssed, and in the other because they’re only a majority at the local level.

  • Mark Z.

    They’ll switch from “we’re an oppressed minority” to “we’re the majority, so what we say should go” according to convenience.

    As anyone who’s been around here for more than a year or so should know, this behavior is not limited to conservatives.

  • EllieMurasaki

    [citation needed]

  • vsm

    Besides, it’s not like liberals are powerless in the United States. They’re fairly well represented in areas such as the media, entertainment, higher education and so on, not to mention the politics in solidly blue states. In this cases, the status quo is indeed liberal (or at least Democratic, if you want to make that distinction), which is a wonderful thing, but it is also quite mockable.

    Jokes about politically correct language are a good example. Non-discriminatory language is a liberal project, I believe, and one that would not be possible without a certain degree of power. Telling others to change something as personal as the way they speak is not a small thing. This is why mocking the project can be funny: the comedian can present themself as a lone voice of reason against a vaguely defined group of absurd characters telling you to change. Of course, in this case liberals are not quite powerful enough to achieve hegemony, but it doesn’t matter in comedy. It’s enough that an attempt to use power was involved.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Non-discriminatory language is a liberal project, I believe, and one that would not be possible without a certain degree of power. Telling others to change something as personal as the way they speak is not a small thing.

    If you say a word–‘lame’, ‘retarded’, ‘gypped’, the list is endless–and I say ‘do not use that word, it hurts people [including me, if applicable]’, and you grin at me and say the word again, who is the person exercising power here?

  • vsm

    I don’t have a very firm grasp on how to analyze power on such a small scale, though my instinct would be that we both tried to exercise power and I was pretty unpleasant about it. However, if I did that here, I’m pretty sure several members of the community would tell me such language is not acceptable here. If I was particularly unpleasant about it, it would likely affect how and whether you would allow me to participate in future discussions. That is a form of power, though obviously rather limited. Nothing would stop me from joining a less-reputable community and blasting away with such language.

  • EllieMurasaki

    In my scenario, you are (by use of the word in question) hurting someone. I am incapable of compelling, requiring, or forcing you to stop; I am only capable of asking you to stop, and you are capable of refusing, and further capable of deliberately repeating the harm done by using the word. Power’s all on your side.

    If there’s only one of you and ten of me, it’s a slightly different story, but we still don’t have the power to make you stop using the word–just to make you either stop using it around us or stop being around us altogether. (Note that on Slacktivist, nobody has that power but Fred, who is reluctant to use it for any reason.)

    One on one, when all else is supposedly equal, the power is in the hand of the person using the hurtful language, and it’s disingenuous of you to say otherwise.

  • vsm

    The last thing I want to do is be disingenuous, hurtful or unclear, so please permit me to switch to a more obvious example than the power relations of an online community.

    There’s a certain racial slur in the English language, once ubiquitous in the Southern United States in particular, that most people are not permitted to use in public these days. In fact, even saying the word aloud for purposes of identification can be problematic. If a public figure were to use it of someone, there’s a good chance they’d be shunned, forced to resign (if applicable) and crawl under a rock for a good while. There’s no law against using the word, but that hardly matters in this case. I think this is an obvious example of anti-racist power, and a good thing at that.

    That is, assuming we define power as the ability to influence people and events, whether it’s backed by ideology, personality, threat of violence or something else.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Who’s exercising the power, though?

    I submit that it is neither black people nor liberals. It is in fact society at large, white people and conservatives included, exercising the power, and without white people and conservatives so doing, the word would still be in common currency.

    Black people and liberals agitated to make the word unacceptable, successfully, but the people enforcing its nonuse are mostly not black and mostly not liberal and certainly not mostly black-and-liberal.

  • vsm

    I don’t think it really matters who the people wielding the power would vote; by affirming anti-racism (or at least a reasonable imitation thereof) as a requirement of participation in public life, they are enforcing a progressive idea.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Which isn’t the same thing as progressives being the ones with the power in this situation. Women in positions of power is a progressive idea, and about the only one Sarah Palin holds.

  • Hexep

    Someone from [unliked group] wants to travel from [home of the unliked group] to [more civilized place], so they call up the airline and ask how long the flight will be. The customer service rep says, ‘can I put you on hold?’ The [outsider] says, ‘how long will I wait?’ The rep says, ‘maybe two minutes?’ The [outsider] says, ‘wow, that’s a fast flight, thanks.’

    Someone from [unliked group] goes to [a more civilized place] to buy a TV. The [outsider] goes to an electronics store and says, ‘do you sell TVs?’ The customer service rep says, ‘yeah, we got tons of ’em, look around.’ The [outsider] asks, ‘but do you have color TVs?’ And the rep says, ‘of course!’ So the [outsider] thinks about it and says, at length, ‘I would like a blue* one.’You could tell the joke about your ordinary, universal idiot, who is not unique to any one place and time, but it’s only effective for those purposes if you pick a group that is at odds with the listener.

    *When I was a child, the color TV was always green – I don’t know why. Nowadays, since a ‘green’ TV could be one that uses very little energy, it’s usually changed to blue.

  • Renee

     I think ShifterCat is talking about a form of humor lower than that.

    There’s a certain kind of “humor” that involves making remarks that are simply not funny; instead they’re a sort of signal for a community. These aren’t always bad. Sometimes someone makes a “nerd” joke of this variety (some extremely lame joking comment the real point of which is just to say, “I’m a nerd!”) and I find myself laughing loudly, not because it was actually funny but because it makes me happy to hear the signal that person just sent, and I wish to respond to that person that, “I’m a nerd too!” These kinds of jokes serve to establish a sense of community, and that’s the only reason they’re told or laughed at.

    But there are malicious versions of this too. Nasty comments about blacks/women/gays/immigrants/liberals/conservatives/welfare recipients/rich people/fat people/vegetarians/what-have-you which aren’t actually funny at all are sometimes told as jokes. But the real purpose of them is just to say, “I hate X people!” and to try to establish a sense of community with other people around that sentiment. Others laugh because they too hate X people and so they feel a happy community-feeling to hear it expressed.

  • ShifterCat

    The kind of jokes you’re talking about are gentle enough that [group x] can, and often have, told them about themselves as a kind of self-deprecation.  Eg. in Canada, “Newfie” jokes got started by Newfoundlanders.

    The sort I meant is, as Renee says, a lot nastier.

  • OrcHard

    Christian Humor: It’s like regular humor, except with a lot more flop sweat and awkward silences.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Mr. Allain has a worthy goal, but he seems a bit in the dark.

    Christianity is already wide open to judgement. It opened itself to judgement when “Go out and convert” became one of it’s goals. It opened itself to judgement again when the “Moral Majority” became a thing and certain Christians decided it was a good idea to start legislating their beliefs. Creationism is another good reason to pull out one’s judgement. 

    Hell, the fact that it’s a belief system in general SHOULD open it to personal study and judgement. 

  • Eric Boersma

    I think you’re missing the point. It’s not that Christianity isn’t open to judgement, it’s that evangelicals can’t judge Christianity.

  • Baby_Raptor

    He says both outside and in. 

  • Fusina

    Humor is a problem for evangelicals–I ran into it in (and this did surprise me at the time) an Episcopal young adults group. We were discussing the important traits of a spouse, and my number one, most important, the deal breaker, won’t marry if this isn’t there, was a sense of humor. I was gently corrected, in that a believing spouse was most important so far as these people were concerned, well before a sense of humor. I stuck to my guns, and yes, my spouse does have a sense of humor. It has kept us together in spite of our differences of opinions, and being two people who have their own ideas of what one should do in various situations. 

    He was not a believer when we met, having been driven from the Catholic church by humorless members, and I did not push him to become a christian, just requested that in cases  where I wanted to discuss it, I would like his honest opinions about it without him looking at me like I’d lost my mind, and shared a book I’d read by one of my fave theologians (Hunting the Divine Fox, Robert Farrar Capon) who also has a good sense of humor. I highly recc his books for anyone who is looking for a theology book in which the writer wanders about upending rocks and turning the usual understanding of biblical texts upside down to see what would shake out.

    For those wondering, the church is one that became a member of ACNA and I no longer attend there. We moved out of the area and eventually found a church that both prizes humor and is exceedingly liberal.

  • Eamon Knight

    I also think the NO DEITY step refers to the Deity of Christ (makes sense being between Virgin Birth and Atonement). And it’s actually not a bad summary of the progress of Modernist theology (and for that matter, my own). It seems less intended as funny than as cautionary. Of course, unlike the artist, I don’t see anything *wrong* with walking down those particular stairs ;-).

    Re Cedarville: About 20 years back, some group there reported carbon-dating dinosaur bones to some young-earth acceptable age. This is not a school from which I would expect to see intellectual rigor.

  • Invisible Neutrino


    Yeah, there’s ways to make the data fit the theory if you contort yourself into a pretzel and invoke peculiar circumstances to explain your results, but in general, invoking such ad-hoc on-the-fly corrections is looked on somewhat askance, especially by people who know how radioactive decay works and understand the issues with 14C dating.

  • Tricksterson

    So how come there’s so much Jewish humor?  I don’t mean just humor by Jews but humor by Jews about their culture and religion that is genuinely funny.

  • ShifterCat

    I think that the reason there’s a lot of Jewish humour is twofold:  first of all, they have a long-standing tradition of vigorous debate, and second, they’ve been the underdogs for centuries.

  • Carstonio

    Maybe the fear involved in the avoidance of humor is less about losing faith and more about ending up in hell.

  • walden

    Veggie Tales is pretty funny.

  • Original Lee

     I think most of the Veggie Tales humor comes from inserting anachronisms, and the general visual humor of having talking vegetables with virtual hands bouncing around.  For instance, in “Josh and the Big Wall,” the guards on the wall at Jericho have French accents a la “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” and drop slushies on the Israelites’ heads.  The actual story is still taken pretty seriously, IIRC.

  • Jon Maki

    I have a friend who became something of a fundamentalist somewhere in the last decade or so.  Not sure when or how that happened, but she has managed to keep at least some of her sense of humor.

    Earlier today she posted a status on Facebook that consisted of a context-free listing of chapter and verse:

    [Friend]:  Luke 14:26, Matthew 10:37 

    And then a follow-up comment:

    [Friend]:  Deuteronomy 6:5, Matthew 22:37-40, Mark 12:30, 31, 33, 34

    Without actually looking up those verses, and because I’m a smartass and  it was the first thing that popped into my mind, I posted this comment:

    Jon Maki:  Legion of Super-Heroes vol. 2, #290-294

    Because she has retained her sense of humor, she was able to appreciate my smartassery.

    It then occurred to me that I should start going to professional sporting events and/or WBC protests and hold up a sign listing those issues of LoSH…

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    I had a friend who worked in church circles where various people had a bible reference in their email sig. So she put one in her own, that when you looked it up was a line from the Gospels saying something like “They did not understand what he was saying, but no one dared to ask him about it”.

  • The_L1985

    I like to respond to those with Proverbs 26:11.  It’s a bit cruel, but it gets the point across.

  • Angie Vandemerwe

    When one worships a “God” of one’s own image, then agnosticism/atheism is invalidating to a person’s own ‘image”. “God” is all about oneself and what one wants to accomplish in this world. This is why Marx said that “religion was the opiate of the people”. People pacify themselves with their “imaginations” of “God”. What is hard to see or admit is that one’s imaginations of “God” is turned into affirming certain cultural values identified as “God’s agenda/will”. The cult is the justifying frame for certain values.

    Evangelicals like to “convert” others into their image of “God”. Is that something “good”? That depends, I suppose on whether you agree that evangelicals have the “right agenda”. The “right agenda” is really about political ideology/philosophy. America’s “culture wars” demonstrate that evangelicalism isn’t the answer to our problems, but only exasperates them, because people so convinced believe they do “God”s bidding!! And evangelicals are divided about what that is and what it means!

  • FearlessSon

    Humor requires the ability to admit weakness and a willingness to laugh at it. A joke is funny because it exposes the silliness bound up in the act of being human. Self-deprecation makes for good comedy, but it’s akin to putting bullets in your opponent’s gun in a culture war. 

    I have always equated humor not with weakness, but with armor.  If you can be self-deprecating, if you can laugh at your own foibles and continue on despite them, it is a sign of strength.  It means that a person has nothing to hide, and nothing to fear.  What flaws they have they are aware of, thankyouverymuch, and have grown comfortable enough with to joke about them.  They can no longer be exploited because someone else has beat them to the punch and made peace with it.  

    As a wise man once said, “Man walks down the street in that hat, people know he’s not afraid of anything.”

  • Hexep

    After a certain point, though, it horks around to the wholly other direction. To quote Orwell:

    The goose-step, for instance, is one of the most horrible sights in the world, far more terrifying than a dive-bomber. It is simply an affirmation of naked power; contained in it, quite consciously and intentionally, is the vision of a boot crashing down on a face. Its ugliness is part of its essence, for what it is saying is ‘Yes, I am ugly, and you daren’t laugh at me’, like the bully who makes faces at his victim. Why is the goose-step not used in England? There are, heaven knows, plenty of army officers who would be only too glad to introduce some such thing. It is not used because the people in the street would laugh. Beyond a certain point, military display is only possible in countries where the common people dare not laugh at the army.

  • Ross

    I’m reminded of an anecdote I heard after the kerfluffle about the Danish cartoonist who depicted the prophet Muhammed.

    Some muslim-run publication ran a contest encouraging aspiring artists to send in their best anti-Semitic cartoons.

    According to the anecdote I heard, shortly after the publication of the first round of anti-semitic political cartoons,  some Israeli publisher responded with, roughly, “You call that anti-semitic?” and ran their own contest seeking funnier anti-jewish propaganda cartoons.

  • Hth

    A Cracked article today (which also shouted out Slacktivist, whee!) included a link to this article about women in comedy that took a different tack on what makes comedy tick, and one that I find a little more intuitively convincing.

    Humor, Barreca explains, is in itself an act of power and aggression;
    audiences are known to be intimidated by comedians, especially at live
    venues. (That’s why nobody sits in the front row, she says.) “When women
    in are in comedy, there still needs to be a certain mitigating factor
    for the ferocity that goes with any kind of effective humor,” Barreca
    says. “So if we show someone our neck, rather than our squared
    shoulders, we’ll be more appreciated–and they’ll permit us into their

    Robert Lynch, a cultural anthropologist from Rutgers University and a
    part-time stand-up, agrees: “Maybe women have to go overboard with the
    self-deprecation because comedy can be an alpha thing,” he says–the
    alpha being the class clown, the attention-grabber, the presence
    dominating the room. “Women alphas in general tend to be disliked. They
    can sometimes be distrusted, I think. And they’re not sought after.”

    “The female stand-ups I know,” he admits, “they don’t get a lot of dates out of it.”

    If humor is aggressive, you’d think conservatives would be good at it — and in a sense they are, as a huge amount of stand-up comedy expresses a socially conservative worldview.  *Evangelicals* aren’t good at it, and I honestly think it’s just because creativity in general is discouraged.  Good comedy, whether you agree or disagree with it, is funny because you’ve never heard it said *quite like that* before.  Evangelicals are trained up to be so afraid of saying something incorrectly (having the wrong “stance” on an issue, as Fred often points out, even *slightly* wrong, gets you blackballed from the community) that they’re extremely cautious speakers and writers, relying on the same well-vetted talking points over and over.  They’re honestly really dull, even to one another.  Evangelicism isn’t producing great art in any field, because there’s no room in it for risk-taking in front of an audience.

  • FearlessSon

    You know, that article reminds me of Olivia Munn’s short-lived presence on The Daily Show.  Her first two focus segments were a little flat, but I feel like she got her feet after that and delivered some solid chuckles (like her segment on Arizona traffic cameras or her tiger-mom story) but she still had a ton of detractors.  You have female fans decrying her as being put in just for fanservice and male fans ignoring any comedy to debate irrelevant minutia of her attractiveness  (her cloths and manner on the show was suitably modest so I thought both positions were rather strange.)   

    She seemed to have been quietly dropped after that, which is a pity because I found her bits entertaining.  

  • MaryKaye

    A rule I worked out when I was sampling martial arts schools:  If the humor in the dojo is across the board, or is mostly juniors joshing seniors, it’s likely to be a pretty safe and healthy place.  If there’s no humor at all, it’s probably too intense for me but might be okay for someone younger and tougher.  If the humor is mostly seniors teasing juniors, stay away.

    There’s a reason “Humorlessness” is one of Bonewitz’ warning signs for cult behavior (cult here in the sense of “organization that exerts a dangerous kind of control over its members,” not “organization whose theology I disagree with”).

  • arcseconds

    I knew a couple of people who had made their way into secular philosophy programmes at good, mainstream universities, and at the same time climbed out of being highly conservative Evangelicals by way of bible college.  I’m not certain that their colleges had philosophy departments, but it would sure help!

    Somehow I don’t think ‘keep your philosophy programme because some of your graduates will be glad of the exit it offers from evangelicalism’ will encourage them to keep it, though. 

  • Esdavejones

    There was an excellent if somewhat short-lived series of comics (with one annual/book) back in the early 90’s called Winebibber – very much in the style of ‘Viz’, a notoriously ‘adult’ comic in the UK.

    Genuinely funny (IMHO) and poked fun at evangelical ‘culture’ – from within – with a variety of characters such “Ronald Hutchin, he reads too much in” who convinced himself from Genesis1:1 that a pear was a fruit of the Spirit – and much talk of being attacked by the ‘warm & fuzzies’

  • Steve

    I almost prefer anti-intellectualism to this sort of self-referential exercise on the part of Evangelicals.  At least anti-intellectualism is itself intellectually honest.  But in the end both are ultimately damaging to the faith.

  • SkyknightXi

    For all the commentary about the lack of intellectual effort the comic seems to portray, I think it telling that (a) there are no side stairs, the only alternative to all the way down is back up to the top; and (b) the first step away from Christianity is “Bible not Infallible”. Pace seems to have been arguing in the same fashion as your Mk. I Mod. I KJV-only stumper. Namely, there is only one Proper Way to understand the Bible’s words, and (somehow) the Bible itself will instill it within you if you don’t try to interpret it yourself, as though it were some sort of sorcerous artifact. (This is actually sounding like the librams from the first couple of editions of AD&D…) Neutral criticism/critique of the Bible seems to be the main thing Pace is inveighing against; from this, he says, necessarily comes atheism, and presumably failure to do one’s ultimate purpose and glorify God.

    Never mind that the step “No Deity (of the Christ)” would have struck other resolute Christians, at least of the past, odd to be following from “Bible Not Infallible”. The Vandals come to mind here. Genseric believed his attack on Rome was justified because, in part, the Athanasian Romans were “cursed of God” (or thereabouts). The Vandals were Arians–they believed the Bible (or at least the Gospels and Pauline letters) did NOT teach the Christ’s divinity. Because the Athanasians DID believe that, they were robbing God of some of his due glory by imputing it to the Christ. (At least, I think that would be Arius’s logic.) Given that Pace would qualify as an Athanasian, I wonder what a Vandal, or other Arian, equivalent of that stairway would be (if it would even end up at Atheism).

  • Steve

    This whole environment is a lot like what happened to the Confucians in Imperial China…eventually it becomes a self-referential exercise, repeating the same litanies with no deviation in thought allowed, and ultimately no intellectual growth or progress. Faith on the other hand requires you to be on the edge constantly. This isn’t faith; it’s stagnation. 

     I can picture easily a scenario in which the politically-minded fundamentalists actually achieved sweeping power; they’ll pay lip-service to the law as written (while slowly undermining it) but only accept individuals with the appropriate credentials to any position of importance.  They’re creating a culture of evangelical mandarins, and like the original mandarins, they’ll end up useless and counterproductive in a world that’s progressed around them.

  • Hemlockroid

    8th paragraph:
    ‘last wire’…just like present day Iran charge. 

  • Andrew Evans

    It’s worth noting that what Peter Enns means by the deep scandal that evangelicals are not allowed to use their minds is that most of us disagree with his conclusions about various matters to do with Scripture. I’m pretty sure if evangelicals had rished to embrace “Inspiration and Incarnation” and the other books he’s published he’d think we were all tickity-boo.

  • Andrew Evans

    So an evangelical once produced a cartoon that wasn’t funny. Therefore evangelicals have no sense of humour. Profound.