Jeff Miller (aka The Curt Jester) is an application developer and retired Navy Chief who spent 40 years in the wilderness of atheism and finds himself both astonished and joyful to be a member of the Catholic Church. He blogs at Curt Jester with humorous and hilarious insights on stuff Catholic political and cultural. It’s papistical punditry, prayer, parody and polemic. Jeff’s is one of the senior Catholic bloggers–having been jestering curtly longer than most of us. Here’s his guest post:
G.K. Chesterton in his writing was not one to set out to tell a joke, but to tell a truth. Sometimes this can be the same thing. It has often been noted that something is funny because it is true. Humor has long been a tool to tell the truth delivered in a package that can make you smile and think. I have read that the court jester was the only one who could tell the king the truth as he saw it.
How accurate historically this is I am no sure, but it is something that should be true. The truth wrapped in humor can be like a pill you give a dog wrapped in a food they like so to make it more palatable.
Getting back to G.K. Chesterton– one thing he is famous for is his use of paradoxes. A paradox is kind of a pun on reality. Puns involving words can involve words that have similar soundings, but opposite to totally different meanings. A paradox as Chesterton used them plays on two ideas that seem different and yet strangely rhyme. There was also a lot of delightful wordplay with Chesterton where he dissected popular phrases to reveal the words that were in them all along. For example when he said “What is quaintly called Birth Control . . . is in fact, of course, a scheme for preventing birth in order to escape control.”
It seems we have developed the habit of ironically naming things and then to forget that fact. Sometimes I am certain there is an ironic wit behind the naming of the bills that go through the Congress in the United States. The thing about wordplay is that of course we should play with words as we should play with all things. It is when we stop really seeing words and their meanings that we really stop seeing.
Another aspect of humor is seeing something you see everyday with a different perspective “If you look at a thing 999 times, you are perfectly safe; if you look at it for the 1000th time, you are in danger of seeing it for the first time.” to quote Chesterton once again. The title of this blog “Standing on My Head” is a reference to the Chestertonian perspective “a scene is often more clearly seen when it is seen upside down.” A truth seen upside down is a truth finally seen right side up.
Many forms of humor take the skewing of perspective to bring home a point. Reversing a situation is also another way of using humor to help view a situation in a new light. Using various forms of humor such as puns, satire, and parody can be a useful tool in the Catholic blogosphere. It can be a vehicle to laugh at our aggravations, to laugh at ourselves, and even to spread the joy of the Gospel. The tagline over at Creative Minority Report is, “We laugh because we believe.” “Lord, spare us from sour-faced saints!” – a quote attributed to St. Teresa of Avila. Even in the midst of serious societal problems we are not called to be stoics, but saints and they could be funny even on the way to execution. St. Thomas More before his execution told his executioner that his beard was completely innocent of any crime, and did not deserve the axe; he then positioned his beard so that it would not be harmed. It is one thing to speak of gallows humor, it is another to be humorous on the gallows.
When humor is used to tell a truth it means that the same caveats that apply to truth also apply to humor. For example the sin of detraction and the fact that something is true does not, of itself, justify its disclosure. Humor like truth can be used as a blunt instrument that does not seek the good of the other. At times over the years I have come up with something that I thought to be witty and I admired the idea behind it more than I was concerned for the person(s) it was directed against. Hopefully most often I have caught myself before hitting the “post” button, but it is something I have to constantly keep in mind. As a jester it is one thing to tell the king the truth, it is quite another when you actually help the king to see the truth.
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