Sir Thomas More (1527), by Hans Holbein the Younger (c. 1497 – 1543) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons] St. Thomas More (1478-1535) was one of a long, illustrious line of great Christian humorists / satirists. He once said to his son-in-law, William Roper: “Two years ago you were a loyal Churchman. Now you have fallen in with the Lutherans on account of being persuaded by their logic. I can only hope that when your head stops spinning it is affixed as God intended.” Roper later returned to Catholicism.
(1999 and 6-2-07)
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, Cardinal Newman, 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!) supposedly adding up to 666 in their Greek or Hebrew numeric values, I received a scolding from a Protestant whom I would consider (after several lengthy interactions) overly dour and humorless (his words in green 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 [asking if the false gods were relieving themselves), 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.
Psalm 37:13 . . . The LORD laughs at the wicked, for he sees that their day is coming
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?:
Matthew 5:22 . . . if you say ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.
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.
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.
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.
A woman named Carrie commented on my blog:
Mocking the prophets of Baal or the Pharisees does not add up to mocking what you consider “brothers and sisters in Christ”. Stop hiding behind that excuse.
She made this comment because I had written on my blog, in a prayer:
Lord, help us all to control our tongues and to have discernment and wisdom to know when humor or satire is proper and necessary (such as when Elijah mocked the false prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel or Your Son’s criticisms of the Pharisees or Paul’s sarcastic remarks about castration). Forgive us (through the blood of Jesus and Your Holy Spirit) our pride and arrogance and any haughtiness or triumphalism in our presentations of or defense of Catholic truths. Humor is Your gift to us also, but help us to sanctify it and to know when and where to utilize humor in the course of our proclamations and defenses of what we hold dear. We all often fall short in that, Lord. Help us to do better, with Your aid and guidance.
I’m not so concerned with your humor as much as your attempt to defend your humor with biblical support. Your examples of Jesus and Paul are contradictory to your proclamation that Protestants are siblings in Christ. It is the hypocrisy that bothers me.
And I responded at length, having heard enough of this bogus accusation:
Jesus and Paul used humor in a way that was far more “cutting” and insulting than virtually anything I’ve done.
Jesus used heavy sarcasm and exaggeration in the Sermon on the Mount. Surely you can’t say He was preaching that to unbelievers. These were believers or disciples. But look what He said:
Luke 6:39-42 (RSV) 39: He also told them a parable: “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?
40: A disciple is not above his teacher, but every one when he is fully taught will be like his teacher.
41: Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?
42: Or how can you say to your brother, `Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye. (cf. Matthew 7:1-5)
Perhaps the most famous instance of sarcasm in Paul was a tongue-in-cheek desire for Judaizers to castrate themselves:
Galatians 5:6-12 6: For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love.
7: You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth?
8: This persuasion is not from him who calls you.
9: A little leaven leavens the whole lump.
10: I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view than mine; and he who is troubling you will bear his judgment, whoever he is.
11: But if I, brethren, still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? In that case the stumbling block of the cross has been removed.
12: I wish those who unsettle you would mutilate themselves!
Now, again, the Judaizers were Christians. They weren’t pagans or nonbelievers.
Carl W. Conrad, a classic professor, wrote a post highlighting a number of instances of irony and sarcasm in Paul:
I’d like to invite the list to consider some potential instances of Pauline rhetorical “double-speak” and venture opinions on the extent to which the apostle may on occasion have indulged in deliberate misstatement of his honest perceptions or attitudes for rhetorical purposes.
1. In an exchange yesterday. . . originating on another list, the question arose whether or not it is the case that Paul on more than one occasion resorts to rhetorical exaggeration, equivocation, irony, even sarcasm in order to enhance, even at peril of distorting them, his intended messages. I want to point to a few texts where one may seriously doubt whether Paul means to be understood literally and some others that may be more ambiguous.
He suggested the following passages as instances of same: Romans 15:18-19; 1 Corinthians 1:4-5, 14:18; Gal 5:12; and concluded: “I think there may be several points in the Pauline corpus where we ought to suspect rhetorical exaggeration or even sarcastic humor.”
Likewise, Bible commentator Mark D. Nanos wrote a book entitled The Irony of Galatians: Paul’s Letter in First-Century Context (Augsburg Fortress, 2001). Reviewer Loren Rosson III stated:
Mark Nanos argues that Galatians must be understood primarily as a letter of “ironic rebuke”, Paul’s knee-jerk reaction to the news that his Gentile converts have begun to accept circumcision, and thus the “whole Torah”, as a complement to their faith in Christ. Furious and exasperated (“like a parent scolding children being influenced by their peers”), he wrote this letter with smoldering sarcasm and vilifying rhetoric — neither of which portray his converts or those advocating their circumcision (or Paul himself!) very accurately. Nanos calls this “ironic rebuke”, which served the purpose of redirecting the Galatians to his circumcision-free gospel by means of humiliation and shame.
The only unarguable case of humor being used against nonbelievers is Elijah on Mt. Carmel, mocking the prophets of Baal. I never claimed otherwise, but it doesn’t follow that, therefore, such humor, mocking, or sarcasm can never be used against fellow Christians, if they are playing the hypocrite. I have now proven beyond all doubt that this is perfectly permissible, and is one way that we imitate Paul (as he commanded us to) and Jesus Christ.
Furthermore, we have numerous instances of God the Father using humorous analogies, parables, etc., in rebuking the disobedience of His own people, the Jews. We are made in God’s image. If God uses a great deal of humor while rebuking, then it follows that we can do so as well.
Case closed. My use of satire and sarcasm are instances of quite mild humor compared to that used by Jesus and Paul, with talk of vipers, whitewashed tombs, logs in the eye, castration, “their god is the belly” (Philippians 3:19) and the like.