The Delight of Mocking Christ and Christianity

The Delight of Mocking Christ and Christianity December 2, 2011

Rex Murphy has a powerful piece in the National Post on the veritable institution of Christianity-mockery.  It begins thus:

To be a serious Christian in modern Western culture is to be the favoured easy target of every progressive thinker and every half-witted comedian. It is to have your sensibilities and your deepest beliefs on perpetual call for taunts, mockery and desecration. At a time when all progressives preach full volume for inclusivity and sensitivity, for the utmost care in speech when speaking of others with differing views or hues, Christians, as Christians, are under a constant hail of abuse and disregard. There is nothing too low or too vulgar.

He refers to Russell Peters’ “Christmas Special,” in which Pamela Anderson is tapped to play the Virgin Mary, and then goes on to mention the Occupy Wall Street movement:

Meantime, overseas, their occupy brethren in London were found to be defecating (I could use the vulgar term here as it so matches the act, but let us retain some respect) within — not on the steps or in the precincts, but within — St. Paul’s Cathedral. St. Paul’s — in ancient times the cathedral where John Donne preached, where Lancelot Andrews, one of the fathers of the King James Bible, was dean, a cathedral arguably second in importance in Christianity only to the Vatican — treated as a sewer.

A report for the cathedral summed up the mischiefs and abuse: “Desecration: Graffiti have been scratched and painted on to the great west doors of the cathedral, the chapter house door and most notably a sacrilegious message painted on the restored pillars of the west portico. Human defecation has occurred in the west portico entrance and inside the cathedral on several occasions.”

In short, they turned St. Paul’s Cathedral into a public toilet and used its sacred walls as a crude bulletin board. However, there was no vast outcry at the appalling disrespect, the deep contumely such acts represent. Put out a “sacred fire,” set in the first place mainly to provoke, and it’s shock and petty scandal. Defecate in St. Paul’s, and I’ll bet this is the first time many reading this have heard of the outrage.

Of episodes of this kind there is no end, and it will surely be accounted a kind of prudery or humourlessness to make objection to them. Let it be so. However, there is a radical inconsistency to the treatment afforded to Christian believers and that of most other religious groups and it is not idle to insist on this point. It would be rather nice if so many people, the Christians of the West, who offer respect, tolerance and regard for beliefs other than their own, could be treated with equal civility and courtesy.

What do you think?  Is Murphy over-reacting?  Does he need to learn to take a joke?  Or is he precisely right, that there’s a tendency amongst the oh-so-tolerant to express the crudest mockery of Christianity and expect Christians to suffer the insults in good humor?  What is it within us, even within us Christians, that seems to take such delight in mocking and demeaning what is holy and meaningful?

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  • sam

    “To be a serious Christian in modern Western culture”

    Sadly, if we use Kierkegaard as a guide, there are damn few of those around. A lot of tribal Christians, but not many Knights of Faith. Perhaps that’s why so many “Christians” are the objects of humor. Perhaps it’s the unbelievers who best see through the sham Christianity. The comfortable Christianity.

    • Chris

      Would love to hear a non-Christian’s definition of real vs. sham Christianity. There is indeed a real life difference.

  • sam

    Moderation queue?

  • Thank you for your informative and very thought provoking article. It’s a crime what is happening to Christianity. Keep up the good fight.

  • While he is correct, I hesitate to ever act as if we modern Christians are being persecuted. Of course, he never says that. But much of what my fellow believers say these days, when complaining about the way that mocking Christianity is tolerated, carries an implication that we are undergoing persecution. And then we get told how much worse it could be. You know, getting thrown to the lions, underground churches in China and all that. I choose to abstain on the complaining about stuff like this.

  • Megan Sutker

    I think Murphy’s outcry is part of the problem, and the very thing he decries. What is holy and sacred? The PLACE? He speaks of St. Paul’s in the same tone as my grandmother spoke about girls wearing pants. And it smacks of politics. As a Christian, I take seriously that whole “turn the other cheek” thing. Mr. Murphy sounds like an out-of-touch old guy pining away for the “way-it-never-used-to-be.” It is not a building that makes us who we are as Christians. Rude behavior is just that. But what erodes our credibility as Christians is our righteous indignation over this kind of thing. We waste our energy on THIS, and people (rightly so) wonder why we don’t care about those who are hungry, homeless, in prison…you know, the least of these…

  • Christians in the West get treated as they do because the West has been “Christian” and have so poorly represented and performed the faith that we have brought much of it on ourselves. I suspect that some of what happened at St. Paul’s was due to their unwillingness to do anything in support of the protest (with which you might think they would have at least some sympathy).


  • ukeman

    For centuries, Christianity has been the dominant social paradigm in the West. Rightly or wrongly, it has become identified with conservatism and the status quo. Just like teenagers beginning to ‘feel’ their freedom from oppressive parents, some are going to go too far in expressing that rebellion. Unfortunate? Yes. Bad taste is always bad taste. Harrumphing about it isn’t going to solve anything.

  • Galen

    I agree with James. But, perhaps if we don’t “complain” about stuff like this, the more serious kind of persecution will come sooner rather than later. If we don’t seek for fair treatment, we won’t get it, that’s for sure. At the same time, we shouldn’t expect fair treatment as followers of Christ. He certainly didn’t get it during his lifetime, and if we are to be disciples covered in the dust of our Rabbi, we shouldn’t expect it, either.

  • Nate C.

    If anything Mr. Murphy is understating things. Christians are the favored punching toy of the rest of the world. If there is unrest, then it is the fault of Christians. Global Greed? Christians again. Intolerance? Oh, its those pesky Christians again. As a student of history and widely traveled, I hesitate to make a Godwin’s Law reference, but I will since it so aptly describes what is happening now in the west. Think about the events of 1933-1938 and how it compares to the modern west. For an even further back reference, that incomparable historian Gibbons in his books “The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire” partially chronicles the rise of the Anti-Christian sentiment in the Roman empire.

    If we don’t do anything now, it will be much harder to do anything about it later. But! We also know that it will happen sooner or later, all we can do is stave if off for a while. Here is a question: Are we as Western Christians ready to return to a time when being a follower of Christ was a death sentence?

  • Christians serve as the punching bag for those insistent that we are intolerant because of our Biblical standards. It’s ok to exercise freedom of speech unless professing unswerving allegiance to the word of God and then it’s freakish and politically incorrect. I agree with both comments thus far, but I think Christians are sometimes too quiet (i.e prayer in school and Roe v. Wade). And yes, when we stand for Christ, expect harassment…they crucified our Lord.

  • Tanya

    So we are disrespected. Some of that is plain old fashioned persecution, (ignore it, said Jesus) and some of it is justified anger at the history of the institutional church. Just think what that giant cathedral projects in terms of power and abuse. (No, not everybody thinks about John Donne, they think of the rest of our history.) Just think what it means to most people to hear a building called “sacred” as you have. What does that even mean? Why is it any more sacred than the filthy curb where the homeless man sits. And others defecate.

    I’m sorry, but for the next little while I think we best suck it up. Until we get past our history with the Empire. Until it is clear to everyone we care more about the people living on the street outside the Cathedral than we do about the Cathedral. And right now — progressive preachers are not enough in number and haven’t been at it long enough to do that.

    Frankly, I’d vote for selling the building and giving the money away. And much of the rest of the world would respect us much more for that kind of action than protecting our precious stone buildings and our highculture memories of John Donne.

    • Tanya

      The more I think about this, the more I think it is probably wrong to make too much of the Cathedral’s problems without more information.

      This was 1, 3, 5, 10 people? Unless we knew they meant to make a statement of some sort, we truly don’t know what this was about.

      But the larger point, “are Christians being disrespected in a variety of contexts?” Sure, but I am still inclined to think we ought to let it go.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I offered this up for discussion, and happy to get all sorts of views.


  • Jer

    I think we ought to let it go too. However, any other group that gets targeted ends up being defended by the Humans rights commission etc. Chances are that Rex will be the only press this issue gets for a long time.

  • Kubrick’s Rube

    The alleged incidents at St Paul’s go way beyond mockery- they are criminal actions, and I’d like to think even Christianity’s crudest critics would not endorse them.

    There is certainly plenty of mockery out there (PZ Myers comes to mind) but I would have liked for Murphy to include more examples in his piece, as this is a topic ripe for discussion. It’s a thin line between crude mockery and salient criticsm, rude insult and justified personal anger, and everyone has different thresholds for what’s over that line.

    Pam Anderson as the Virgin Mary, for example, is likely a cheap joke and nothing more, but given that the comedian in question, Russell Peters, is Catholic, maybe the bit will end up being a critique of the Church’s views on sexuality. Would that be mere mockery?

    I’d be interested to hear from Tim (or anyone else) about some other recent examples that fall on one side of the line or the other.

  • To the extent that our faith in Christ is a bold affront to the sensibilities of our unsaved selves, it invites every sort of response that flails and wails and ridicules that which is threatening and alarming. That’s on good days. For the greater part, the ridicule is what our distortions of God’s grace demand.

  • An an individual Christian experiencing directly such disrespect, suck it up and respond in love.

    As social and political critics informed by Scripture and a Christian worldview, I say we need to call it out. While not minimizing the shortcomings of Christians and the church catholic, we need to be able to call disrespect what it is.

    I have “progressive” friends who think evangelicals are bigots who talk about gay marriage and abortion constantly, and I hope I have done a little to broaden their perception in that regard. Pushing for a fair hearing in the public square may break down some barriers to faith.

  • John Haas

    OWS in England aside (recalling how many times from evangelicals I heard that Alice Cooper had defecated on stage and an audience member ate it, I’ll wait for the facts before making too much of it, thanks), I think it’s pretty clear that American popular culture has been satirical, sarcastic, mocking and siuch for a long time, certainly since the emergence of popular politics by say the 1790s.

    As popular competition among religious groups became part of our society, they joined in the fray.

    It’s not that Europe didn’t have it too. Read Luther’s unexpurgated Table Talks some time–it’s some crude and harsh stuff in places. What he didn’t do is indulge such things in his formal lectures.

    In America, it’s been about bringing the masses in on the conversation, and that means it needs to be fun, manly, vigorous, even belligerent.

    We exempt some groups in polite society because of their (perceived or real) oppression. Women, blacks, the disabled pretty much off the table (for polite society). A comedy about the holocaust? Better be careful, Roberto. Make fun of Custer? Sure, but not the Trail of Tears.

    Christians, in Europe and in the US till the late 19th century were among the dominant, not oppressed. Ethnics, minorities and outsiders sometimes poked fun or mocked them (see Charlie Chaplin’s portrayal of the minister’s wife in “Modern Times,” eg), but usually you didn’t have this in respectable entertainments.

    Since the 50s, any taboos about churches or religious people have been largely lifted. Agreed-upon “oppressed” groups are still off limits (unless you’re Pat Robertson mocking “mullahs” as “mules”), but otherwise, it’s open season.

    This development has coincided with the recent sense among American Christians that they’re actually one of those oppressed minorities. So, despite the fact that no president would dare end a speech without a “God bless America!”and despite the fact that churches are tax exempt, they’ve convinced themselves to see the harsh hand of oppression every time someone tells them “Season’s greetings!” . . .

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Personally, I don’t make much of the defecating in St. Paul’s. But it was reported in British media and by the folks who closed St. Paul’s in order to accommodate the OWS protesters.

      I said nothing of being an oppressed minority. I spoke only of mockery. And people who disregard the notion that the majority can be mocked have a pretty simplistic view of things. Even within “Christians” (the majority), there are all sorts of strands, as you know full well. Some may be mocked, some not. Some may be in power, some oppressed. Sometimes it will depend on geography and local contexts. A group that dominates in one setting may be dominated in another.


  • Or is he precisely right, that there’s a tendency amongst the oh-so-tolerant to express the crudest mockery of Christianity and expect Christians to suffer the insults in good humor?

    I think that if you want me to understand that a Paster who leads a church in Arizona and preaches hating Barack Obama is not a fair representative of the evangelical movement in general, then you should be the very first to say that anonymous (and possibly mentally ill) people who poop in historic churches are likewise not fair representatives of “the oh-so-tolerant” in general.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      I was quoting the author for a discussion piece.


      • Oh, were you? I didn’t catch that, especially the “oh-so-tolerant” part. Sorry for my misunderstanding, Tim.

  • Jack

    Evangelicals are more concerned about being oppressed than they are about their own oppression of others. They’ve earned what they’re getting.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      People outside the evangelical community act as though evangelicals are not self-critical. They don’t know that evangelicals spend about 90% of their time agonizing over what’s wrong with them. Some of it’s self-loathing brought on by the mockery and caricatures of others, but much of it is genuine concern that we deal rightly with the world.


      • Jack

        Evangelicals are more self-critical when it comes to their own personal piety than when it comes to the policies they support and the way they interpret the Bible. In other words, most conservative evangelicals are not self-critical in a way that matters for those they oppress such as, for example, seriously entertaining the possibility they are wrong about homosexuality in the same way they have been wrong about civil rights, feminism, environmentalism, etcetera. If evangelicals were truly self-critical, they would have learned from their own past, they would welcome conflicting perspectives on hot-button issues, and they would promote an intellectually diverse leadership.

        • Katherine Harms

          I believe you mischaracterize evangelicals, an issue which we could argue forever. However, I am really baffled by your suggestion that they need to welcome “conflicting perspectives” and promote “intellectually diverse leadership.” Do you also think they should also wear signs that say “Hit me! Please!” and then dash madly off in all directions? I’m not evangelical, so I’m not feeling defensive. I just think your suggestion does not make sense.

  • Tim

    I do not care who is doing it to whom: mocking others is wrong. Perod.

    • John Haas

      Would you like to unpack that?

  • Tim

    Further, I consider most of talk radio, political pundits, and entertainers as the mock producing industry, I am finding it more difficult to take these media

  • Jason

    LOL – I love how the evangelical critics in here do such a good job showing their superior sense of tolerance and compassion with ire and “you deserve its”. It’s so open-minded of them. Such gracious disdain.

    And to those dreamy types of Christians who want a fair-hearing and think you can Love Them into the Kingdom – good luck with that. It didn’t work in Jesus’ day and it’ll not work here. Secular Humanism is everywhere, even in the Church and I see it some of my fellow evangelical’s replies who so desperately want to be “liked” and thought well of. It’ll not happen, not ever. The Left and Agnostics are superior in so many ways that they will remind us how they were the inventors of schools, the books, the abolition movement, free trade, and oh yes,they made the Bible too – especially the New Testament book of Job.

    Alright, enough sarcasm and mockery. You’re vastly smarter than the Left in so many ways so stop apologizing! Pamela Anderson is a tramp and it’s OK to say it!

  • Jason

    I should say, on reflection, that I am responding to the comments on the original article more than what’s here. I’ve confused the two sites.

  • Katherine Harms

    I think that the behavior described here is, indeed, evidence of no respect, but it isn’t just Christianity. Wherever Occupiers have set up camp, this sort of thing is happening. It happens, because the Occupiers think that they are entitled to do anything they want, just because they claim not to be rich. It is okay to insult, demean and destroy what belongs to others precisely because it does not belong to the Occupiers.
    I think Christianity is under assault, but this is the least of it. I think this behavior is pure communist revolutionary disrespect for “the rich” which manifests itself in behavior too malicious and deliberate to be called juvenile, even though it is. Read Ayn Rand’s book about the way squatters took over houses and insulted and demeaned the owners during and after the Russian Revolution. Occupy Whatever is the same mentality.

  • As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [Mormon] for 61 years I have become used to mockery and worse from certain sections of the non-LDS Christian world. It ill behooves any Christian to complain about what are seen as slights against them when so many remain stunningly silent about the continuous irreverent and downright unpleasant attacks made by certain vociferous fundamentalist evangelical Christians against those they have declared heretical and continue to find ways of burning their ‘enemies’ at the stake, rather than loving them as Jesus taught them to do.

    Whilst no one should use another’s building, sacred or profane, as an ad hoc midden, the deliberate doing down of others and the high toned mocking of their sacred beliefs trumps such acts. It becomes harder to find Christians that will stand in support of downtrodden people if they also happen to be Muslims, although there is no Biblical authority to differentiate between one’s own faith and that of others or to treat those of another faith or none as if they were direct employees of the Devil.

    I doubt that anyone would complain if Christianity were to set about setting its own house in order before it complained about getting a bad deal from ‘outsiders.’

    Whilst there may be some human waste inappropriately deposited in St Paul’s – which is a crying shame – there is nothing to show to whom it belongs, and worse things are deposited into the minds of the gullible by cynical purveyors of religious hatred from within the Christian community.

    We have to be constantly reminded that it was the religious that sought to kill Jesus, and some of them are still engaged in that enterprise.