Lately, we’ve been talking about authoritarian Christians. My goodness, they’re quite a very fearful lot. They soothe that fear by amassing personal power over others and as much of their environment as they can manage. That quest leaves little room for humor. Considering how inept and bland most of what passes for Christian humor is, that might not be a bad thing. Today, I’ll show you why the culture wars have destroyed Christians’ sense of humor–and why mockery may well be our most powerful weapon against ruthless authoritarians.
(DON’T FORGET: Monday’s LSP will be about the book discussion!! “How the Great Pan Died,” available used online and from Scribd.)
Asking a Plaintive Question.
Back in 2013, Relevant magazine (where objectivity goes to die) ran an opinion post of interest. They titled (and subtitled) it “Why Aren’t Christians Funny?”
What they really meant, of course, was “Why Aren’t Evangelical Christians Funny?” It’s a very evangelical site, after all.
Whoever wrote this post noted a number of comedians and funny folks in the evangelical fold–Susan Isaacs, Jon “Stuff Christians Like” Acuff, and others. The writer bestowed special admiration upon Donald Miller for his book/movie Blue Like Jazz.
Despite having some funny people floating around their ranks, however, evangelicals do not appreciate humor much. And the Relevant writer here thought of a few reasons for that problem.
- The culture wars have made humor a treasonous offense.
- They’re just too focused on their bottom lines to appreciate humor.
- They’re way too easy to offend. (The writer very carefully worded this one.)
And for what it’s worth, I agree in the main with this assessment–but I’d amend it slightly.
The culture wars have turned right-wing Christians into full-bore authoritarians. Over the last few decades, their leaders pruned away disobedient branches from their trees. They siphoned power away from the smallest leaves and fed it all to the trunks of the trees. They fertilized those trees with the redolent manure of control-lust and entitlement. If many of those leaves broke loose in horror and disgust and drifted away on the wind, they received only ostracism and insults from the rest.
In the process, that shift to authoritarianism absolutely destroyed these same Christians’ sense of humor.
It had to.
The Treason of Humor to Culture Warriors.
I looked up the Christians noted in Relevant’s post as being funny.
To my surprise, they generally qualified themselves as “evangelicals.” Not as surprisingly, they also didn’t identify with the politicization and culture-war mentality of today’s evangelicalism. Donald Miller, in particular, found himself at the center of a HUUUUGE blowup over a 2014 blog post of his about not liking church much. Susan Isaacs hesitates before telling people she’s evangelical, because she knows what a tainted brand it is these days.
And I doubt anybody would consider Jon Acuff a culture warrior. Dude angers errybody from progressives to hardcore evangelicals, who fling at him the worst accusation that exists in their tribe: he’s DIVISIVE. BOO, HISS!
Generally speaking, authoritarians attempt to silence anybody who criticizes the tribe, especially if those criticisms make them look ridiculous. But when they need to PROVE YES PROVE that they can totally be funny too, they’re happy to allow these pariahs into the clubhouse–for a little while.
Just don’t sit on anything, or, I don’t know, touch anything. And y’all have to leave right after the Mutual Admiration Society meeting ends.
The Real Bottom Line.
As the days go by, we face the increasing inevitability that we are alone in a godless, uninhabited, hostile and meaningless universe. Still, you’ve got to laugh, haven’t you?
— Red Dwarf, “Kryten“
Now, the Relevant writer considered his tribe’s bottom line to be recruitment rates, or planned tasks accomplished. I disagree. I do think that authoritarian culture warriors consider humor to be a distraction from their bottom line. However, that bottom line is, in actuality, the growth and re-taking of their own power.
We’ll talk later on about this aspect of authoritarianism. For now, I’ll note simply that the culture wars represent nothing more nor less than a cynical grab for power at others’ expense.
That grab for power explains why culture warriors don’t just take their culture wars seriously. They take themselves even more seriously.
Serious Christians R SRIUS BIZNISS! All the time! Lives are at stake here! The bus hurtles right toward countless victims! No time to waste! Everyone make way for the TRUE CHRISTIANS™ now! Here they are to save the day! What buffet are we all hitting after our Mutual Admiration Society meeting today?
One almost imagines they show up at church, or to prayer meetings, or to the sites of their ridiculous protests, with all the self-glorifying bluster of the Ghostbusters arriving at Dana Barrett’s apartment building to begin the movie’s climax.
Heeeere theyare to savetheday!
An Oversight Somewhere.
Psychologists tell us that lacking a sense of humor marks someone as lacking a whole bunch of other virtues, strengths, skills, and social graces. Possession of a sense of humor indicates cleverness, empathy, critical thinking, an appreciation of absurdity, an ability to go along with a premise even if it sounds outlandish, and the ability to inhabit different shades of meaning at once. It can even tell psychologists stuff about a child’s developmental rate.
Even if a person’s sense of humor operates in a really different way, like autistics’ often do, it’s still there. (I don’t remember when I’ve laughed so hard at anything as I have at the sight of the young man in that last link slaughtering a bunch of Redditors with words. Not enough aloe in the world, for those wounds. He asked no quarter, and he gave none.)
But authoritarians lack that quality entirely. It’s not that they have some off-beat kind of humor that simply doesn’t easily translate across to other audiences. It’s that they disavow any of the qualities that could even lead to the development of a sense of humor. And they’re proud of having done so.
Ironically, the Bible itself is not without its flashes of humor–wordplay, occasional funny situations, on-the-nose names, and more. But when that Bible gets perverted into a document whose main purpose is granting authority to authoritarians, it loses all of its nuance.
Bludgeons can’t have soft edges.
And neither can those wielding them.
Mockery: The Undoing of the Self-Important.
Authoritarians have always been undone by mockery, therefore. And they have always feared and hated this most egalitarian of all forms of humor. When some pompous pope rode by on procession in Rome at the very height of the Renaissance, all that glorious self-importance could be punctured instantly by a ten-year-old urchin la-di-dah-ing alongside him on a broomstick “horse” with his little nose in the air.
Indeed, every year, people posted criticisms of those very popes on what folks called “talking statues.” Their criticism mostly took the form of clever mockery plastered across the base of Pasquino, the first of the talking statues. The custom gave rise to the poetic form called the pasquinade, which is “a satirical protest in poetry.” Here’s a bit of one from the early 1600s (translated):
Even if the rest of my body perishes,
I will continue to speak the truth,
And the people who are offended must deal with it.
Because if stupid people do not want to keep their sins to themselves,
Who is going to stop me from telling them.
This custom infuriated the popes, but they couldn’t stop people from papering these talking statues with biting critiques.
The Need for Context.
And mockery infuriated the popes for precisely the same reason that mockery infuriates culture warriors today.
For these self-appointed guardians of All That Is Good and Holy to maintain their sense of self-important grandiosity, everybody has to play along.
Oh, I mean, it’s bad enough if someone sits out the Happy Pretendy Fun Time Game. Such a person represents a challenge right out of the gate. The coherence and realism of the game comes into question the moment one notices a potential player opting out.
But if someone mocks the players, that destroys the context those culture warriors need to make the game feel real. Mockery creates a glaring incongruity in the illusion! Worse yet, if somebody actively points out how bizarre and foolish these culture warriors look and how enormously they betray every single ideal depicted in their own idolized Bibles, it starts making them look beyond silly. It wrecks their entire claim to power.
Silly people can’t win culture wars. People can’t take culture warriors seriously if they’re laughing at them. Bags of hot air can’t rise if people keep poking holes in them.
And the targets of that mockery know this truth very well.
Well, Yes Actually, Their God Is Mocked. All the Time.
When religious authoritarians react poorly to satire and mockery, they broadcast quite a few things about themselves that illustrate exactly why their religion continues to decline.
First, these authoritarians want us to stop destroying their Happy Pretendy Fun Time Game. In their hearts of hearts, they are Popes and kings, masters and parents of all the rest of us: the Designated Adults. They really don’t like it when those they view as their inferiors laugh at them for being twits.
Second, they’re announcing a whole bunch of personal flaws in themselves. These flaws completely invalidate the narrative they peddle about their supposedly transformative faith and wonder-working god.
Third and most importantly, they are telling us that they’d rather ignore their obvious flaws and hypocrisies than deal with them. The more outrage they express over the humorous barbs directed their way, the harder they demand that these barbs stop without addressing the reason for them, the more obvious they make their preference for simply ignoring those flaws and hypocrisies.
And any one of those problems would completely invalidate their claims to some kind of divinely-granted authority over us. All three of them together? Oh, that is exactly why those barbs must continue to fly–and why we must lawfully fight to the last breath Christian attempts to silence them.
NEXT UP: Ed Stetzer tells his tribe, “Don’t panic! All is well!” But is it? We’ll see. See you next time!
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