Sunday, June 05, 2016

Humor, Laughter, Satire and Good Taste

I have a colleague who is also a humor scholar (and has been a stand-up comedian and disc jockey) whose email signature bears the phrase:  "Laughter is not a luxury; it is a necessity." (Or something very similar to that). Since the book of Proverbs says a merry heart does good like medicine, I heartily agree with him.  I have a sense of humor about most things, love to laugh, like to post some silly things on Facebook, use humor a lot in my class.  Sometimes my humor is a little on the snarky side, like an incident today . . .

There are two Christian radio stations in our area that are right next to each other on the dial and share a great deal of programming.  One plays more contemporary music and the other probably thinks anything recorded after 1980 was of the devil, but there are times I like to listen to the "old-timey" station to hear old hymns.  My reaction is often, "I haven't heard that one in years," as was happening today.  One song that came on was "Jesus is Coming Again," which has the refrain, "Maybe morning, maybe noon, maybe evening, and maybe soon."  I told my husband I used to sing it (in fundamentalist Christian College which-shall-not-be-mentioned) "Maybe morning, maybe noon, maybe evening and definitely imminent."  He said I was a smart butt.  Yes, I am sometimes.

My Franky planner quote for tomorrow says, "If we may believe our logicians, man is distinguished from all other creatures by the facility of laughter.  He has a heart capable of mirth, and naturally disposed to it."  This is obviously not from a contemporary writer, but one from the 18th century, Joseph Addison.

The Bible has a lot to say about laughter, and perhaps there are at least three kinds we can distinguish.  Mirth, convivial, cheerful laughter born from the common experiences of life; we are all human, we have frailties, somethings just don't go together, there's quirkiness in life; some people we love but accept their behaviors and see humor in them.  That is public laughter.  Then there is the laughter because otherwise you would cry; the laughter of a funeral, remembering the joys and happiness of living with the one who is gone.  That is private laughter.  Then there is the laughter of derision, mocking, the "I am better than you" laughter, the "you are stupid" laughter and "I feel superior because I can laugh at you."  True dislike or hatred might be involved.  This is private and should probably stay private but is often made public.

This is probably too simple a distinction,  perhaps not.  There is probably a fine line between all three categories, and in making these distinctions I am not saying that all humor and laughter based on the first is good and all based on the third is bad.  They are not.  Sometimes the derisive laughter has its place; we read "he who sits in the heaven shall laugh" at the rebellion of the nations.  This is a dismissive laughter at those who shake their fists at God, metaphorically and actually.

I have been thinking about these subjects because I have been thinking about satire.  I have posted before a link to the Babylon Bee, my new "check everyday" site, and get a kick out of it; some of their stories work better than others.  They have come under fire for the story about Jan Crouch's death, mocking a teacher of prosperity, name it/claim it theology for dying.  It has fake quotes by Osteen and Hinn; even Fox News had a story about the criticism it has gotten (another example of fake news; media stories about other media are really not news that affect anyone except employees in the media and scholars of it).

Are they wrong?  Well, one could argue that it is in bad taste, and I would agree, and they are off the hook for "lying" because everyone knows it's satire and therefore lying so it doesn't purport to be truthful, and one who lies and says he is lying isn't lying (right?).  Is satire even a viable Christian form of writing?  Well, it's as old as the Reformation; Martin Luther and John Bunyan certainly used it. 

Satire is not the same as purely derisive mockery humor because it is in the service of an idea, not just insulting someone.  Those who would use satire against health/wealth preachers are coming from the view that these are false, harmful, destructive teachers who hurt people and ruin lives.  To wonder, fictitiously, if a health/wealth preacher did not have enough faith because he/she died from an illness is doing the same thing that these preachers have done to others for years, directly and indirectly.  Most of us who have lived long enough have had friends who were dying of long, slow diseases who were asked, "Have you really prayed in faith for healing? Do you really trust God?  What sin is in your life?"  I think those suffering would rather be left alone than visited by such fiends, oops, "friends." 

Jesus stopped all this talk cold when he was asked in John 9, "Was this man born blind because of his own sin or his parents'?"  That question pretty much wraps up 1. genetics, 2.  parents' sin 3. the issue of kharma and 4. the "you are suffering for your own sin" trope.  Jesus said, "Neither" (and seems to be saying, at the same time, quit trying to simplify these issues to make yourself feel good about figuring it out).  "verse 3:  This happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.  4 As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work.
5 While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”  Jesus might be saying, (I am not sure), stop trying to lay blame and help solve the problem, just like I am about to do.
If we believe that the teaching of prosperity gospel is anathema, can we stop at mocking the proponents of it?  Or, does mockery reduce the seriousness and flagrancy of the evil of the teaching?
I present this in a devil's advocate form; I personally don't think they should have posted that and am surprised it's still up there; at least they stand by their words.   I also am a free speech advocate, so I defend their right to put it up there even if I do think it's probably hurtful to the family to see their mother mocked.  The Bee itself posted a "news item" about a person who liked satire as long as it didn't touch on her own views.  It is very hard to draw the line between legitimate targets and what is not funny, ever.  I don't think rape, the Holocaust, abortion, abuse, human trafficking, murder, cancer, long-term suffering from disease, any of that is funny, mostly because I wouldn't want victims of these things to feel their experiences are demeaned by laughter.  Some disagree with me.  

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