Thinking Out Loud

November 24, 2017

The Place for Christian Satire and Humor

When a comment popped up on an earlier look at this topic — originally posted seven years ago — I thought I might revisit this. I quickly realized that most of the references in the original article were to blogs and websites which no longer exist, so this is greatly revised.

For readers today, it’s hard to imagine a future world without, for example, The Babylon Bee — or its Roman Catholic equivalent, Eye of the Tiber — but I suppose it will happen eventually. Sometimes the humor is topical references to things currently on our minds. Other times the jokes are somewhat timeless…

The original article began with a comment from a reader who found the rather humorous graphic, Fundy Preacher Bingo, not so funny. (Click the link to see it full size, or perhaps even print a few!)

Actually, “Christian hate” is the term she used. “Hate?” Really? Not surprising though. I have in the past encountered Christians who don’t get religious humor or satire. “Foolish talk and course jesting;” is the verse usually quoted.

And then she asked the question that I think is key to all this:

What kind of hardened heart finds delight in making fun of your brothers and sisters in Christ, as if you weren’t flawed and saved by Grace – same as them?

Well, the answer is, many people. One of the items in our personal book collection is Games Christians Play which was published in the 1940s by Harper & Row. I’m sure it was not the first example of literature in which Christians take some potshots at their own foibles. And space does not permit us to list the many examples of Jesus using wordplay with both his disciples and his critics. (See this book review.)

And the phrase “at their own” is also key. When non-believers want to lampoon and ridicule Christianity that’s one thing. But even there, I wouldn’t want to be too dismissive, because I think it’s important for us to be able to see ourselves as others see us. Some of the attacks by atheists are unwarranted, but at other times, it’s like holding a mirror up to The Church.

But it’s always better when the barbs come from within, ergo the long-time popularity of the now not-in-print Christian magazine, The Wittenburg Door. One of my earliest mentors was a musician who said, “The Wittenburg Door is my conscience.”

Humor is a powerful force and it can be abused for sure, but it can also be a force for keeping us all honest and accountable. You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Many a truth is spoken in jest. [Add your own cliché here.]

So while I could criticize fellow Evangelicals, I wouldn’t criticize Lutherans. For that we have Garrison Keillor, although he has spent enough time among Baptists and Pentecostals that increasingly a larger group of people are swept up in his humor and storytelling.

So rule number one would be that you criticize your own. You might even need to quantify that, as one writer did at the time:

I’m a conservative evangelical Christian. Very, very conservative by most standards and I’ve got the Wide-Margin Old Scofield King James Bible to prove it.. [comment at Stuff Fundies Like, Sept 10, 2010]

Over the years, spoofers have included Jon Acuff of Stuff Christians Like (now a motivational and business writer) and Joel Kilpatrick and the author of the blog Jesus or Squirrel or Matthew Paul Turner at Jesus Needs New PR or the host of cartoonists including many different ones at Baptist Press (who years ago stopped allowing us to use them). And let’s not forget years and years of cartoon and satire books published by Zondervan and InterVarsity (the latter having returned to the genre with two books each in the Coffee With Jesus and Theologygrams series) and the cartoons that were printed in each issue of Leadership Journal.

The enemy of The Church today is not those who poke fun at our sacred cows, but the people who simply walk away. I responded to the woman who left the comment:

…For what it’s worth, “hardened hearts” don’t engage. They walk away. They are apathetic. Most of us read something like this and it’s very easy to resonate with the spirit of it, and that is fully compatible — to me at least — with being indwelt by the Spirit of Christ.

Sadly, the person who wrote to me said I had “lost another reader.” In other words, she chose to walk away rather than engage.

As to “hardened hearts,” I think if anything, reading satire from different denominational tribes has softened my heart in terms of understanding and relating to people who are from faith families different to my own.

So what’s your take on Christian comics, Christian cartoons, Christian satire, Christian humor, etc.? Is there a place for this genre? Is it helpful? Is it hurtful?


1 Comment »

  1. I think there’s something to what CS Lewis said in the introduction to The Screwtape Letters: something to the effect that being able to laugh at oneself and one’s situation is a bit of a safeguard against spiritual pride.

    Comment by ronniechampsatire — February 25, 2018 @ 6:09 pm

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