Recently, I was the recipient of an Internet comment that haphazardly bumped into something true.
Not because it was true in-and-of itself, nor did it emanate from a particularly true place (i.e. the comments section accompanying some of my work), but, in it’s baldfaced reminder that I am merely a poor facsimile of John Pavlovitz (ouch), or Nadia Bolz-Weber (I’m actually having this chiseled into my tombstone as we speak) the aforementioned anonymous truth-teller (who bravely confronted me without an identifying name or photo) asked a fair question:
“do you really think Christians can be snarked out of their beliefs?”
The question behind what I believe my friend is attempting to access by shaming me from the friendly confines of her keyboard (#feminism) is whether or not humor is a sufficiently persuasive tool in talking individuals out of sacrificing others on the altar of their righteous indignation. "Snark,” or, as it has been known since at least the days of the Canterbury Tales or Mark Twain or Spinal Tap,“satire” is the the art of taking socially acceptable (yet toxically incoherent) beliefs to their logical conclusions, and thus exposing them to fits of public giggling and sometimes ridicule.
For further evidence of this rather dogged phenomenon see Dr. Strangelove and most of Jesus’ early work.
But back to her original point, I want to first say a hearty “THANKS!” for the reminder that I am occasionally funny. The 13-year-old still living inside of me who is desperate to make people laugh as a way of diverting attention from both his cavernous loneliness, as well as the horrifying lip zit he has been brewing for 2 weeks is ETERNALLY GRATEFUL (and now that he has your attention may he also borrow $2.00 for lunch?).
Second, I've found there is this growing consensus among God’s most faithful followers that truly devout Christians have an unshakeable list of divine propositions that remain unassailable to someone who occasionally makes a joke here or there whenever he or she is asking questions about the validity of these propositions. Which is why most of the sermons you’ve heard in your life weren’t funny…even when they were trying to be. This is because the goal of Christian sermons, and Christian conversations, and Christian books, and Christian arguments and grey-faced Christians in robes and ripped jeans with microphones are all attempting to convince you of their rightness by painfully bludgeoning your logic to death with earnest seriousness (quite often with a tearful conclusion shouted to you as a final “prayer” that seems like just more sermon).
Put simply: the dominoes are tenuously kept in place by never, ever, ever, ever breaking.
For most of us self-identifying to telemarketers as “Christians,” the degree of seriousness with which we hold the virgin birth, or the perfection of the Bible, or the post-mortem destination of everyone we find distasteful (I’LL SEE YOU IN HELL DUDE WHO BEAT ME TO THE ELLIPTICAL THIS MORNING) is determined by refusing to point out how ridiculous we look and sound from time to time. The minute we admit that occasionally the things we say, and do, and believe, and doubt are ridiculous, and deeply contextual to whatever decade in which we are or are not buying DeLoreans, our expulsion from the realms of serious Christian conversation about things none of us know for sure is imminent.
See what I mean.
Third, I’m still a bit confused as to how satire somehow has less power than money, political influence, the weather, a particularly rough 3rd quarter earnings report, sex, college football, and/or heavy traffic in terms of things that most commonly talk people out of believing something about God. A more straightforwardly accurate question might have been:
“Do you think there’s anything that can’t talk Christians out of their beliefs?"
And to that I would like to give a hearty, YES! (probably)
I’ve found the one thing continually sticking around on the other side of pain, shame, fear, abandonment, addiction, and the destruction of weird inherited beliefs about the afterlife is a flesh-and-blood encounter with redemption. At the bottom of most things, an experience where we earnestly thought the world worked a particular way, with a particular thrust, and ethos, and point only to have that undermined by another human person who beautifully and compelling contradicts everything we staked our existential surety on, is terribly stubborn.
For further evidence of this rather dogged phenomenon see Dr. Strangelove and most of Jesus’ later work.
I would argue that Christianity has always been a satirical and socially unacceptable way to make sense of the universe (especially if you're a world superpower hell-bent on consuming all the world's resources as both an economic as well as a foreign policy position). Christianity started by co-opting a previously existent religion (ahem, Judaism), turned it on it’s head, changed all of it’s meanings, and then began telling everyone it was the purest form of that which it had almost entirely changed. Jesus’ initial foray into the religious debates of his time began with him pantomiming the work of Moses (in his rather famous “Sermon on the Mount”) as he delivers a counterintuitive retelling of the 10 commandments and the charge to the gathered Israelites at the foot of a mount not named Sinai (although when you bless the poor, weak, and mourning rather than the devout and powerful is it any wonder he was summarily put to death?).
Jesus’ whole shtick was constantly asking what happens when you actually take what you say you believe to its logical (and sometimes very illogical) conclusions. Time and again, he turned polite religious discussion among very serious and thoughtful people of faith into guerrilla theatre performed on behalf of all those whose lives and failures most often served as props in the “beliefs" and "religions" of others.
The genius of Jesus was that he, in flesh-and-blood, showed how entirely ludicrous and illogical "sensible religion" is when you think about it for longer than an hour on Sunday. He did so, not as a way of talking people out of faith, but as a way of inviting people into a deeper experience with it, no matter their persuasion, politics, or preferences. Jesus was offering a religious expression where people are invited to finally release the parking break they believe keeps them from “getting out of control” or "selling their possessions" or being "bipartisan" (remember when we used to just call this "honest").
I would go so far as to say that Christian belief isn't just susceptible to satire, at it’s most orthodox it’s a fundamentally satirical approach to believing in anything.
Which means when we attempt to create a serious, socially acceptable, buttoned-up approach to a religion founded by a man who traveled the countryside sleeping outside with twelve dudes who had completely disparate views on what he was talking about while he was talking about it, all the while wealthy women covered the gang's expenses, it’s safe to say we may have lost the plot. I mean, one time Jesus told people to get next-to-naked when someone else attempted to take their last bit of clothing in financial arbitration and NO, HE DID NOT CONCLUDE THIS ADVICE BY TELLING A “FUNNY” STORY ABOUT GOLF* AND TITHING TO SUPPORT THE NEW STEEPLE REFURBISHMENT.
(*NOTE: In the history of human language, there has never been a funny story about golf. You have been warned.)
These days it seems as if Christians don’t need increasingly serious talk about the “importance” of cognitive propositions or statements or lines in the sand allowing them to own, and hate, and fear, and leverage most of the world for the benefit of their tribe. Instead, we need people of faith to continually uncover the inherent ludicrousness of a multi-billion dollar industry (feat. President Donald Trump) supposedly created to serve the wishes of a homeless first century rabbi who died advocating the love of his enemies and the inherent sacredness of the oppressed. Without a consistent brush with satire, I dare say Christians could be snarked into and out of almost anything.
For further evidence of this rather dogged phenomenon please open your computer and read any article about Evangelical Christianity in America...or don't, I mean really, don't. But if you do (and you really shouldn't) please SKIP THE COMMENTS.
*photo credit: The Hollywood Reporter