Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Can Christians Be Funny?

Of course we can; people laugh at me all the time! Wait, I mean...ahh...umm... Let me try this again:

In 2012, I had great intentions of starting a regular blog series based on conversations I had with my friend, who is an atheist. I kinda overwhelmed myself that year; only two posts were actually shared and there are still four almost-ideas in draft form.

My friend, who I refer to as Favourite Atheist (FA) on the blog, and I still have regular conversations about God, religion, and philosophy in between talks about books, movies, and food. Many of our discussions (more his questions) make me stop and think "hey, I should blog that." I've had the thought often enough that I've decided to actually write them. It won't be weekly but hopefully shorter wait that seasons of Sherlock and definitely better than once every three years. I even made the little "TWA graphic" to keep me inspired. So here goes:

The Topic: Can Christians Be Funny?
I got a text from FA this morning saying,
"I was reading an article about comedy, suggesting that there are no or almost no good conservative comedians. Do you think there are good Christian comedians? What about Christian satire?"
My Immediate Response:
I was still in a waking-up fog when I read the message and sent a very helpful, "There are and there was" back. Then hit snooze on my alarm.

My Reasoned Response:
I am more awake now and able expand on my answer. FA is also reading these for the first time (Hi Friend *waves* what do you think of the graphic?) so there won't be his response to my thoughts. He'll either leave a comment or I'll write a follow up later.

My answer part 1 "there are" -There are Christian comedians. I immediately thought of Tim Hawkins. He's caused me to laugh uncontrollably before.

There is also Michael Jr. (who I saw at the Gathering) and Mark Lowery (who I enjoyed in high school). I expected there were more than three so I googled "Christian Comedian" and found a list on Christian Comedy Acts. Not sure how funny any of them are but the list is 7 page list so Christian comedians aren't unicorns.

My answer part 2 "and there was" -The only Christian satire I could think of in the morning was the Wittenburg Door. My college library had a subscription when it was still a printed magazine. Today it only exists online as an archive. I found a Christianity Today article from 2002, Close the Door, about the history and evolution of the Wittenburg Door. It was an interesting read.

I appreciated Door's creators motivation. They loved Jesus and his followers but were willing to poke fun at the things that happen in Christian circles that contradicted the actions and beliefs involved with following Christ. Their goal was bring reformation through humour. I found a quote by the 1979 Door's editor that I thought was good, so I am going to quote a quote,
"We're trying to shoot down sacred cows that maybe shouldn't be sacred cows in the church," the editors explained in their fifth-anniversary issue (June/July 1976). "We're trying to get the church to look at issues that maybe they've just skimmed over in the past because 'everyone else is doing it.' We're trying to ask questions, perhaps, that some people aren't asking. We're trying to give frustrated people a platform from which to speak. And we're trying to do it all with a sense of humor."
On the drive to church I remember another satire Stuff Christians Like. The sites author, Jon Acuff, wrote an article for Relevant magazine Three Rules of Christian Satire, it shares the reality and struggles for those who use satire as Christians. What he said was worth reading. I was tempted just quote huge chunks in the conclusion but then it wouldn't have been my conclusion.

My Conclusion:
I think God has a scene of humour, have you seen a platypus? I also believe we were made to laugh. Humour can be "clean" and still funny. There are things that can be laughed over for the simple joy of joy and being a comedian who follows Jesus doesn't hinder a person. There are good/funny Christian comedians and satiricalists*. There are also bad/not funny Christian comedians. Just like there are funny and unfunny comedians who don't like Jesus.

Humour can also be the trigger for change. Satire by its nature is subversive. Church culture needs that every now and then. We call church circles in a "Christian bubble" for a reason. Those who have spent time in or around Christian culture know how much emphasis is placed on conforming and behaviour. My experience is within evangelical culture; we are proud of our conservatism and ability to support the status quo. Only the "status is not quo*" -and has nothing to do with following Jesus.

Jesus' teachings are counter cultural, they were counter-intuitive and subversive. There are actions and beliefs that church-going culture cling to that have nothing to do with following Jesus. Christian satire shines a light on behaviours and beliefs match those of the Jesus we claim to follow. When it targets religious things that we've made idols of satire can be a prophetic voice that leads to repentance and reform.

I think church culture needs a good dose of satire every now and then. We take ourselves too seriously sometimes. However, using satire isn't without risks and challenges, again read Acuff's article Three Rules of Christian Satire. Those who use satire walk a thin line between funny and mocking. And even when comedians and modern day prophets successfully walk that line there are people who don't (or can't) get the joke.

What do you think?
Please join the discussion. Do you agree? Disagree? Have a completely different view on the subject? Is there a comedian or satire I should check out? Add your thoughts, arguments or counter arguments in the comments. My only request, whatever your thoughts or views respect those who write. We can disagree without attacking people or their character.

* Satiricalist -my spellcheck keeps telling me this is not a word with giving me any "did you mean options". So, if doesn't exist it should be and if it does but my spelling is too horrible that the spelling algorithms can't figure out what I am trying to say I am sorry.
*"The status is not quo" is a phrase used by Dr. Horrible in Joss Whedon's Dr. Horrible Sing-A-Long Blog it is not a Christian comedy but I do enjoy it muchly.


Pat Murphy said...

On the one hand, I would say, "Of course there are Christian Comedians. If there are Christian Rappers, then anything can exist!". On the other hand, I'm not sure that the category of "best comedians" includes any Christian Comedians, as a distinct entity from "comedians who happen to be christians". For instance, Stephen Colbert is a comedian who is a christian (he's a catholic), but I don't think folk would say that he is a Christian Comedian.

There is an emphasis on "good" that I think is missing. And there is a subjectivity component that is difficult to overcome (personal tastes in what is funny are tricky things). As well, there is an important distinction between christian and conservative that should be drawn (the two need not be correlated), such that the article I was reading need not specifically address christian humourists, while still asking about conservative ones. It could be telling that the "christian comedy" circuit hasn't produced its own john stewart or stephen colbert, but it's difficult to say anything definitive beyond that .. but now I'm rambling. fun blog liz :)

David M said...

Colbert is a great example. If I'm not mistaken he regularly leads a sunday school group at his church (those kids are super lucky).

It's an interesting question though. I think the answer has two prongs: first prong is that North American Christianity has never been able to shake that Puritan vibe, especially after Christianity became influenced (hijacked?) by Conservatism in the US. Comedy has long been used as a way to promote social change by ridiculing the more negative parts of the status quo. And really, Jesus himself was all about upsetting the status quo. But, conservatism is by definition about maintaining the status quo, and resisting social change. The fact that Jesus would probably be considered a socialist in 2015 is lost on these people.
The other prong of course is that Hollywood isn't run by Christians, and the Christians you do see in mainstream media are often pretty terrible representatives of the religion, like Rupert Murdoch. I tried to find another example but everyone else is Jewish.

Elizabeth said...

Hi Friend, thanks for more thoughts to continue the conversation. Not sure which to address here and which to make their own new TWA post:

1) Yep, Christian rappers are a thing.

2) I do like thinking about the Christian professional vs a professional who is a Christian; I think that might be a future article.

3) My use of good might have changed the conversation or at least became a unnecessary red herring. Where did the term red herring come from? Adding a "good" distracted from the original question. As you say, good is subjective and therefore almost meaningless. My intent was to express there are Christian comedians who have consistently made me laugh.

4) I definitely agree that Christian and conservative are not the same thing and need not be correlated.

5) I am not sure I can agree with the last claim that we have not produced any satirist (I've been told that is the actual word I wanted not satricalist). No, we don't have a equivalent of the Daily Show on TV but the Wittenburg Door, Acuff, even articles in Relevant exist. They are insiders poking at inside stuff...not really going to resonate much for outsiders but still noteworthy for this conversation.

6) I might agree that it is almost impossible for a conservative (those that the keep the party line) to be a satirist because good satire needs surprise, creativity and subversiveness that goes against keeping the quo status.

7) Did you see what I did with the status not being quo? I think its about time I rewatch Dr. Horrible it has been a year.

Elizabeth said...

David, it took me so long to write my response to Pat I hadn't seen your comment before I hit "publish" or I would have said "Hi" to you too.

Hi David! Thanks for reading; I always enjoy your thoughts on Facebook so I am pleased as punch that you joined the conversation here.

I would like to sit in on one of those Colbert's classes, I would probably learn something.