I am often amazed at how clever people are. While I am sure that people have been just as creative and witty throughout history, the Internet has really allowed them to blossom. From memes and Auto Tune to Photoshop and fails, our drive-thru culture has allowed people to express themselves one small byte at a time to more people than ever before. Of course, the lack of accountability has also opened the door to vulgar, disturbing and deviant creations. While I would imagine that the creators would not be very likely to own the works if their face was attached to it, this supposition is proved false by the overwhelming willingness of seemingly decent people of all persuasions to disseminate them. In the typically contentious arena of politics, it has been taken to a new level; as regards religion, it has become unfathomable. But before I hear the claim that Christians have no sense of humor, I want to look a little deeper.
Richard Dawkins describes the “weird convention, almost universally accepted, that religious faith is uniquely privileged: above and beyond criticism” and Douglas Adams says that “when you look at it rationally, there is no reason why [religious] ideas shouldn’t be as open to debate as any other, except that we have agreed somehow between us that they shouldn’t be.” Of course, these are fairly absurd statements, since religious debate and discussion are rampant and engaged in by believers and non-believers alike. The same people who cry “tolerance and respect” for their own beliefs are all too willing to neglect the same principles with regard to others; naturally, this is not a proprietary characteristic of any particular group.
I do not claim that religion is above criticism, or even derision. In fact, cartoons and jokes poking fun at all religions and ideologies offer an important contribution to the discussion: “Jesus hates figs” is not only clever, it points directly to the absurdity of the Westboro proclamations (not to mention that it is scriptural: Mark 11:12-14). Humor is simply another way to present an idea, often in a more subtle and clever way than merely shouting protestations. I can appreciate the humor, and think it is often a good way to keep things amiable and interesting. However, is there a line that shouldn’t be crossed? Bill Maher would say no, Bill Cosby would say yes.
With Jesus it is not only His death that is lampooned, or His life, or His message; it is often the Christian devotion to Him that is mocked, as well as the associated doctrine and dogma. In supposedly intellectual discussions, the most horrifying descriptions of Jesus Christ committing all sorts of perverse acts will be dropped into a “defense” of the atheist viewpoint. Abominable language and provocative statements are used in the absence of logic and reason. But while this demonstrates ignorance and an unfortunate lack of linguistic and logical ability, what is the harm? After all, this is a man who died 2000 years ago, and if the atheist does not believe in Him anyway, then why should he be held to some standard of propriety that is only imposed on him by a particular group with hurt feelings?
The issue is tact and respect. In my life, I have told jokes about the Challenger, Ethiopians, Christopher Reeve, pedophilic priests, cancer and the Holocaust. I understand wherein lies the humor, but I also understand why I no longer find it acceptable. Even when I told these jokes, I always did so in utter fear that they would be heard by someone to whom it was more than simply an aberrant and distasteful one-liner. It would be bad enough to make fun of cancer in front of someone who had lost his mother to the disease, but what if I tossed one off about ovens, only to see a bystander with numbers tattooed on her forearm? One word: devastation.
Clever is not a synonym for intelligent, and creativity does not necessarily entail humanity. I can watch “The Life of Brian” and see the satirical genius in a masterful parody of religion; I cannot see a single redeeming or beneficial quality in the crass and vulgar references and representations that are smattered across the Internet. They offer no contribution to discussion and no increase in intellectual health. They are the basest form of supposed entertainment, disguising a lack of grace and civility behind the thinnest veneer of wit.
I love the Lord Jesus Christ and have devoted my life to Him. I am supported and sustained by His strength and His truth. I do not expect those who do not believe in His existence to understand – or even to accept – this aspect of my life. However, for those who claim that our morality and ethics emanate directly from our inherent value and predisposition to empathy, I see no respect for value or empathetic virtue in the descriptions and characterizations of something – Someone – that millions of people across the globe count as their dearest and most cherished object of faith.
It is not because I have never engaged in such atrocious behavior that I condemn it; rather it is because I have, and when I was able to objectively see my behavior, it disgusted me and I knew that at all costs I must remove it from my life. It is a freeing moment when one no longer has to look over his shoulder before telling a joke, unless, of course, it is because he no longer cares.