Laughing at Ourselves and Others

Satire is not for everyone.  I know that, yet I continue to use it.  Maybe some people need a shock.  Maybe some people need to laugh a little before opening up to my point.  Maybe I am totally wasting my time and driving sincere believers away because of the tone.

Churches of Christ have used humor a lot, even sarcasm.  But for many years it seems that it was usually directed at the denominational world and “erring brethren.”  Debates, bulletin articles, sermons, publications etc. have attacked others with a smirk.

At some point, those who are often considered more progressive/liberal began using those same tactics against those same people.  And, of course, they didn’t like it.  But what should they expect.  The created an attitude and atmosphere.

For many, sarcasm and satire are good/bad depending only on the target.  If I had used similar jokes against Rick Atchley or Barack Obama, Don Neyland would have loved it. Am I right, Don?

I attended a “gospel” meeting in recent years in an urban setting where a brother from Alabama came to preach.  It was right after Pope John Paul died.  This preacher mocked and ridiculed the Catholic church because their “head” died.  He kept going on and on about the smoke signals, and etc. and etc.  I was offended.  I sat there praying that none of these Christians had invited Catholic friends to hear the gospel–someone mock they respected leader.  I wanted to walk out.  I wonder how he would handle someone mocking his OTC theology.

It seems that those who pick on outsiders are often considered more traditional, and those who pick on “us” are considered more liberal.

For me, it’s about the speck/plank/beams and eyes.  I would rather point out problems among us to challenge people to think than pick on others.  For the record, I will try to be an equal-opportunity satirizer.

When is it appropriate?  When is it not appropriate?

Can you poke fun at bad attitudes or doctrines without hurting the individuals?

God or Jesus would certainly never say or do anything shocking to get someone’s attention, would they?  Surely, Jesus doesn’t have a sense of humor.  In all the movies, he is pretty straight-faced and somber.


21 thoughts on “Laughing at Ourselves and Others

  1. Great post Brian…you have a great way with words, and a great heart to go with it.

    I especially enjoyed this…
    “God or Jesus would certainly never say or do anything shocking to get someone’s attention, would they? Surely, Jesus doesn’t have a sense of humor. In all the movies, he is pretty straight-faced and somber.”

    You cracked me up with that one bro…it reminded me of Jesus’ statement to the Pharisees in Matt 23…””Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.”

    Sorry about writing a book in the comments, but it’s your fault for inspiring it…
    Have a great day bro

  2. Brian, it is refreshing to find someone of your age that understands, satire, or as it is called here in Texas “picking on someone” and understand it is not meant to be mean, but to make a point. I don’t know why there are so many of your generation that can not abide any criticism what so ever, but there are. It is a natural thing of my generation to “pick on people” and we can stand criticism most usually, if the picking don’t cause to much blood, in other words don’t pick on a sore spot until it bleeds. the story about the preacher berating the Catholic church was not just “picking” that was nasty, and unnecessary blood letting.
    There is a difference, now that said, lay off me, you know I have a thin skin and can’t handle it. 🙂

  3. Brian

    thanks, laymond, well-said
    my family joked and teased alot, my wife’s didn’t. some can handle it, some can’t.
    that might be a good dividing line but you never know who can handle it and who can’t.

  4. brian, I think a lot of it has to do with the attitude that the humor is done with. I know I have a satire site that I do not advertise. It is all done in fun, yet some people read it and think that I am trying to put them down. So, I see it as a fine line and I think we need to be careful which side we are perceeved as being on.

  5. B and I are the same way. My family always teased each other and B’s didn’t. He’s come a long way in not taking himself so seriously, and I’ve come a long way in toning down my sarcasm to make it more audience-friendly (at least I hope so…maybe not on my blog so much, though…). What I like most about your blog is that you’re not scared of criticism or confrontation–you write even when you know you might catch some flack, which spurs more conversation…which is kind of the point. Keep it up.

  6. Brian, I don’t know, but I believe the teachers in the CoC have helped to bring about this “no level of confrontation please” Most Christian blogs I read I come away with the feeling, “yeah so what did you prove, we all know Jesus is good” There are four CoC preachers having a “so called ” debate on a blog page, and it seems the readers have chosen the “very controversial” subject of why did Jesus say “love your enemy” I was very disappointed, to say the least, I know it is early, but the format of this “debate” leaves a lot to be desired.

  7. When I first began reading old (18th and 19th century) religious journals, I found myself cringing at the way authors took the gloves off and let their opponents have it. You certainly couldn’t take yourself too seriously in those days. And it seems like everything was fair game. It looks like George Whitefield had a “lazy eye” which lead his critics to name him “Dr. Squintum.” That always strikes me as mean and hilarious at the same time. In his debate with Robert Owen, Campbell goofed on Owen quite a bit, with Owen sitting on the stage laughing at Campbell’s jokes about him, but looking sort of dumb (or so I’m told).

  8. Brian

    bobby, I love your satire site.

    thanks, chandra. we miss you guys, hope you are settling in well

    I figured I could have googled and found some debates, or an article about stuff like that, but thanks for giving some historical background. I think I have the Campbell-Owen debate. if it contains something humorus, I might actually read it

  9. jeff

    Satire is “educated humor.” Picking on people is stuff done for cheap laughs. It’s Monty Python’s holy hand grenade vs. any stupid sit com today. The line shifts for each person hearing it as to whether your satire is mean or not. There’s a fine line between genius and stupid. I go for stupid and hope someone thinks it’s genius. If you’re gonna do humor go for it, but don’t be shocked when people don’t get it or fling it right back at ya.

  10. Ben

    Brian, humor can be very effective, but my own experience tells me that I am not always as clever as I suppose. Satire is typically intended to convey ridicule, so to be truly effective it needs to be directed at a worthy object. Elijah had every reason to mock the prophets of Baal; the crowds at the cross had no reason to mock Jesus. In addition, satire should probably be used sparingly, and with due consideration to your intended audience.

    I came across an article by Campbell a few years ago in which he admonished his readers to study the “suaviter in modo” and the “fortiter in re” during the defense of the truth. Concerning the prophets, apostles, and Christ himself, he wrote “soft and persuasive were their words and arguments to those who appeared honest in their convictions, but severe and tart were their reproofs to such as appeared obstinate in error.”

    It was good to see you last month, maybe we can do it again in another ten years.

  11. Brian

    COOL! Ben Jones commented on my blog!!
    thanks, bro
    good thoughts, especially drawing in some Bible into the discussion
    waiting for you to visit NYC.

  12. Brian…

    We’re big pickers. We often call it “getting someone’s goat.” Our joke has always been “if you don’t want someone getting your goat … don’t let them know where it’s tied.” BUT I think there is a clear line between picking, poking-fun, getting someone’s goat AND being mean spirited from the pulpit.

  13. Brian

    in college our little group’s motto was:
    “we kid because we care”

    whether it was true is another discussion altogether, but that was our motto

  14. Great post, Brian!

    I was always told that people picked on me because they loved me…let me tell you, I am a VERY loved person!! 😉 Sarcasm is definitely a huge part of my generation and the ones that have followed-it just seems to come natural! My mother sometimes deems it as rude, but it is just in my nature to joke with people! It keeps life fun 😉 There is most definitely a fine line, though-between sarcasm which is fun and that which hurts-I think you have to know your audience and know when not to cross that line.

    Have you ever seen the Vintage 21 videos?
    Your last line made me think of that-they are great (the last one is my favorite!) I know some would be offended-but it is so great to know that Jesus is not really like that!!

  15. Pingback: The Church of Christ Canon « The Blog Prophet

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