Friday, January 8, 2010

God's Funny Bone

Think He has one? Do you? Most people believe they have a sense of humor, though the truth of this may be up for debate. But if we believe we can find things, situations, and language funny – isn’t it possible God can too? Another huge myth about God is His perceived inability to laugh. Of course this is a logical fallacy since if we His created beings are capable of laughing, our originator must also be capable.

When it comes to humor there are so many forms of it like understatement, exaggeration, slap-stick or physical humor, word play, puns, or intelligent questions about silly or common situations to name a few. There is the humor we find in children doing ‘cute’ things, or pets doing ‘funny’ things. There is the analytical humor of comedians like George Carlin who takes an in depth look at the language we use to describe common situations like pre-boarding an airplane – “how do you get on before you get on?” Or “making sure we get ‘in’ the airplane, let Evil Kneivel get ‘on’ the airplane.” I think George would make God giggle with this routine, particularly his entire section on airline security.

In today’s day we find a new generation of Christian comedians who expound about life’s common situations and the funny things we find ourselves doing or saying. Like music I find myself enjoying many forms of humor. One in particular I enjoy is ‘dead-pan’ humor or asking very smart questions about common things, in a very dry monotone voice. Steven Wright is a good example of this asking the question “why is the alphabet in that order?” Or “what happens if you get scared half to death, twice?” Others like comedian Demetri Martin ask questions like “isn’t a mobile home with a flat tire, just a home?” I have to believe God is laughing out loud at this one, particularly since He knows all the real answers to these kinds of questions.

The humor of poking fun at yourself can be quite amusing and takes a fair degree of humility to do. We find humor in impressions of others, the better the impression, the more funny it can be. There can be humor in stereo-typing groups of people, but often this can degenerate into a series of offensive statements designed to illicit a laugh. If it plays to the truth, and avoids playing to racist bias, it can still be funny. When you start thinking about all these types of humor, and the literally hundreds of comedians who have been able to make you laugh, do you begin to wonder if God is not the author of humor as well? Let’s face it, not everybody has the comic timing to tell a joke. Still others think they are funny when they are clearly not. The skill or ability to be a great comedian looks to me like a gift. I know where gifts come from don’t you.

Making people laugh in this world is a precious commodity. With all that evil has accomplished in diverting our attention to fixate on what would destroy us – comedians arise on the scene and ask us to re-examine what we take for granted. They cause us to see the humor in our ruts. They make us take a second and laugh at our strange behavior. But beyond that, they make us think. George Carlin talks with great humor about how business marketing takes advantage of us. His routine is well-worded and articulate. But beyond the immediate laugh, is the premise George uncovers – we are sold things we do not need, by people who do not care, for prices we cannot afford to pay. If George were a preacher, I doubt his sermon, would have reached the millions that his routine has undoubtly been heard by.

George may not be a Christian. Neither is Bill Maher or Jon Stewart. But the questions they ask, and the jokes they make about issues in the news of the day – cause people to sit back and think. Given the goal of evil to keep our attention on anything but Christ, doesn’t it seem that thinking about what we see and what we are told causes us to look at a bigger picture for meaning. The drive to find meaning in your existence is the earliest step on a journey that can ultimately lead to God. I believe there is great value in what our comedians do for us. I believe whether they realize it or not, they disrupt the routine of evil, and give us pause to think about our behavior.

One of the reasons I wrote this book is due to my admiration for Bill Maher. It appears to me that Bill has been systemically poisoned by well meaning Christians about the character of God. The myths we debunk in this book, shed a new, or more accurate, light on all the topics that cause an agnostic to question the character of God. If Bill had not been programmed to believe all these lies about God, would he still be an agnostic? Or would, as he eludes to on his show, he find that Jesus’ words embody the great truth of our existence. I do not believe that intelligence, a common trait among comedians, is incompatible with a belief in God. I believe the lies intelligent people wind up subscribing to, cause them to reason another way. After all, I would be unable to reconcile the concept of a loving God with an ‘eternally burning’ hell designed for ‘bad’ people no matter what they did here on earth. That would lead me away from God as well. This logical fallacy is one key reason, why this commonly taught doctrine of hell is simply not true.

Some people are offended by the swear words comedians tend to use in their routines. They consider this ‘offensive’ language to be unacceptable by God, and therefore something we should avoid listening to. I agree with the concept of ‘offensive language’ being avoided. However I find it in so many other places. For example, when a homeless person asks us for a dollar and we say “no” – that is offensive to me. When a sinner reaches out for love and support and finds only judgment and condemnation from us – that is entirely offensive to me. When we blindly accept the lies evil tells and rationalize our words and our actions – that is offensive to me. When a child asks only for a few minutes of time from a busy parent and the answer is “no” – that is offensive to me. And most of all – when we use the name of God to justify our own ignorance and bias and inflict pain on others – that, is truly offensive to me – and to God.

Don’t get me wrong, I do not advocate using gutter language to express yourself. To me some of the greatest comedians do not need the use of swear words to make their material funny. Jackie Mason, Red Buttons, Lucille Ball, Bill Cosby, Carol Burnett, Demetri Martin, and Jim Gaffigan to name a few. On the other hand, I try not to judge those who speak differently than I do, and I do try to listen to what it is they are actually saying beyond the words I may not enjoy. After all, I’m sure some of the things I say may not always be the best, even if the words I use are longer or absent the expletives used in a comedy routine.

The wise man said “laughter does good like a medicine”. I believe in that statement, both metaphorically and literally. I think God gave us the ability to laugh, and to some the gift of being funny. I think we laugh too little and worry too much. Maybe we should turn that paradigm over on its head in our lives …

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