A continual feast: Christian humour online
Sean A. Taylor Special to ChristianWeek
“He that is of a merry heart hath a continual feast” (Proverbs 15:15).
Funny Christians? Isn’t that an oxymoron?
The Internet is alive with religion, and religious humour. Aside from the usual bulletin bloopers, Christian comics and clean jokes, Christian sites like The Wibsite (UK evangelical), The Onion Dome (U.S. Eastern Orthodox), Ship of Fools (vaguely Anglican), Lark News (U.S. evangelical) and a host of others offer wry and witty commentary, amusing stories and sometimes controversial satire, all from a Christian angle.
Humour with a purpose
G.K. Chesterton once said that the only subjects worth joking about are serious ones; like being married or being hanged. In this vein, religion should be a rich source of humour-as long as you take it seriously enough.
Humour is not a cheery chainsaw to be flung about carelessly. After all, for Christians, humour needs to be about truth, love and seeing things more clearly; so laughter and humour can have a redemptive and revealing outcome, and can indicate spiritual and emotional health.
Such humour also needs to be humbly and carefully done, as we always remember that we are sinners. We need to be able to laugh at ourselves first, not only point the finger at others. So-called Christian humour sites that demean and condemn fellow brother and sister Christians, or mock God and the things of God are spiritually destructive. Christian humour sites must tread a very fine line.
Jesus himself used humour in the form of holy wit, exaggeration, unflattering comparisons and irony as away of vividly capturing spiritual things. So Christ could speak of those who could gulp down a camel but choke on a tiny fly (Matthew 23:24); an eye full of self-righteous lumber versus a tiny sliver of sin in another’s eye (Matthew 7:2-7); of the blind leading the blind (Matthew 15:14); he compares his opponents to ragged coats and hard old wineskins (Mark 2:22), so full of their opinions that anything new will rip holes in them or burst them open. Vivid, memorable, funny, but about serious things, too.
Here are several kinds of humour used for teaching, warning and redemption by the Son of God Himself. As in His use of parables for teaching about the Kingdom of God, Jesus speaks of familiar everyday things to reveal spiritual or heavenly things. God meets us where we are-even in laughter.
On a lark (http://www.larknews.com )
Lark News -“A good source for Christian news”-is precisely the opposite, though at first glance, it looks like a real online newsletter. Open targets include church potlucks, archaeology, Bible translations, and other humorous false news-stories that poke fun at familiar topics and events in the American evangelical Christian community. Recent headlines include: “Christians planning to be offended by next Eminem album,” “Classic Christian bumper stickers latest hot collectible” and “Women’s ministry changes the world through crafts.”
In a 2003 interview for Christianity Today, Lark founder and freelance writer Joel Kirkpatrick said, “It gets people into embarrassing situations when they don’t recognize outright that it is satire, and I’m surprised that they don’t.” He considers satire an important art form for speaking to people; it “has a prophetic element to it.It surprises me how many people in full-time ministry I hear from who say they needed a laugh.”
The varied reactions to Lark News illustrate both the dangers and benefits of this genre. Christian humour is a two-edged sword, and while it can enlighten by exaggerating absurdities and the taken-for-granted, and offer welcome laughs, it can also offend, and be seen as smirking and destructive.
The Wibbiest (http://www.wibsite.com)
The very English, funny and eclectic Wibsite is home to cartoons, articles, wiblogs, Inflatable Church News, The Flannelgraph and the infamous and strangely addictive “Dullest Blog in the World” (indeed). The humour is dry, and droll, and according to editor Dave Walker, “the site has grown considerably over the last few years so that we can now pretend to be one of the UK’s most-read Christian Web sites.”
Restless sailors (http://www.shipoffools.com)
The Ship of Fools Web site is subtitled “the magazine of Christian unrest.” It relentlessly pokes fun at “Christianity Lite,” and offers a tongue-in-cheek look at the lighter side of churches today. They feature the tacky “Gadgets for God” collection of real “Christian products” (like the talking tombstone, WWJD undies and the 110-foot tall Jesus the Hot Air Balloon), “Crazy Canons-about the crazy side of church history” and “The Mystery Worshipper,” a team of volunteers around the world who go into church services making notes and reporting on the service.
Ship of Fools was also recently in the news for their Church of Fools, the UK’s first Web-based,
3-D church, which opened as a three-month
experiment May 11. Online guest preachers have included the Anglican Bishop of London and Tony Campolo. After some minor problems with ranting heretics and digital demons, the experiment has been a great success.
Laughing eastwards (http://www.theoniondome.com)
Eastern Orthodoxy isn’t exactly associated with a rollicking sense of humour. But The Onion Dome (“Orthodox News With A Twist”) offers affectionate satire of all things Orthodox. Site creator Alexis Riggle says, “I do believe we Orthodox (myself included) tend to say and do many foolish things as Orthodox Christians, or in the name of Orthodoxy, or in the name of God. God laughs at the foolishness of men (Psalm 2:4); I think it is healthy for us to laugh at ourselves.”
Again, like the The Lark, the widely-discussed Onion Dome gets some mixed e-mail reviews (“Please take care not to cross over into disparagement, irreverance or even blasphemy”) for headlines like “This Week on Trading Churches: Orthodox and Baptist Trade Places With Hilarious Results!” “Ask Father Vasiliy: Are ZZ Top Orthodox?” and “Patriarch of Constantinople to guest star on ‘The Simpsons.'”
Within the genre of Christian humour, the internet sub-culture of weblogs (usually called “blogs”) deserves notice. These frequently updated, often personalized collections of links, comments, opinions and discussion-threads can touch on a range of subjects from politics, religion, technology or anything that the blog’s author (the “blogger”) wants it to be about.
Many Christian bloggers are young, and offer an edgy, thoughtful and often tongue-in-cheek take on church news, current events and spiritual matters, joyfully poking fun at stereotypes of Christians and taking on the pieties of the modern church, world and culture. Regular saltings of humour lace the following blogs: Catholic author Kathy Shaidle of Toronto publishes Relapsed Catholic, Missouri librarian Chris Johnson publishes Midwest Conservative Journal and American Christian journalists Terry Mattingly and Doug Leblanc offer GetReligion on journalism, religion and culture, to name just a few.
Furthermore, and in conclusion
Christian humour sites may not be everyone’s cup of tea (or low-fat latte with sprinkles), but they bear witness to the growing power and evolving presence of Christianity on the Web. When done with the right balance of serious lightheartedness and affection, religious humour can shine a helpful light on Christian topics, denominations, spiritual matters and situations that require a light touch. Christian humour that helps bring us closer to God and our brother and sister Christians has done its job.
“Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy” (Psalm 126:2).