The First Congregational Church of Darien

United Church of Christ

A community of faith since 1737

Humor And Holiness

How do we respond to the massacre at Charlie Hebdo in Paris and everything that has transpired since? Of course, the issue is bigger than humor. But how about at least this:

I worry about humorless people, even to the point of not trusting them.  It bespeaks taking oneself too seriously. Once we do that, humility has lost and pride has won. As pride wins, most anything can be justified, including any means after “righteous” ends.


What I regard as true of individuals is no less true of religion, including my own. Once a faith’s adherents lose their ability to laugh at themselves–given how massive our truth claims and that all humans have feet of clay—it is a lethal loss of perspective. And it is a short move to enforcing codes of holiness more demanding than anything God would expect. When human beings act holier than God, we generally do horrible things. If you can’t handle a caricature of your prophet, you must not believe your God is very strong.


My first year of divinity school, we students were so wary of this and worried by it we staged a mock-lecture series. We chose the theme, “The Seven Deadly Virtues,” clearly a spoof on the “Seven Deadly Sins” tradition.  Then professors who embodied industry, compassion, generosity, humility, etc. spoke about the downside of all those virtues. It was not only funny, it helped us put ourselves and our holy calling in proper perspective. Then we resumed parsing Greek verbs and reading tomes by Theodore of Mopsuestia.


Christianity gets mocked all of the time.  Sometimes we deserve it, like when wealthy men on television with lots of hairspray wheedle poor widows out of their retirements to build “Christian theme parks”.  Sometimes we don’t deserve it, such as Monty Python’s Life of Brian passing off the following of a messiah as silly, mistaken and delusional. But for the most part, I step outside myself and try to learn what the humor wants to reveal.


By invoking humor just now, I do not mock those who suffered senseless loss of life. No greater pathos exists than cruelty wrought in God’s name. Rather I mean to trace a lead in sniffing out trouble. Religious types unrelievedly taking themselves dead seriously are dangerous. They imagine they honor God’s righteousness, but it’s all about their own.

How can we live healthy lives without a sense of irony in the brokenness of this world?


I am convinced the God who created giraffes and platypuses has a sense of humor. I am certain when Jesus made the crack about it being harder for a rich man to get into heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, it was tongue-in-cheek: every time I picture Donald Trump squeezing through the night deposit slot at Citibank.


Did you know the gentle, humorous side of Mohammed is cherished by Muslims? While bowing in worship, observing the offices of prayer, one tale has Mohammed’s grandson, Hasan, clambering all over his back and neck. Tenderness ensued, not scolding…A woman, old and wrinkled, once asked Mohammed how her likes might enter Paradise. Old women can’t enter Paradise, he deadpanned. She was sad and began to leave. He then reminded her that every old woman becomes young again upon entering Paradise. If Jesus and Mohammed can smile light-heartedly, where did their followers get lost?

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