2/17/2013 | Share this article: View CommentsBy Carl S ~
Does the word “dogmatic” tell us something about comedy? Well, interestingly, the dictionary deﬁnes the meaning of dogmatic as, “marked by an authoritative, arrogant assertion of unproved principles.” Oy vay! Is this not an open invitation for ridicule and satire? Consider that the word derives from “dogma.” Do you see why religions, with their unwavering insistence on following their own chosen scriptural texts in their own rigid interpretations, outlawing all others, would be threatened by any others? You can see how they would have a rough time competing against free speech. And why they suppressed it for thousands of years.
In the public marketplace religion is free to advertise and sell itself. But, religions ﬁnd themselves competing with popular culture and information which threaten its traditional powers. Ergo, sects steal and borrow and copy from them for their own advertising and sales pitches. In the public marketplace, anything and anyone is open to commentary, ridicule, even condemnation; even faith and religious spokesmen. Fortunately, we have a veritable cornucopia of ridiculous claims and beliefs available for such things. Even ordinary believers are seeing and hearing just how stupid and insensitive their spokesmen can be; not only by their words, but actions. There is a necessity for ridicule to emphasize these facts.
Humor has the unmitigated gall to go where the territory is forbidden, to tiptoe over the threshold of religious intolerance, to cast the spotlights of ridicule on the ridiculous and arrogant. Parody, satire, and blasphemy enable us to see different points of view from the dogmatic. They enable us to accept, loosen up, and relax the rigidity and inﬂexible prejudices and self-delusions religious faith depends on. Humor tells us not to take ourselves too seriously.
Humor, in short, means accepting being human. It means that the person who can laugh at himself/herself is conﬁdent, sane, unthreatened by differences of opinion. Comedy brings not only different points of view, but expresses, like greeting cards, sentiments and thoughts which are unspoken, even forbidden, in society. (And condemned in houses of worship.) Emotions and words are assumed in comedy which would be ordinarily hidden behind the curtain. Comedy can be a sneaky way to get people to think and accept, while laughing.
Religion teaches and encourages taking the ridiculous seriously. Yes it does. Ergo, religions are insulted and threatened by what they see as challenges to their claims. Think about this though. Actually, “irreverent” has become acceptable as legitimate comedy; i.e., normal. Irreverent is laughing at silly beliefs, silly authoritarian claims. Doesn't that indicate taking silly things seriously is abnormal? And haven‘t we all noticed how the most rigid, whose “minds are made up,” have changed their minds due to the inﬂuence of comedy?
Comedy, ridicule, satire, blasphemy, whatever ﬂavor you choose, makes for freedom of thought, of feelings, of tolerance, and acceptance of the human condition. (Gloria Steinem made the observation: “The truth shall set you free; but ﬁrst it will piss you off”) Some examples: “The Producers” movie and stage musical which ridicules Hitler. “Hogan’s Heroes” ridiculing the Nazis. The comic strip “Jesus and Moe,” satiric commentaries on you-know-who. “The Life of Brian,” a satire on the life of Jesus. The movie, “The Ruling Class,” and Brit comedies such as “The Vicar of Dibley,” mocking the hypocrisies, fallibilities, and foibles of clergy. Also, Philip Appleman's masterful “Perﬁdious Proverbs” - a whole different way of looking at biblical texts and beliefs. (And very liberating.)
Blasphemy has the potential to change the unchangeable by giving good swift kicks to complacent and comfortable butts. Blasphemy can make you wonder. Since the satirist or blasphemer offers alternative stories and interpretations to what is traditionally accepted, perhaps those originals are themselves mere interpretations, equally silly. Especially if the alternatives make more sense than the originals.
Blasphemy considers how a young drunk teen girl can get knocked up and then turn around and convince a gullible yokel that some spirit made her pregnant. Imagine the silliness of that! For centuries, women, finding themselves pregnant, have gone through the trouble and risks of seducing men into copulation so that they wouldn't be banished from society and would have someone to help raise the kid. This is a funny tale and Joseph takes first prize in the Wus contest. Compare this to the deep theological debates about whether Adam and Eve had belly buttons, of how many angels can ﬁt on the head of a pin, or if there is work or not in heaven. Think about the tragic absurdity befalling a man who goes around pissing off the authorities (who, by the way, he replaced with even worse hypocrites than he criticized), taking it to such extremes that they ended up crucifying him. (“Gee, couldn't they take a joke?”)
Speaking of which, obviously, the preponderance of scriptures and sects proves that those texts are open to different and varied translations and interpretations. Even to the possibility that the writers and interpreters are deceivers. The Religious Right have no tolerance for blasphemy or ridicule about their authoritative, arrogant assertions. Tyrants have no sense of humor concerning their character. Satire makes tyranny tremble. We look to leaders who don‘t take themselves too seriously.
Laughter is healthy; it is said that humans are the only animals that laugh (or need to). Very serious philosophers have mentioned that life is absurd. A cosmic joke. Perhaps it is. After all, considering the trauma of birth and struggles to survive and prosper, not to mention the sorrows and disappointments all along the way, there isn't a whole lot of joy and happiness except what we make ourselves. And it all ends, for everyone and everything, in death and nothingness. It all does seem like a trickster’s practical joke. Some of us can't help but laugh at this folly. There is a freedom to this kind of reality acceptance. But, I think that non-believers need to ﬁnd a way to mock themselves, too. Self mockery disarms the critics.
Thanks for reading this. Hope you had a few laughs and thoughts. Oh gee, did I forget to mention Hissie the Talking Snake? Quite a tempting fellow, or girl - who could tell the difference, even Noah? Did Hissie speak Hebrew or Latin or Esperanto (or Lisperanto)? Ask your local god expert. You may make him free. But first, you'll piss him off.