Making Religion Rollicking

With mixed feelings I have been perusing a communique from the Society for the Promotion of a Sense of Humor in Religion. Among its aims and activities: “finding salvation through laughter … the Gospels and the humerous [sic] attitude … establishing a new office—that of ‘Church Jester’ … humor nights for fun and purpose.” The massive solemnity and objectivity of it all frightened me. Can you really in cold blood promote humor? Moreover the founder and president of the society describes himself as a “humorist.” He offered no taste of his wares, but promised “help in dealing with life problems [more sic].”

I know of someone who would have been aghast at the whole business. “It would be a gain to the country,” declared John Henry Newman, “were it vastly more superstitious, more bigoted, more gloomy, more fierce in its religion that at present it shows itself to be.” That was, of course, before he became a cardinal.

Since a decadent society has done away with the stocks, a salutary corrective for religious humorists would be a sojourn in a certain European country where visiting American church folk are given a duplicated sheet containing twelve recommendations. What follows is not Eutychusian fantasy—I have the sheet in front of me as I write.

“Do not put your hands in your pocket in the pulpit,” it urges, “especially when you pray.” Do not “jump up and down in the pulpit when you arc preaching” (a ban sure to cramp the style of any aspiring jester). No legs, male or female, to be crossed “in the pulpit or in church.” Lipstick, short/sleeveless/low-cut dresses, jewelry, painted eyes/nails/hair—all these are taboo. So are fancy clothes, in or out of church. No pulpit jokes, no political cracks, no fraternizing ...

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