Editors of magazines that publish cartoons must frequently ask themselves the question, What’s funny and what’s not? We use several cartoons in each issue of ct, and if we fail to address the What’s funny? question carefully, our readers will answer it for us.

Obviously, our use of cartoons indicates we think some things are funny. And we have good company in that assumption. A quick survey of historical literature shows humor to be a mainstay of the human experience and suggests it always will be. Philosophers disagree on why people laugh. But the fact of laughter? Case closed.

But some things are not funny. It is not just because they are bad humor, but because certain topics do not lend themselves to humor. To borrow a phrase from preaching professor Fred Craddock, there is a point of seriousness beyond which humor cannot and should not go. When the point of seriousness is crossed, we run the twin dangers of rudeness and bitterness, or—in the case of religion—blasphemy.

Many of the tensions of church life and the foibles of our frantic attempts to be righteous lend themselves to humor. It is more difficult, however, to think of humorous treatments of the sacred fundamentals of our faith—Scripture and the person of Jesus, for example.

True, the distinctions between the funny and the not funny sometimes blur. At CT, we circulate potential cartoons to all members of the editorial staff for comment. We get far less agreement on usable/nonusable cartoons from this panel of 12 honest citizens than we get on usable/nonusable manuscripts. Senses of humor differ. And frankly, we don’t always get it right.

So, to guide our judgments, we set forth the following principles:

1. Christians should ...

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