If your Facebook feed is anything like mine, you know nothing unites your friends (aside from political debate and celebrity gossip) like a juicy link from The Onion, America’s most popular satirical news site. Because I have so many Christian friends, Onion articles that touch on religious themes tend to garner the most “likes” in my feed.
A couple of years ago, when a story appeared with the headline “Christ Reluctantly Enters Area Man’s Heart,” it dominated my feed for days. Its appeal was its wink-wink honesty about the foibles of Christians. It skewered our judgmental moralism. When Jesus is quoted in the article as saying, “To be honest, before Derek confessed his sins, repented, and sought my grace in pious supplication, I was really looking forward to sitting on my throne and judging him,” we’re meant to chuckle at our own sanctimonious reflection—and mend our ways.
Terry Lindvall, the C. S. Lewis Chair of Communication and Christian Thought at Virginia Wesleyan College, has written what might be deemed the backstory to The Onion. His book—God Mocks: A History of Religious Satire from the Hebrew Prophets to Stephen Colbert (NYU Press)—leads readers through the comic savagery that believers have perfected over the centuries. From the time of the prophet Elijah, who derided the god Baal as taking too long on a toilet break (1 Kings 18:27—according to literary scholar Raymond Anselment, “the most popular illustration of divinely sanctioned ridicule” in religious history), to the sorts of modern-day Christians who tweet and favorite links from sites like The Onion, Lindvall’s book unfurls a delightfully variegated tapestry. ...1