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My Top 5 Works of Religious Satire

From Screwtape to Swift, Terry Lindvall recommends books that tickle the funny bone—and prick the conscience.
My Top 5 Works of Religious Satire
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Terry Lindvall’s latest book, God Mocks, traces the development of faith-based humor from biblical times through today. Here, he thinks back through his research to pick the 5 best books of religious satire.

In Praise of Folly, by Desiderius Erasmus

In this classic pre-Reformation broadside, the Dutch scholar and gadfly Erasmus creates an ironic persona, Dame Folly. Her praise of her own traits calls to mind the medieval church’s abuses and corruptions. Erasmus’s quiet, even droll manner of unmasking the church’s vices and stupidities contrasts with that of his contemporary Francois Rabelais, whose bawdy satires make South Park look tame. Where Rabelais offers loud, raucous laughter at religious pretense, Erasmus’s quintessential work of fool-literature makes us chuckle at the foolishness we somehow regard as wise.

The Screwtape Letters, by C. S. Lewis

Showcased on the cover of Time, Lewis appeared with his horned devil, Screwtape, perched fiendishly on his left shoulder. The diabolical wisdom in Uncle Screwtape’s letters to his junior tempter, Wormwood, reveals a satiric mirror of selfishness. Lewis explained that the source of his insights emanated not from a study of moral theology, but from examining his own wicked heart. By confessing his sins, he exposes and convicts our hearts, too.

The Little World of Don Camillo, by Giovanni Guareschi

Guareschi, a 20th-century Italian humorist, has his hot-headed priest, Don Camillo, butt heads with his nemesis and friend, the Communist mayor Peppone. Camillo also debates with Christ on the cross over how to treat Peppone. By offering us a wonderfully flawed man of God, impatient and sarcastic, Guareschi invites readers to see themselves at ...

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