Why Can’t We Christians Laugh Anymore?
When 50 Shades of Grey took over the world last year, it spawned so much Christian outrage that I took to satire and wrote a piece called “A Modest Proposal: 50 Shades of Grey in Every Classroom.” In it, I commended the author for successfully ignoring ISIS and the wars around the world and instead using her artistic skills toward a far greater social ill: puritanical mores and sexual repression. Both were clearly harming marriages and hampering our over-studious youth. A copy of 50 Shades in every classroom should do the trick! So many of my (mostly Christian) readers were incensed and offended at my “proposal” that I had to explain I was using satire. And then, to some, I had to explain satire. (My shorthand definition: “When people are deaf,” wrote novelist Flannery O’Connor, “sometimes you have to shout.”)
Last week I ventured into political commentary on social media. Along with the cascade of Republicans who were struggling to express their qualified support of Trump, I joked that I too found a way I could support Trump. First, he’d have to choose a smart, non-racist, non-misogynist running mate. Second, he’d have to behave badly enough to get impeached right away so that the comparatively virtuous VP could take his place. In response, several earnest souls chided me for failing to speak “with truth and grace.” (Really?) Other readers, mostly Christians, became so heated and vitriolic that I had to take the post down the next day.
My other writing friends tell me the same: Christian readers are grave and grim. One friend wrote a piece not long ago on PDA (public displays of affection) and was met with numerous queries and worries along the lines of, “Is hugging even biblical”?
What’s happening to us? We seem to have lost not only our sense of tolerance and civility, but worse, our sense of humor. When I first noticed the phenomenon, I thought we Christians were creating our own lonely dystopia, but now I think we’ve simply joined the larger culture’s misery. There’s little mystery why we’re so unhappy. We’re all caught up in a particularly vicious election cycle. We’re depressed by mass shootings and gun violence. Terrorism can strike at any time. Heat waves and wildfires are raging, the environment is degrading, and a hundred other ills unfold before us every day in the media.
But while there’s enough bad news to sink us all into the Slough of Despond, I think there’s more at work. One culprit is right in front of our eyes, or rather, beneath our fingertips. We’ve all heard sociologists proclaim the harms of our addiction to Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms, but there’s one ill we haven’t talked about enough. Social media has insidiously and invisibly deputized us all. While I laud the “democratization” of the media, how can we rest with a deputy badge on our chests?
Regardless of our religious or political persuasion, we’re all apologists, we’re all missionaries, and we’re all politicians. We’re always on duty, always on the prowl for articles and posts that break the law, or at least our own personal laws. And every infraction we discover, every offense we take, every correction we make affirms the value of our righteous work. But it’s exhausting and thankless duty, patrolling the borders and flexing the arm of the Lord this way.
In this time of rising secularism, we all feel culturally embattled. But for the sake of our own souls—and even for the sake of good witness to our secular “opponents”—could we brighten up a little, at least on occasion, and maybe shed a little of our pride and self-importance? Perhaps we all need a good dose of the Babylon Bee, an Onion-style website dedicated to helping Christians smile at ourselves and our sometimes nutty sub-culture. Consider these: “Man’s ‘Left Behind’ Book Collection Raptured,” “Benny Hinn Miraculously Removes Mysterious Lump from Woman’s Purse,” and “Family’s Piety Lasts 12 Seconds after Leaving Church Parking Lot.”
We’ve earned these little stings and we need their biting humor more than ever. We’re a pretty ridiculous lot much of the time. The Bible tells us so. Paul reminds us that God chose “the foolish things of the world to shame the wise.” Christ, too, reminds us to lighten up. Yes, Jesus was “a man of sorrows.” Yes, he wept. But there’s no doubt that he also laughed. He feasted with sinners with such gusto and joy that he was accused by the Pharisees—a sober lot indeed—of gluttony and having too much fun. And don’t forget Paul. Imprisoned, beaten to a pulp by a hostile pagan government, he still sang glad hymns out of a bloody mouth. Later, in shackles, with his own execution impending, he wrote, with passionate joy, “rejoice in the Lord always!” And even though his audience was a group of believers oppressed by a pagan empire, he didn’t stop there: “Let me say it again—rejoice!”
Let me say it again, too: Rejoice! Laugh occasionally! Count it all joy! And with that, let’s all get some historical perspective. Even if you’re a last-days-gloom-and-doomer, look around. In the United States, how many of us are in prison for our Christianity? How many of us have been beaten for our faith and face execution by the government? We think we live in the worst of times, but by many measures we live in the best of times. And even if you don’t agree, we’re still called to rejoice in the Lord in both good times and bad. We’re also called to be messengers of the greatest news ever: God is on his throne. He rules over the nations, and all of creation is being redeemed!
We’re living in a comedy, friends, not a tragedy, that ends with a massive, jubilant wedding between Christ and his bride, the church. Someday we’re going to sit down to a giddy feast with our sisters and brothers. We’re going to sing songs and tell stories and jokes, likely even with a little hyperbole and satire. But I’m not waiting until then. I’m rejoicing now. I might even return to politics and send my own piece to the Babylon Bee:
Pastor Sings Hymn, “When the Trump Shall Sound,” and Prophesies Election.
Leslie Leyland Fields is the author of 10 books, including her forthcoming Crossing the Waters: Following Jesus through the Storms, the Fish, the Doubt and the Seas. (Oct. 2016, NavPress) She lives on Kodiak Island, Alaska where she feeds people and laughs at all her children’s jokes.