Friday, November 30, 2007

A Christian Sense of Humor

Have you checked out the Ship of Fools "12 Days of Kitschmas?" It offers some real gems of Christian kitsch such as the Virgin Mary Memory Stick, and has been making the rounds in the faith blogosphere. Perhaps the most interesting commentary about all this, however, has been by Andrew Brown, an who argues in the Guardian blog that the willigness of Christians to make fun of their faith is one reason why it has so much staying power:

Which is the more disgusting, a bear called Muhammad, or a bear with a zip up the back, which opens to reveal a cavity for storing your loved one's ashes? The huggable urn bear won third prize in the Ship of Fools Christmas kitsch contest this year, which means that there were two contestants judged even more disgusting. For the record, they were a St Sebastian pincushion, and a transparent plastic Virgin Mary with a red LED that blinks like a throbbing sacred heart when the memory stick inside is working. I would buy one of these, except that at €70 for 512MB the price is hard to justify.

The point about the Ship of Fools Kitschmas collection, with all its multifarious blasphemies, is that it is put together by Christians laughing at the excesses of their own religion. It was Christians who marketed the action figure of Jesus on a Harley Davidson and other Christians who captioned it "Christ on a bike" and gave it sixth prize. The only completely pagan artefacts on the list are the huggable teddy urn and the Italian undertakers' catalogue, which shows glamour models apparently paralysed with lust by the touch of a coffin.

There are of course Christians who would see little or nothing funny in the chance to purchase a kitchen timer with a nativity scene on top - so that you can tell the minute and the hour - or a set of fridge magnets illustrating the elevation of the host at communion. But they have no power to stop their fellows from laughing at them.

That might make Christianity decadent. One could argue that nothing will stay sacred unless it is hedged about by law; I suspect that some liberals and more conservatives believe that the Sudanese authorities are onto something. Fear breeds respect, and all that.

But I think the Ship of Fools Kitschmas has a much more important message, one that is less comforting to secularists and fundamentalists alike: a lot of religion survives in secular societies because it's fun. It's play for adults. All the puritans who sternly exhort us against make-believe are fighting the grain of human nature. One of the things that religious faith provides is a kind of constant narrative about the personal, significant life of the believer. I have no doubt that this can be acquired in lots of other ways, and that the dedicated atheist crusaders have a little narrative inside their heads in which they roam the world hacking away at superstition. Blasphemy is also a sort of play for adults.

There are a lot of atheists who think that if only we laugh at religion enough it will go away. But what may just as well happen is that it will learn to laugh at itself, and, when it does, it will be impossible to eradicate.

Read it all here.

1 comment:

Mike said...

Chuck, thanks for the laugh!

If you get time, read my "Have an Airy Christmas" post.

Merry Christmas!