~Laughing in Church~
an unpretentious essay
Do you remember laughing in church? You with your friend, brother or sister. Someone made a joke or passed gas or some other loud sound. It was silly and not that funny, but you couldn’t stop laughing. The more people glared at you, the more you laughed, the funnier it became.
You’ve realized now that the hilarity of the moment was heightened because it was “taboo”. Because the church was a serious and sacred place, being silly there seemed so much funnier. There was even an element of danger, maybe, that made you giddy. Any joke at the expense of or in the face of someone/thing who/that takes them/itself so seriously is extra funny.
As you grew up, you started hearing more jokes making fun of religion, religious blindspots, God, Jesus, Allah, Mohammed, etc. You revelled in this new (to you) satirical comedy. You laughed at those things which had seemed so powerful and untouchable. The jokes were funny AND you were learning that you didn’t intrinsically owe your respect to these ideas. What a thrill!
But then it stopped being funny. Not because you returned to those beliefs and just didn’t find the jokes funny. It was because those sacred things became less and less serious. You were no longer laughing about an all-powerful, very serious, super-being, you were hearing jokes directed at the distant, ridiculous faith you once knew.
And as you sat in the comedy clubs or watched the sitcoms which mocked that faith and ran down that religion, you didn’t laugh. You didn’t laugh because everyone in the room agreed with the punchline that religion is silly. No one watching was serious about it. Even if there was one or two secret believers, you were far removed from the seriousness.
As the potency of religious mockery waned, something had to take its place. Comedy needs something sacred to sillify (just made that word up), it needs an institution to parody. How can you be cheeky about something no one respects? You can’t be cutting edge with nothing to cut.
Then, one day you noticed it. You woke to the new (to you) religion, you started hearing new (to you) sermons. And there was so much of it, so many denominations, so many diverse doctrines. The new priests wore robes of race, sexuality, gender (or genderlessness), culture, economics, physical or mental ability and, ironically, religion.
The new god was identity. We had become sacred.
This is where the vast difference lies: the new religion is not a joke. You can’t laugh at the new god. You must shout “amen!” to all the sermons or stay silent. You must support them all at the same time, but be careful that support of one doesn’t step on the toes of another. This is all before even approaching the subject of poking fun, parody or comical commentary.
Why can’t you make jokes at the expense of identity? You can, if you identify with the thing you’re making jokes about. If you don’t, hands off. Those who do identify with whichever disposition are going to handle the subject with the correct amount of inoffensive care.
You need to remember that, on some level, most of these identifiers were persecuted at some point. When a group of people has been segregated, beaten, jailed and killed, historically, you can’t just freely mock them. You must be sensitive to the truth that they are experiencing or that people like them experienced at some point.
Identity is personal, so it’s ultra-serious and very intimate. Self is lasting (in the sense that it exists eternally in the present). You must not disrespect the sacred ego. Comedy must find a new stooge, something powerful yet frivolous like the Christian church.
EDIT: Oh, I hadn’t realized, people who identify as Christian have been segregated, beaten, jailed and killed for centuries and still are in some places in the world. On a lighter note, they have been publicly mocked, parodied and sillified by those who do not identify as Christian, in the west.
Maybe it’s okay to mock them because they’re not born that way as someone is born into race. However, it’s hard to argue that someone might not be born with a proclivity toward religious identification, not to mention being culturally religious.
Could the difference be power and popularity? Christianity is fair game in the west because it has had so much success? As long as the identity is currently, geographically doing well it’s up for grabs?
It’s just hard to figure out which ideas and aspects of humanity are allowed to be joked about.