Why is Humor Not a Christian Virtue?

January 8, 2008 at 8:45 am 47 comments

In the bible we read:

2Pe 1:5-7 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, (6) and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, (7) and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love….and with love, humor……….

(broken record scratch)Laughing Couple
Wait……what? Humor? Is that in the bible?? No, absolutely not. I added that last bit. To me, the mark of a truly ethical and moral person is the ability to laugh with others and chiefly, to laugh at yourself. The inability to laugh at yourself is a true mark of hubris in my humble opinion.

One thing that has always bothered me about the bible and biblical history is that there are no examples of people laughing and having fun except in a derogatory manner. Sarah laughed, but it was more like a “Sure, I’m going to have a baby!” type of chortle I’m sure. I’m sure she wasn’t having any fun at that point! Later on Jesus himself said,

Luk 6:25 “Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.

Woe, harsh! God laughs in the bible, but usually at the demise of nations or people getting their just desserts:

Psa 59:8 But you, O LORD, laugh at them; you hold all the nations in derision.

Pro 1:26 I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when terror strikes you,

Fundamentalists of all religions possess a curious inability to laugh at themselves. Their pride and their surety that their interpretations are RIGHT are just too overwhelming. Sure, they have Christian “comedians” and people who write humorous books, but it all seems to be an attempt to convince themselves that they really can laugh. “See?” they ask, “We can laugh. Hahahahhahaha!” There are never any full-out belly laughs that come welling up from within or giggle fits because of silly things said from the pulpit. That’s not done. Somehow that’s just wrong and indulgent. Childlike. Fun even. Sure, fundies never come right out and SAY, “Don’t laugh” because they don’t have to. It’s part of the package. Sure, they all SEEM to be happy, laughing people, but it’s always at another’s expense. Those of us going to hell, that is.

Can you imagine the Inquisition busting up over a double entendre? Can you imagine Calvin chuckling? Luther? Perhaps as they were roasting heretics, but again, that’s not good humor or laughter, that’s just evil. The bible enjoins us over and over again to be “sober” and watch or God forbid, we might be caught laughing when the terrible day of the Lord comes. You know what? I can’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing if that happens. :-D

- Mysteryofiniquity

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47 Comments

  • 1. mec  |  January 8, 2008 at 9:38 am

    I wonder if we don’t see humour in the Bible because humour is so culturally defined?

  • 2. Ray  |  January 8, 2008 at 10:07 am

    that sorta confounds Prov. 17.22: “a merry heart doeth good like a medicine”, doesn’t it? I had always heard that it meant we ARE supposed to laugh and have fun, including poking fun at ourselves. But as you pointed out (re: Christian comedians, etc.) it seems okay to poke fun at our human foibles, it is not okay to poke fun at Christian doctrines. That’s sad.

  • 3. mysteryofiniquity  |  January 8, 2008 at 10:08 am

    mec,

    Good point. Humor is culturally defined. I suppose what’s funny to some is not to others and vice versa. Still, the ability to laugh at ourselves should be universal, right?

  • 4. mysteryofiniquity  |  January 8, 2008 at 10:10 am

    Ray,

    Ok, got me, but define “merry” according to the Hebrews. I don’t see much of it in the bible really. There’s more merriness in Ecclesiastes than any other book, which is probably my favorite book in the whole bible. At least it’s honest about eating, drinking, and being merry, because then we do indeed die.

    You’ve heard that we are supposed to enjoy ourselves, but I don’t see much of it in politics or doctrinal issues as you aptly point out.

  • 5. Amanda  |  January 8, 2008 at 10:30 am

    What about these verses?

    Job 8:21 He will yet fill your mouth with laughter and your lips with shouts of joy.

    Psalm 126:2 Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.”

  • 6. mysteryofiniquity  |  January 8, 2008 at 11:15 am

    Amanda,

    Yes. But I see no EVIDENCE in the bible of people laughing for FUN, only suggestions that we do so here and there because God might bless us as a nation and crush our enemies. Notice also the laughter is FUTURE, not present. In the NT, you also don’t see laughter listed among the virtues like love, patience, etc. There’s a big difference.

    I also don’t see evidence of it in actual fundie churches. Sure they laugh about secular things, and they make jokes about those who aren’t fundies, but the overtly and pridefully religious see nothing funny in anything else. That’s the point I’m making. I’m just saying…

  • 7. WhoreChurch  |  January 8, 2008 at 11:28 am

    In the NT, you also don’t see laughter listed among the virtues like love, patience, etc.

    The majority of the “teaching” portions of the NT were written by Paul. He seemed to be a pretty serious dude. Maybe if we had more Barnabas maybe humor would be a virtue.

    they laugh about secular things, and they make jokes about those who aren’t fundies, but the overtly and pridefully religious see nothing funny in anything else.

    It’s insecurity. If someone pokes fun at a secure person, they both laugh. If someone pokes fun at an insecure person, everyone in the room gets tense wondering how the insecure person will respond.

    Religion is run by highly insecure people who overcompensate by making sweeping, absolute statements. If you disagree or poke fun at those sweeping statements it terrifies them.

    Christian comedians have to deal with this all the time. You cannot make jokes that will touch on people’s pet theologies.

  • 8. mysteryofiniquity  |  January 8, 2008 at 11:35 am

    WhoreChurch,

    That’s true. This kind of humor is kind of like, “we are in the know and you aren’t” humor.

  • 9. confusedchristian  |  January 8, 2008 at 11:54 am

    We’ve made fun of communion, during communion before. “Hows Jesus tasting today?” lol

  • 10. mysteryofiniquity  |  January 8, 2008 at 1:00 pm

    Confused,

    Really? Is that a Catholic thing or Protestant thing? I’ve not heard that one.

  • 11. confusedchristian  |  January 8, 2008 at 1:18 pm

    I attend an emergent church but they have catholic overtones. Anyway we were joking about the bread a lot, and most of us were laughing. Stuff like “Hows Jesus tasting? and “did you have your piece of Jesus yet?” and when we were cleaning up someone said “Dude where should I put Jesus?” i(the pastor included) it was at a house church. We attend a central church on Sundays, and then they have house churches during the week. Indeed it was very funny.

  • 12. karen  |  January 8, 2008 at 2:14 pm

    Good lord! Joking about communion would have been considered SO tasteless (ha!) and even blasphemous at the churches I attended. No way would anyone ever do that.

    It’s interesting to think about humor (or lack thereof) in the bible. I’m wondering if the appreciation of humor is a more modern idea, or if religious texts in general are fairly humorless? I haven’t read the Koran but I’ve gotten the impression from a number of sources that it is anything but a barrel of laughs.

    The Hindu texts and myths are likely to be much more humorous, I think. They’re certainly more earthy and sexual, which traits tend to go along with humor I think. Great post!

  • 13. mysteryofiniquity  |  January 8, 2008 at 2:23 pm

    Thanks Karen!

    Confused,
    Yes, Karen’s right, that would be blasphemous in some churches, but Protestants don’t really believe it IS Jesus so they never joke about it.

    But I can see the humor in it. :-)

  • 14. confusedchristian  |  January 8, 2008 at 2:27 pm

    Hah, believe me, I’ve attended more fundy churches than anything else, and I know exactly what you mean ;)

  • 15. WhoreChurch  |  January 8, 2008 at 2:28 pm

    I think we sometimes make “jokes” when we have real questions about issues we dare not mention seriously. In those cases the humor becomes a stepping stone to actually asking the question.

    Like: “Why do we have communion and not Passover?”

    I also think those who have ALREADY asked the question sometimes use humor to gently persuade others to think about their own faith. Kinda like my blog.

  • 16. mysteryofiniquity  |  January 8, 2008 at 3:50 pm

    WhoreChurch,

    I’d much rather learn humorously than any other way!

  • 17. Ray  |  January 8, 2008 at 4:02 pm

    I reckon a lot of it depends on individual security and fairly healthy self-esteem. Some Christians would absolutely LOVE the humor of an image like this: http://www.raywhiting.com/images/crucifix.jpg while others see only blasphemy.

    (If you’re afraid to click the link, it’s just a picture of a statue of the crucifix, with the words “If you’re Jesus and you know it, clap your hands.” Any one who’s been to a day camp or a children’s church service recognizes the song and might get the humor — a guy with his hands nailed up can’t clap.)

  • 18. mysteryofiniquity  |  January 8, 2008 at 5:44 pm

    Ray,
    HAHHAHAAA!

  • 19. HeIsSailing  |  January 8, 2008 at 6:04 pm

    mec says:

    I wonder if we don’t see humour in the Bible because humour is so culturally defined?

    I think mec might have a point about humor being culturally defined. I have a hunch that many of the Old Testament readers found some of the stories hilarious. Abraham scared that his 90 year old wife was so beautiful that he had to tell rivals that she was his sister? Cmon!! Esau was so stupid he could be bought off with a bowl of lentil stew, and so hairy that his brother had to wear goat hides to fool Isaac? Puh-leeeze!! And don’t get me started on some of the violent tall-tales in Judges. I mean talk about sick humor to rival Monty Python! A girl plugging a guy through the head with a tent spike? A man so fat the knife that was used to stab him could not be pulled out?? You gotta be kidding me!!

    Think about how some of the original readers would have found these stories. I bet they made great, hilarious, rousing stories over some fermented camel milk back in the day. You can find humor if you know where to look.

  • 20. mysteryofiniquity  |  January 8, 2008 at 6:26 pm

    HIS,
    This is true.

  • 21. asymptosis  |  January 8, 2008 at 8:39 pm

    I’m wondering if the appreciation of humor is a more modern idea, or if religious texts in general are fairly humorless?

    If I understand correctly, Buddha promoted good humour, and his arahats (disciples) were known for their cheerfulness.

  • 22. TheDeeZone  |  January 8, 2008 at 10:04 pm

    Can you imagine Calvin chuckling? Luther?
    Calvin no. Luther had a reputation for being quite humorous, especially after a few tankards of beer. Check out his Table Talks.

    I agree with Tony Campolo on this one. “God has a sense of humor if, just look in the mirror.”

    DH

  • 23. salymander  |  January 8, 2008 at 11:05 pm

    Don’t get confused, my praise of the bible is all for its literary heritage and the beauty of it’s writing not for its “sacredness”. All my ideas come from being an English major, I’m definitely not religious.

    On that note, I really have to disagree. Humor is not at all universal and a lot of Jewish/Hebrew humor does not translate well to English. It was really interesting for me taking Hebrew in college because so much music, poetry, symmetry, and humor just don’t translate effectively. And are often more of a visual conceit than an actual out and out joke.

    However, these bible stories I definitely find funny:
    1. Abraham lying about being married to Sarah and saying she’s only his sister. Not funny at first, but the fact is he does it TWICE. That boy just don’t learn. Then Isaac goes and does the exact same thing. Wow, see now that’s a dysfunctional family. And, as sitcoms tell us, dysfunction is hilarious.
    2. Jael who pounded a tent stake into a guys temple during a nice little holy war. Ok, this is funny to me in the same way zombie movies are funny. No, I don’t think it’s good to be violent. But every time I hear the story I think, “Oh snap, don’t mess with a Jewish broad!”
    3. Jonah. Jonah is a whiney little Eeyore. Running away from god and getting swallowed up by a fish. THEN being vomited onto land. Gross, but still funny.
    There’s a lot more but I’ll switch to the new testament.
    4. Jesus. Jesus is a prankster. My fave is when he tells the disciples, of course before they’re disciples that they need to throw their nets on the other side of the boat. It doesn’t matter what side of the boat you fish off of, dumbass, the water is the same on either side. This is another story that is repeated.
    5. Paul and Silas singing in prison. This story isn’t so much funny, as showing good humor. Paul was not only a “serious guy” he also had a good temperament and the ability to rise above a bad situation. Like being beaten up in jail.

    The other thing to remember is, the bible is more of a literary history and even today, history books are not filled with people giggling. A lot of the bible is poetry and lists of information. Everything else, I think is definitely in the eye of the reader and really depend on one’s point of view.

  • 24. Lorena  |  January 9, 2008 at 1:55 am

    Years ago, a series of Jesus movies were made, I just can’t remember who authored them. Somebody gave me a copy with the one that showed Jesus walking on water.

    I think the film series was by some pentecostal organization that favored laughter as a manifestation of the holy spirit, because they showed Jesus laughing–constantly–or at least smiling.

    The point is that, I, having read the gospels so many times, found it shocking that Jesus would ever laugh. The gospels portray him, sometimes, doing noble things, but it never says that he laughed or had a good time. It may be just me, but the impression of Jesus I got was that he was grave and serious, not a fun person.

    Anyway, you make a good point.

  • 25. Jeremy Myers  |  January 9, 2008 at 5:38 pm

    Personally, I think Jesus had a great sense of humor, and we just miss his jokes due to a cultural gap (Just like some of my Asian friends don’t understand my humor).

    There’s a good little book on this called “The Humor of Christ” by Elton Trueblood. Another book by Earl Palmer may present the same truth, but I haven’t read it.

  • 26. Lorena  |  January 9, 2008 at 8:17 pm

    “Personally, I think Jesus had a great sense of humor, and we just miss his jokes due to a cultural gap (Just like some of my Asian friends don’t understand my humor).

    There’s a good little book on this ”

    Oh, I am sure there is a book. That just proves that we can read anything we want into the Bible: I can read his severity and others can read his humor.

    But I do believe ALL writing has the writer’s subjection in it. The gospels more so, since they were written sooo long after Jesus is said to have lived.

    So in my book Jesus remains mean, strange, and perhaps even mentally ill.

  • 27. TheDeeZone  |  January 9, 2008 at 9:01 pm

    Jesus’s 1st miracle was to turn water into wine. He was at a wedding celebration. Little children flocked to him. Little children prefer people who are kind and have a sense of humor.

  • 28. TheNorEaster  |  January 10, 2008 at 11:11 pm

    Then the Lord said to him, “What is that in your hand?”
    “A staff,” [Moses] replied.
    The Lord said, “Throw it on the ground.”
    Moses threw it on the ground and it became a snake, and he ran from it.
    (Exodus 4:2-4 NIV)

    Ever see an 80-year-old man run from a snake? Ah ha ha ha!!!

    _______________

    And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for 12 years, but no one could heal her. She came up behind [Jesus] and touched the edge of his cloak and immediately her bleeding stopped.
    “Who touched me?” Jesus asked.
    Peter said, “Master, the people were crowding around you and pressing against you.”
    (Matthew 8:43-45)

    In laymen’s terms, Peter’s response would probably read, “Hey, man! Wtih all these people, what’d ya expect? I mean, DUH!!!”

    ___________

    And let’s not forget the story of Noah and the ark. I mean, who cleaned that mess up down there anyway?!?!?
    (An obvious nod to Bill Cosby’s “Noah and the Ark” comedy routine. But still….You have to wonder…Who DID clean up that mess?!?!?!)

    ____________

    I don’t know about anybody else, but I think it’s funny!!!

  • 29. Jersey  |  January 15, 2008 at 12:25 am

    Just as implying

  • 30. Jersey  |  January 15, 2008 at 12:26 am

    but don’t the people laugh out of fun at the wedding in Cana?

  • 31. Bing McGhandi  |  January 15, 2008 at 12:46 am

    What are you saying? Job is hilarious! And the crucifixion? Very funny.

    Christians think that irony (saying one thing and meaning another) is a form of lying. Of course, this irony deficiency is why their humor is so anemic. YEEESSSSS!

    HJ

  • 32. TheDeeZone  |  January 15, 2008 at 1:31 am

    Bing,

    Think you are wrong about the irony thing. There is a big differance between irony and lying.

    DH

  • 33. Hanaqueenofants  |  January 17, 2008 at 8:43 am

    I would say there is plenty of humor in the bible. It’s just all unintentional. For example:

    “All flying insects that walk on all fours are to be detestable to you. There are, however, some winged creatures that walk on all fours that you may eat: those that have jointed legs for hopping on the ground. (Leviticus: 10:20-21)”

    Insects have six legs. No bird has four legs.

    “The rabbit, though it chews the cud, does not have a split hoof; it is unclean for you. (Leviticus:11:6)”

    Moo?

    SA 18:27 “So that David might be allowed to marry the king’s daughter, the king asks David to bring him 100 Philistine foreskins. David, the over-achiever, brings the king not 100, but 200, foreskins of murdered Philistines.”

    quite the over-achiever are we?

    SO 5:4 (KJV) “My beloved put in his hand by the hole of the door, and my bowels were moved for him.”

    Ezekiel 23:19-20 “Yet she became more and more promiscuous as she recalled the days of her youth, when she was a prostitute in Egypt. There she lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses.”

    Ok, these may be middle school level humor but it still gives me a little giggle :)

  • 34. mysteryofiniquity  |  January 17, 2008 at 9:54 am

    From all the comments, I think people are misunderstanding my post. I know that there is unintended humor in some of the bible’s claims to “factuality,” but that isn’t the humor I’m talking about. I’m talking about the ability to laugh at yourself in a humorous way, which requires humility and taking oneself less seriously than most people do. No one in the bible does that. There is also no joyous humor, just for fun kind of humor. Humor that isn’t mean or disrespectful, humor that erupts spontaneously and is not forced. In other words, I see no joy or enjoyment.

    I know full well that some parts of the bible are laughable because of the ignorance of people living in pre-historic times, because of the lack of scientific knowledge, but again, that’s not the humor I mean. I mean humor as a virtue, something cultivated for its own sake. Why is this kind of humor, this state of being giddily joyful, not considered valuable?

  • 35. GoDamn  |  January 18, 2008 at 4:55 pm

    So, Jesus turns water into wine and thats a miracle? Every weekend, I go to the merry barmaid and turn wine into water. How hard can the reverse be?

  • 36. Christian Comedians  |  April 22, 2008 at 4:39 pm

    I hear what you’re saying, but you can’t paint all of Christianity with one brush. There are a lot of churches out there that are downright FUN.

  • 37. MOI  |  April 23, 2008 at 12:25 pm

    Hmmm. That “brush” accusation seems to be a favorite response of Christians. Large and obvious walls need giant brushes. Any new material?

  • 38. justachristian  |  August 1, 2008 at 6:56 pm

    You know I never realized the bible hardly mentions humor in all its books. I guess if you are trying to convince someone to stop doing something they really like (sex, eat, drink, etc) its hard to be funny. :)

    In the modern age, with food readily available (to first world nations), its easier to laugh and take a more humorous approach to things. Case in point is God’s Pottery on last comic standing. Granted the act got old, but still I thought it was humorous for one show.

  • 39. Larry T  |  August 1, 2008 at 7:09 pm

    This post really is untrue. I laugh at Peter in the Bible quite a bit. He is so sure of himself that he does many wacky things actually. Or the woman at the well—Jesus says “true—you have had five husbands, and the man you are with now you are not married to”
    Her response? “Sir, I perceive you are a prophet”. (John 4) That’s actually some pretty funny stuff when you think about it.

    And when Jesus sent the demons into the swine and they ran down into the lake. My Pastor said “That is the first recorded time man at deviled ham”.

    The post is a bit unfair, because there are many historical accounts of people—take George Washington as just an example of many—that tell of his life, but do not meniton uproarious moments of humor in his life either. Most historical accounts—unless they are about comedians, etc, do not mention much about the humorous aspects of a person, as it is following a story which is being told.

    I truly think Jesus himself often smiled and laughed (I love it when movies show him doing so—it is far more real than some somber Jesus surrounded with light and a halo on his head). And I think the Apostles probably often laughed—what fishermen don’t have their jokes etc. I’m sure they were able to laugh at themselves.

    I’m sure there was far more laughter and self-deprecation going on than is revealed in the Bible—men are men, women are women—a whole group of people are not going to lose their sence of humor simply because they believe in God. That is actually quite ridiculous. just my opinion.

  • 40. Larry T  |  August 1, 2008 at 7:10 pm

    “That is the first recorded time man at deviled ham”.

    Sorry–meant to say “ate deviled ham”

  • 41. Larry T  |  August 1, 2008 at 7:17 pm

    Sure, fundies never come right out and SAY, “Don’t laugh” because they don’t have to. It’s part of the package. Sure, they all SEEM to be happy, laughing people, but it’s always at another’s expense. Those of us going to hell, that is.

    Mystery of Iniquity—you should ask those who used to be Christians here if the only time they laughed when they were christians was at someone else’s expense. It would be interesting to see what the deconverts say. Did they ever have a really good laugh when they were Christians? Did they ever laugh at themselves? I think most of them will say they did.

    Not discounting the fact that some Christians do laugh at the expense of others, but it is wrong to put everyone in the same box and say that no Christians have a sense of humor. I really don’t think that is true. No more comments—two in a row is enogh :)

  • 42. Rover  |  August 1, 2008 at 7:33 pm

    I think some Christian have a really fine sense of humor. I for one sincerely enjoy Monty Python’s Holy Grail.

    I miss Joe.

  • 43. Derek  |  August 1, 2008 at 7:48 pm

    I for one only laughed when it was totally religion-unrelated.

    As a self-respecting geek I of course loved Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but at the sacrilegious parts I normally only gave out a nervous, guilty chuckle.

  • 44. Larry T  |  August 1, 2008 at 8:00 pm

    I’m a Christian and I loved “The Life of Brian”. I love it when the “Judaic Liberation Front” start complaining about the Romans and the leader says “What have the Romans ever done for us!!??”” And a voice from the back says “They gave us plumbing sir”. The leader says “Alright then, besides plumbing, what have the Romans ever done for us?” The voice says “The made a very good road system sir”. “Well, besides the plumbing and roads, what have the Romans ever done for us?” etc. etc. Hilarious!!

  • 45. Rover  |  August 1, 2008 at 8:04 pm

    “I miss Joe”

    subtle humor

  • 46. Obi  |  August 1, 2008 at 8:08 pm

    Or overt madness.

  • 47. mysteryofiniquity  |  August 2, 2008 at 8:00 am

    Larry,
    I never said that no Christian has a sense of humor. I said that fundamentalists of all religions have a curious inability to laugh at themselves. That’s far different. It implies seeing themselves with realistic eyes and trying to see themselves as others see them and getting the joke. I don’t find any of this in fundamentalism.

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Whether or not you believe in God, you should live your life with love, kindness, compassion, mercy and tolerance while trying to make the world a better place. If there is no God, you have lost nothing and will have made a positive impact on those around you. If there is a benevolent God reviewing your life, you will be judged on your actions and not just on your ability to blindly believe in creeds- when there is a significant lack of evidence on how to define God or if he/she even exists.

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