Faith Forum: Is it acceptable to lampoon religion?

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Rajan Zed posed to a panel of religious leaders of the region the following question:

Religion and humor: Should religion be more comfortable with humor? Should religion have immunity from mockery? Is poking fun at religion a violation of the divine? Some argue that religion, being revered and venerated, should not be ridiculed, as lampooning religion might hurt the devotees. Although religious humor existed since the plays of Aristophanes in Greece, there have been censorship attempts on it and many times laughs at religion invited harsh criticism. Is religion unmockable or is poking fun at religion acceptable?

Here is what they have to say:

Natural Joyous humor
Jikai’ Phil Bryan, Reno Buddhist Center priest and meditation guide

Many Buddhist teachers share natural, joyous humor. The Dalai Lama is known for his laughter. Gautama Buddha was humorous with his disciples but never mean-spirited. Buddhism teaches us not to take “ourselves” so seriously. Good-natured humor can be an effective response to self-importance and pomposity. Contagious laughter mediates intense training periods of Zen monastic life. Buddhist humor is never derisive, but good teachers might “tease” to deflate overblown egos. Zen stories are filled with abrupt, creative humor leading to Kensho, “seeing into reality.” Deep meditation can produce bubbling-up of inner joy, a natural “cosmic chuckle.” Buddhism is serious and compassionate, but compassion can be the wisdom of humor in extreme situations. Like baseball, we know “you can’t win them all.” Buddhism teaches “enlightenment” and “lightening up,” but only ignorance “pokes fun” at the faiths of others. We laugh at ourselves as much as possible.

Humor is Blessing
Sharla S. Hales, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints assistant area public affairs director

When sensitive to others’ feelings, good humor poking fun at religion eases tension, brightens conversation and builds bonds of friendship. Proverbs has it right: “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine.”

When humor blasphemes, mocks God, or scorns the faithful, it is inappropriate.

Good religious humor softened for me the pain of a tragedy. Nicholas Frey, a faithful contributor to this column, was critically injured June 25 and died 10 days later. Hearts are aching with the Freys. While Nick was in intensive care, I spoke with his son, Garrett, of Nick’s many years of service and loving friendships within the interfaith community.

Garrett said, “I think my dad had in his room at the same time a Catholic priest, a Jewish rabbi, a Muslim leader and a Hindu.” Then he quipped, “He has his bases covered.”


I agree. His bases are definitely covered.

And G-D Laughed
ElizaBeth W. Beyer, Temple Beth Or rabbi

Judaism recognizes the value of humor, even when it is irreverent. In the Bible, Abraham, 100 years old, and Sarah, 90, laugh when G-d says they will have a son. (Genesis 17:17, 18:12) They name him Isaac, meaning laughter. In Talmud, Elijah, a heavenly insider, says one who brings laughter has a heavenly reward. (Ta’anit 22a)

Many Jewish stories depict how mortals sometimes “best” G-d, and G-d is often amused. For example, when Talmudic rabbis debate an issue about whether a particular oven is kosher, an opinion is voiced from heaven. The majority argued that we do not listen to heavenly voices because G-d gave the Torah to humans. Elijah was asked what G-d was doing during that debate. Elijah said, “G-d laughed, saying, ‘My children defeated Me.’” However, we know G-d ultimately laughs last as the Yiddish proverb says, “Man plans, G-d laughs (Man trakht, Gott lakht).”

Humor healthy, Mockery's not
Stephen R. Karcher, St. Anthony Greek Orthodox Church presiding priest

In Proverbs, we read “a cheerful heart is good medicine.” And in Ecclesiastes, we learn that there is “a time to weep and a time to laugh.” Interestingly, the name “Isaac” means “he laughs,” and at his birth, his mother said, “God has made laughter for me.” Jesus declares: “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.” Aslan, in “The Magician’s Nephew,” says, “laugh and fear not, for jokes as well as justice come in with speech.” Humor has been described as “a balancing, disarming and, therefore, peacemaking force that touches on the divine.” And I agree with Niebuhr’s take, when he says “laughter must be heard in the outer courts of religion, and the echoes of it should resound in the sanctuary; but there is no laughter in the holy of holies. There, laughter is swallowed up in prayer and humor is fulfilled by faith.”


God loves laughter 
Bradley S. Corbin, Bahá’í teacher

It was “good to laugh,” said Abdu’l-Bahá, the son of the founder of the Bahá’í Faith; laughter is a spiritual relaxation. Let us fill our homes with harmony and happiness, with laughter and delight ...” We must wisely use humor to lift our hearts from the ordinary difficulties of daily experience. However, laughter should not be indulged in at the expense of the feelings of others. What one says or does in a humorous vein should not give rise to prejudice of any kind. Abdu’l-Bahá cautions us to “Beware lest ye offend the feelings of anyone, or sadden the heart of any person. ...” His home was a home of joy and laughter; everyone left his home with a gladsome heart. We should not mock religion, as this may cause hurt feelings; however, religion should be comfortable with humor that inspires us to overcome our difficulties and lightens our heart.


Good-natured humor is healthy
Stephen B. Bond, senior pastor of Summit Christian Church, Sparks

Joy flows abundantly from Christians filled with the Holy Spirit. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit. The more we fully submit to God’s Spirit, the more joyful we are. The Bible exhorts Christ followers to “Rejoice in the Lord always!” (Philippians 4:4)

One expression of joy is good-natured humor. Although it’s not mentioned in the Bible, I’m certain Jesus was someone who “filled up a room” with laughter. People enjoyed being around him!

However, the problem today is that humor is often based on ridicule and sarcasm. This negatively focused humor elicits laughter at the expense of someone or some group. The Bible counsels against this. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths. ...” (Ephesians 4:29)

Unwholesome humor toward anyone or anything (including religious beliefs) is unacceptable. But good-natured humor is healthy. Mark Twain said, “angels fly because they can laugh at themselves!”

God will provide
Kenneth G. Lucey, UNR philosophy/religion professor

There is quite a religious fellow, who we will call Abe. Abe lives near a river that is predicted to overflow. His street floods. A bus arrives, and the driver says, “Come on now. I am here to evacuate you. Abe says, “No thanks. God will provide,” so the bus moves off collecting his neighbors. The flood progresses. Abe is sitting on his upstairs deck, when a motor launch comes along and the driver says, “Come on now. I am here to evacuate you.” Abe says, “No thanks. God will provide.” Later, the flood is worse. Abe is now sitting on his chimney when a helicopter offers to save Abe. But, again he replies, “No thanks, God will provide.” Abe drowns. Upon arriving in heaven, Abe complains that he did not provide. God replies, “Hey Abe, I sent a bus, a boat and chopper. What were you expecting?”

Humor ought to be respectful

Matthew F. Cunningham, Roman Catholic Diocese of Reno chancellor

There are many kinds of humor, from silly jokes to the humor that is found in outstanding literature. Religion has always been a subject of humor, usually of the kind that gently mocks some type of religious practice or belief, such as Lenten practices among Catholics. Generally, these are limited to “one-liners,” are not terribly offensive and sometimes might even elicit a laugh from the target of the joke.

Recently, we have seen comedians come forward, especially on TV, who have become truly vicious and demeaning in the type of humor used. Our culture has long since lost the sense of respect and common courtesy. It is permissible to demean anyone and anything in the name of entertainment. Censorship of speech is not an option in a free society. The answer is respect for individuals with whom we might disagree. Human dignity and a civil society demand nothing less.

Faith Forum: Is it acceptable to lampoon religion?


 Rajan Zed

Source: (July 13, 2013)