A while ago, Rachel Held Evans wrote a post about the use of humor/satire by Christians. It was well-written, and her four points were that humor works best when
- it is directed at oneself
- it is directed at one's own community and culture
- it is directed toward the powerful
- it tears down idols
Because I hadn't given much thought to when or how humor works best before this, I appreciated the reflection. Something that was not covered, however, and that I commented on, was this:
I think the worst "humor" is when I have seen it directed at people who have no idea they are being made fun of and who cannot respond. I think we all need to be careful what we write, say, tweet when we think we are funny. Sometimes, we get angry at others who write offensive things when we don't even realize we might be doing it ourselves (humorous or not). We need to pay attention as to whether or not what we are doing is mean-spirited. There are people or organizations I gave up following (or contemplate unfollowing a lot) because while I did see the humor in what they were saying about the culture or topic as a whole, it was done in such a way as to denigrate individuals within that culture or topic. Does that makes sense?
Sometimes, even if humor can work because it is directed towards one's own community, the powerful, and is working to tear down idols, it is just plain mean. And that is something that I simply can't understand or support.
I've been reading Galatians over and over again this month and have been thinking deeply about Christian freedom as well as the fruits of the spirit.
By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. (Galatians 5:22-23)
I think that humor can be done as fruit of the spirit, if it is done the right way. But the humor that I have been disappointed in lately has had no markings of the fruit of the spirit. It has served not to tear down idols, but to tear down people. It has been directed towards individuals, not systems of power. It is semi-directed toward one's own community and culture, but more so toward a community and culture of which one may not want to be a part.
As I have thought about the humor I've seen in the last few months, I am reminded of Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 10:23. Even though he is talking about what is or is not lawful or beneficial to eat, I think it also applies to the topic of Christian humor. He says that "All things are lawful," but not all things are beneficial. "All things are lawful," but not all things build up.
So what is the correct use of, and response to humor, for the Christian? What are your thoughts?