Theater Masks Silhouette (c/o AARP Blog)
2014-07-30 @ 1140 CDT
[N.B.: This essay was submitted as a possible Commentary for the Living Church of God Web site. Should it be published as such, this text will be revised and due credit given. Meanwhile, the text has been revised and expanded here.]
Lately I’ve had a serious “reality check”. It’s not just that different individuals and cultures find different things amusing. It’s that no matter what we human beings find amusing, our “sense of humor” can be used for good or evil as much as any other faculty of the human mind. The worst part is that all too quickly, we can be blindsided by the evil side of humor—and the better-developed our “sense of humor” is, the more easily we may be blindsided. We need to ask ourselves why this is so.
Why do we find different things amusing? When all the learned differences are accounted for, each of us has one of eight innate, broad yet very different “senses of humor” which then develop as we grow up. This is why some of us—for example—find “slapstick” humor funny and I generally do not. When I do find unexpected physical events funny, it’s because something goes awry with logical systems—with a certain way of thinking, or with “the way things work” in the world. This reprinted Sunday panel from the vintage comic strip Tumbleweeds illustrates one example: Lotsa Luck, the world’s richest (and for his size, the most pompous) Indian letting his relentlessly self-serving logic about the world’s social order lead him into a well-deserved trap:
Yokelesque (c/o TUMBLEWEEDS.COM)
A disproportionate number of cartoonists, and much of the classic Warner Bros. school of animation, share my way of perceiving and deciding about the world and therefore, my basic “sense of humor”. (For the technically curious, whatever “cognitive process” lies in the 7th position in our minds – see the previous link for an example – is the root of our “sense of humor”. It’s our “sense of play”, so to speak, which lies in the 3rd position.) “Cartoon Physics” such as this short clip featuring Bugs Bunny and The Crusher (how did Bugs get that safe door into the ring, anyway?) is founded in the “sense of humor” people like me and certain others have:
So is humor based on the exploration of stereotypes, whether for good or ill. Bill Cosby on the one hand and Jeff Foxworthy on the other are two famous comedians who use this kind of humor. [EDIT: My apologies for whatever shows up after the above video is over; the "luck of the draw" changes from day to day and even from hour to hour. YouTube is what it is: a major fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.]
We humans can take humor one step further, using whatever native “sense of humor” we have, to joke about the ultimate questions of existence. If there is a God who cares for and rules over men, though, then joking about Him is dangerous ground indeed to walk on. But surely it is amusing to those with eyes to see how foolish man can be in his devotion to false gods and false concepts. In the Bible, Elijah (1 Kings 18:27), Isaiah (Isaiah 44:10-20), Wisdom personified (Proverbs 1:24-27), Paul (2 Corinthians 11:1, 16-18, 21, 23), and even God Himself (Psalm 2:4), all employ different “senses of humor” to challenge false gods and false concepts on their own grounds.
God’s servants could do this because our “sense of humor” is rooted in a major “defense mechanism” of the human mind. We can use humor rightly to laugh at our own foibles; we can use it as a way of defending God’s truth. The problem comes when we use humor to mock or scorn other human beings, human authorities that God has ordained, or worst of all, God Himself, His law, His grace, and His promises. The Bible has a long list of warnings and examples against “mocking” and “scorning”. It also speaks about “the laughter of fools” in this wise:
(Ecclesiastes 7:5 RSV) It is better for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise than to hear the song of fools.
(Ecclesiastes 7:6 RSV) For as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fools; this also is vanity.
How then do we get drawn into mockery, or even into accepting the mockery of others without protest? It’s simple. We let ourselves be conformed to the world, rather than choosing to be transformed by God’s Spirit through the renewing of our minds so that we may prove what God’s perfect will is (Romans 12:2). And we can become conformed to the world so quickly and so unawares through our sense of humor!
Paul wrote to Christians: “[Let there be] neither filthiness [among you], nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks” (Ephesians 5:4). The Greek word behind “coarse jesting” is interesting. Aristotle, in his Politics, used it to describe what we might call “college-freshman humor”: as clever and skeptical as it was coarse. It denigrated its targets—it didn’t build them up. Does this sound familiar? It should. Such humor fills the speech, the “sitcoms”, and the movies of our modern world—to say nothing of social media on the Internet!
We can think we’ve come so far in our Christian growth, only to be caught off guard by this world’s “coarse jesting”. When we are, it opens doors to “the world, the flesh and the Devil” that we should not allow to be opened in our minds. It doesn’t matter if we do this unknowingly. The effects on our minds and relationships are exactly the same!
So where is our “sense of humor” directed? Do we use it to help us see how deceitful our own minds are (Jeremiah 17:9), to defend the truth with wisdom, or to dishonor others made in God’s image?
The Living Church of God offers a free booklet, What Is a True Christian?, that deals with the real issue behind this subject: who do we serve, Jesus Christ living within us (Galatians 2:20), or “the world, the flesh and the Devil” working in us (Ephesians 2:1-3)?
(יוחנן רכב הסופר)