Make a joyful noise unto the Lord … just don’t laugh

I’m writing this blog post to ask a simple question: why are Christianity and comedy such uncomfortable travel companions? I’d love to hear what you think and help me get to the bottom of it.

This is something I’ve explored over a number of years.  You see, I love comedy.  I love to laugh.  I enjoy the clever way that a satirist can shine a light on a societal inconsistency or quirk in a way through a turn of phrase that makes me smile before I ponder the point.

As a Christian writer, my natural style tends to the humourous; to observe life and poke some gentle fun out of it.  But when your faith and your fiction combine, this is where the rubber chicken hits the Damascus Road.

As I’ve researched churches and talked to a range of people of faith, I’ve been amazed at the response to comedy in a Christian context.  It polarises people. I’m also saddened at how little Christian comedy there is out there. On Facebook I asked: what good Christian comedy do you know of? I was horrified at the responses.  The main answer was Adrian Plass, who published his gentle comedies in the 1980s.  Thirty-plus years ago.  Someone did mention Tim Hawkins at one stage and I appreciate his gifts to make my kids laugh, but are those two names all we can come up with?  Two names?  Is that it? (If you’re about to respond with a third name, that’s great – and I promise to look into them – but it’s still not a genre).

Why is it that I heard at the recent American Christian Fiction Writers Conference: “Humour doesn’t sell in Christian markets.” (Although I presume the word ‘humour’ was pronounced without the ‘u’.)  My instinct was to ask why – do Christians like to laugh at all?

To me there appears to be a serious misunderstanding of what comedy could be.  Yes, in some hands it becomes dark and dirty or downright offensive.  I’ve switched off some things because the joke wasn’t funny. It was just unnecessarily harsh or vile for no reason. Some people I’ve spoken with suggest that all comedy is somehow offensive to someone somewhere, so it should be avoided. Which is like me saying all fictional romance is about extra-marital relationships or explicit physical scenes.  That’s not the case, and Christian romantic fiction fills the shelves of many a Christian bookstore.

There appears to be another school of thought that says comedy is judgemental of others and people who subscribe to this theory put up a wall that says: “Judge Not!”

Yes, the world’s version of comedy has targetted someone and ridiculed them for their differences of behaviour, choices or personality and that becomes a dogpile of people ganging up on a defenceless target. But that’s the world’s version. It doesn’t have to be that way.  See Romance, Christian.

I see humour in the Bible. When James and John asked Jesus if He wanted them to call down fire from heaven onto the Samaritans in Luke 9, Jesus said no, and then started calling them the “sons of thunder”.  I hear that with a hint of a laugh in the Saviour’s voice and a shake of His head. I can imagine the disciples being held up by a three-donkey pileup on the Jerusalem Road and Jesus saying: “what do you think sons of thunder?  Should we call down some fire from heaven to clear the traffic?” (Don’t go looking for a Scriptural reference for that, it happened off-camera). When having a go at the teachers of the law in Matthew 23, Jesus told them their approach to justice, mercy and faithfulness shows they “strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.”  That’s clever imagery used to make a societal point … aka satire.

So why is it that comedy and Christianity don’t seem to work?  Is it a carryover from the early years of organised church where everything was super-serious and melancholy?  We are called to “make a joyful noise unto the Lord” in the Psalms, so why is it that for some (or maybe most), that joyful noise can’t include a laugh or two?

I’d love to know what you think. Bonus points if you can make me laugh.

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