Comedy and Christianity

I watched an interesting programme on TV last night called “Are you having a laugh? Comedy and Christianity” (still available to watch on the BBC iPlayer at the time of writing). I didn’t agree with everything in the programme but I think it raised some interesting points: things do seem to have changed in the past 50 years – Christianity in general seems to be an acceptable target to attack in general now.

One thing which I found particularly interesting was how a lot of comedians assume that it’s just OK to ridicule Christianity in a comedy show because (according to one comedian), Christians don’t enjoy comedy and don’t go to comedy shows. Now clearly that is stunningly narrow-minded, but at the same time it’s just reflective of the way Christianity seems to have been sidelined in society: it’s perfectly OK to be a Christian, as long as you don’t actually let it influence you in public life (see some of the tolerance stuff I was talking about).

I have a few initial reflections about this, which ties in with what I’ve been thinking about lately. Firstly, I think it’s clear to me that Christianity is in many ways an easy target simply because Christians don’t get easily offended – and when they do, they don’t threaten to burn down buildings: when extremely provoked, at worst they write Strongly Worded Letters. What I’d have liked the programme to explore a bit more was why that was: I believe it’s because Christianity is founded on a cross – an object of humiliation (very appropriate to be thinking about that at Easter time!). And yet, through that very object of humiliation, God brought about salvation and victory. This is what the apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1:21-25:

For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

In short, Christians know that the message of the cross looks foolish. There is a sense in which we expect mocking and humiliation, because that is what Christ endured – and yet he rose victorious. God chose to work through the weak, the humiliated, the foolish – in order to shame what the world considered wise. To put that in terms of comedy, God works through that which comedians consider foolish and mock in their shows.

Secondly, as I touched on before, I think the mocking of Christianity reflects the plausibility structure within our culture. What I mean by that is, gradually over time the Christian emphasis and knowledge within our culture has been continually eroded: Christianity these days just doesn’t appear plausible to a lot of people. A lot of the jokes those comedians were making were based on misinformation, for example Jimmy Carr’s joke “If we’re all children of God, what’s so special about Jesus?” – clearly not understanding what it meant for Jesus to be the Son of God, and the way in which we are or are not ‘children of God’.

As a Christian it didn’t make comfortable viewing: it feels like we’re not a long way away from Christians being completely alienated within popular culture, and ultimately being excluded. That may sound extreme, but couple this with the way government seems to want to keep the church at arms length and it seems to me this country is on an anti-Christian trajectory.

I don’t have any answers to all this: I’m not offended by Christianity being mocked (I think God is big enough to stand up for himself; ultimately we know that God will not be mocked). But, at the same time, I do wish comedians – and the wider popular culture – would think twice before mocking Christianity.

As a Christian, and as someone whose job it will be in the future to help teach people about Christianity, the best thing I can do is to preach the gospel as I believe God has revealed it to us in the Bible, and make sure people understand what it is they’re accepting or rejecting – rather than, as in the case of Jimmy Carr above, simply mocking a caricature – a straw man.

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