Religious Humor

Religious Humor:

I remember that once we had an occasion here -- I cannot seem to locate it in the archives, which are scrambled badly -- for telling religious jokes. Some of the best jokes I know are about religion, as they tend to speak to truths about disputes in doctrine or dogma that are really funny. One of my favorites is from the late, great Jerry Clower, who told the story of a couple who wanted to marry. The father would not accept the presumptive daughter-in-law, however, because she was not a Baptist but some lesser Protestant faith, and had only been sprinkled on her head rather than fully-immersed for her baptism.

The son offered his father a compromise: he would take the girl out into the river knee-deep with the Baptist pastor. The father refused; so the son came back and said his wife-to-be was ready to go neck deep. The father refused; soon the son said that his wife was prepared to go out into the river so far that only the top of her head was above water.

This, too, the father refused. The son replied, "See? I knew it was just that little spot at the top that counted anyway."

I thought of that when reading this piece by Christopher Hitchens on the jokesters of the day. His point is that liberal humor sneers at religion, but only when it is practiced by conservatives. Nevertheless, his examples are actually three very different types of humor. One of them is really funny:

One could actually write a whole article simply on the Franken-Stewart faction’s attitude toward religion. In their world, the expressions Christian right or Moral Majority are automatic laugh cues, and there is a huge amount of soft-core borscht-belt stuff like this (from Franken) on page 205 of The Truth:
If it hadn’t been for Social Security, I never would have met Franni in Boston my freshman year, deflowered her, and gotten her to renounce the Pope. But I digress.
And this, from pages 1 and 2 of Jon Stewart’s Naked Pictures of Famous People (his book America also carries a rib-tickling cover-line promise of Supreme Court justices posing nude) in a painfully unfunny essay/sketch titled “Breakfast at Kennedy’s,” set this time in Connecticut, at Choate:
That’s where Jack and I bonded. I was the only Jew. My father ran the commissary so I was allowed to attend school there. My room, or the Yeshiva, as Jack called it (he really wasn’t prejudiced and would often defend me to the others as a “terrific yid”), was a meeting-place and a hotbed for hatching great pranks … I’m sure the ample supply of brisket and whitefish from Dad helped.
And in a more goyish form from Stephen Colbert, by no means to be outdone, on page 56 of I Am America:
Now, I have nothing but respect for the Jewish people. Since the Bible is 100% the true Word of God, and the Jews believe in the Old Testament, that means Judaism is 50% right.
If you chance to like this sort of thing, then this is undoubtedly the sort of thing you will like. It certainly works very well with audiences who laugh not because they find something to be funny, but to confirm that they are—and who can doubt it?—cool enough to “get” the joke. What you will not find, in any of this output, is anything remotely “satirical” about the pulpit of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright...
The first piece is merely sneering and hateful, as Mr. Hitchens says. It's not the least bit amusing, except perhaps in the sense that Mr. Frankin is suggesting that a woman might prefer his love to the faith in which she was raised. But people do, sometimes; I've known both men and women who converted to new religions in order to marry, and in fact, we started with a joke on that very subject. That joke was funny because it smiled at the underlying differences; this one was not.

The second isn't really a religious joke at all, but an ethnic joke. It has nothing to do with doctrine, but is simply about being a minority among a majority. It's the same point that used to be made by black comedians, which is that blacks were once fully acceptable in American society if they were jokers or played in sports. Here, too, we have Mr. Stewart saying that he was accepted as a minority, but only because he provided some benefit to the majority -- humor, a place to plot pranks, free food.

The Colbert joke, though, is really funny. It underlines the oddity of the phenomenon that Israel's closest and most dependable ally is evangelical, even sometimes fundamentalist, Protestants in America. It even indicates the direction of the truth of that phenomenon, though of course -- being only a joke -- it doesn't adequately explain it.

You can enjoy such a joke even when it makes fun of you. This is described as a conservative joke:
A driver is stuck in a traffic jam going into downtown Chicago .
Nothing Is Moving north or south. Suddenly a man knocks on
his window.

The driver rolls down his window and asks, ‘What
happened, what’s the hold Up?’

‘Terrorists have kidnapped Barack Obama, Hillary
Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid,
Rosie O’Donnell, Jesse Jackson, and Al Sharpton. They
are asking for a $10 Million ransom. Otherwise, they are
going to douse them with gasoline and set them on fire. We
are going from car to car, taking up a collection.’

The driver asks, ‘On average, how much is everyone giving?’

‘About a gallon’
That's a funny joke! But is it a joke about President Obama, etc., or is it a joke about conservative reactions to them?

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