From ancient byways to modern highways, glimpses of faith are everywhere...

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Jon Stewart: Sacrilegious humor?

Feast of Esther (by Jan Lievens, 1625)
Before focusing upon Jon Stewart’s Daily Show humor, it might be better to first consider this more fundamental
question from CNN’s Todd Leopold:  Is ‘religious humor’ an oxymoron?

In a 2002 article, Leopold began tackling that question by reporting about a Chicago painting titled “The Last
Pancake Breakfast.”  This painting parodied Da Vinci’s
“The Last Supper” by displaying such breakfast-cereal
icons as Tony the Tiger and Trix the Rabbit “surrounding
a Jesus-posed Mrs. Butterworth.”  Although some (mostly city) folks enjoyed it, other (mostly suburban) folks were outraged.

This outrage, which called for the removal of the painting, was mild compared to what some religious humorists have endured.  As Leopold pointed out, “in history, in general, to laugh at religion was to invite harsh criticism, ostracism – or worse.”  Leopold also mentioned a 17th-century ban on “games, sports, plays [and] comedies” because they clashed with “Christian silence, gravity and sobriety” – then stated that “people have been killed for less throughout history.”

Nevertheless, there are those brave souls who refuse to go somber into that good night.  In 2010, Paul Vitello of The New York Times reported on a four-hour “Humor in Ministry” workshop at Union Theological Seminary.  Up for discussion were “Jesus’ use of irony and exaggeration, and the ribaldry in the Book of Esther.”  Also reviewed was “the basic etiquette of being funny at a funeral.”

So it seems as though Jon Stewart might be right on track after all.  There are certainly those who appreciate
his ability to present factual religious information in an entertaining way.  Mark Oppenheimer calls Stewart a
Religion Teacher Extraordinaire,” and applauds his way of winning laughs “without deforming, or even
exaggerating, the religion’s actual beliefs.”

And Stewart himself?  During a Sojourners interview, he stated:  Religion makes sense to me.  I have trouble with dogma more than I have trouble with religion.


Copyright July 21, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

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