19 October 2015

Joke Theology



When things get especially bad, and seem to be on a downward trajectory, it's easy to get bogged down in outrage and bitterness.  Outrage and bitterness, unfortunately, tend not to do anyone any good, and they tend to create an attitude of passivity and victimization.  Developing a habit of passive victimization merely tends to perpetuate one's passivity and victimization, so you can see that when we get bogged down in our outrage and bitterness, it only tends to magnify our problems in the long run.

Nowadays many of the most common theological and philosophical battles are between positions so radically incompatible that their respective proponents cannot enter into dialogue with each other. Their fundamental moral commitments, their understandings of nature, truth, and reality differ so widely that a real conversation is impossible.

Were I a relativist, I would say that these incompatibilities are merely signs of radical differences in commitment.  But I am not a relativist, and so I am bound to say that a great many positions that people hold on philosophical and theological matters are radically incorrect.  Incorrect, not merely as matters of fact, but as extensions of various ways of understanding the nature of truth or reality or nature, which are travesties of these things.

It's an old story: the Devil despises the work of God, and so he perverts what God has made, to have it serve him instead.  He envies the divine government of the universe, and so he creates his own government as a warped imitation of it.  All perversion is a mockery of the good.  It shares certain familiar features, but it lacks the essential perfections, and is therefore evil.

There are several viable responses to the fundamental perversion of ideas about reason, truth, justice, and human nature.  One can attempt to discover the genealogy of the error.  One can find the half-truths that those trapped in error were lured with.  One can attempt to educate those suffering from the misconception.

But one of the best things to do with error is to make a joke of it.  The Most Reverend Archbishop Blase Cupich tells us that conscience is inviolable.  Now whenever someone asks for permission or advice, I joke "I'll accompany you in whatever path you choose to take." or "Who am I to judge?"  Someone asks whether the weather is nice.  I joke: "The sun is always shining—in our hearts."  One of my favorite lines is "We are Church!"  I repeat it frequently, often at random.  Spontaneity adds to its intrinsic silliness.

Over time the use of these travesties of Christian doctrine as jokes turns the phrases themselves into laughable absurdities in the minds of the people around me.  What originally may have been uttered with faux profundity or earnest "compassion" is gradually revealed to be a lot of sentimental guff without any discernible rational meaning.  And by treating it this way, one lifts one's spirits, innoculates one's friends against the enemy, and manages to teach people something of the truth.

I would like to stop there, but it would be remiss of me not to to add a serious warning to what I've just set down.  Turning absurd pseudo-theology into jokes is very well, but sarcasm and irony have their own negativity, which in the long run is just as poisonous as simple bitterness.  If you mock heresy and make jokes about the ridiculous, be sure that this is not all you do.  Otherwise you might end up basking so much in the absurdity of the enemy that you fail to pay any attention to the sensibleness of the truth.