Is there a place for religious satire?

I’ve recently watched a few episodes of Good Omens on Amazon Prime, and I was amused that it briefly mentions Ussher’s chronology in episode 1. The show is based off a book by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, and is the story of an angel and demon who become friends despite being on “opposite sides,” (though hell looks like a goth concert and heaven is more like a bright empty hospital). It’s been interesting, but it will definitely not be everyone’s cup of tea, and some aspects still make me uncomfortable. Overall it seems to be trying to counter a strict dichotomy of good and evil (the scene before the worldwide flood where the demon says “this seems more like something my lot would do” made me think of some of our discussions here).

It’s made me think about satire of Christian beliefs I’ve encountered – a lot of it I’ve wanted nothing to do with (often depending on how mean-spirited it seemed to me), and I think making fun of Jesus is one place where I draw the line.

Other thoughts? Do you think satire of beliefs you hold dear can help you see things with new eyes, or do you see it as disrespectful/blasphemous (or both)? Does it make a difference if it’s coming from a Christian source (such as Babylon Bee or John Crist)?

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Our family (all adults now) recently watched through it all. To be sure, we were already Terry Pratchett fans and have read nearly all the discworld books there are; so we already are quite familiar with his irreverent humor.

And his humor is on display here too - though I don’t remember the subject of Christ ever coming up. [I’m reminded now from your comments below - that there was a crucifixion scene - and I had even forgotten it! Don’t remember it being much of a part of the plot I guess.]

It certainly isn’t for everyone, and not “family fare” given the language that is at one point put into the angel Gabriel’s mouth. (And it fascinates me that that little tidbit will catch offense probably as fast or faster than the entire premise of “good and evil” casually hanging out together). But for mature audiences, it provokes great questions - the usual kind aimed at stodgy or traditional formulations of what is supposed to be “righteous”. So (in my book, it pokes at things that probably still need poking).

Nothing will be better for this series though, then some extended efforts by Christians to get it banned from this or that venue. You can’t buy publicity like that, and regardless of its merits on its own, it will be the Christian objections to it that give it its best shot at being a smashing success. I’m almost suspicious that the movie makers may have paid off some religious right organization to start up something about it. And the right, being easily manipulated that way will probably deliver the needed goods as ordered up.

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Is there a place for religious satire?

Along with doubt, self-criticism, and laughing at ourselves, religious satire is essential – I would even say sacred! It is when religion takes itself too seriously that it becomes dangerous and evil.

Is nothing else sacred? The question immediately brings to mind Moses’ experience with the burning bush, where God says, “where you are standing is holy ground.” And then there is the establishment of the temple with different levels of holy and sacred – even when it was a tent moving from place to place. This tells me that we should have venues which are sacred, where we do get serious and we set aside, doubt, criticism, and satire in order to focus on the most important things which are to be recognized as sacred and holy. And I would hope this includes such things as God, love, human life, religious freedom, righteousness, and justice. And these venues should be respected by everyone and not just those who believe in that part particular religion.

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It seems to me that it doesn’t really blur the lines of good and evil so much as it blurs the lines of who is responsible for what. The demons (in general) are evil, but with at least one exception. The angels don’t appear to be good (again, with the one exception). The angels’ agenda does not seem to line with up God’s agenda, and God’s agenda seems to be ambiguous (although there is the sense that God might actually be on the side of humans and playing some kind of game with both the demons and angels).

The crucifixion scene was a bit uncomfortable (as any should be), but I realized that they were neither playing it for comedy nor implicating God (although, again, the angels were implicated). True to form for a non-Christian perspective, the meaning of Jesus’ identity and purpose were reduced to the level of caricature (i.e., his whole message was for “people to be kind to one another”). But he was not treated as an idiot or evil. So there’s that, I guess.

In terms of satire, I don’t know that you can expect someone without any kind of Christian agenda to get it “completely right,” but then again, sometimes it’s still worth listening to the outside voice.

John Crist? Unusually funny for a “Christian comedian” (the only other one I find really funny is Tim Hawkins). Is his satire penetrating? Sometimes, yes.

Babylon Bee? Viciously funny. Actually much better at satire than The Onion, even on non-religious topics. Sometimes I’ve sensed a doctrinal bias emerge, but generally speaking, really good for entertainment value and…like true satire…more than just entertainment.

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I enjoy satire, and when done properly makes you consider more deeply the issues discussed. I think satire is often used in the Bible.

My eyebrows went up. I’ve often argued it should be read as allegory more than literally, but I hadn’t considered satire. Hmmm.

On the surface, Monty Python’s 1979 satire “Life of Brian” could be seen as making fun of Jesus. But I think it lampoons his followers so much more and in ways quite a few of you would think was funny - I think. This scene in particular which I hope will not offend.

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A couple of times that come to mind is when Elijah asked the priests of Baal if their god was out taking a leak, and maybe when Paul suggested his opponents should castrate themselves. And perhaps Jesus was a little satirical when talking of the difficulty of the rich going to heaven being like a camel going through the eye of a needle.

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I think (language issues aside) that this “Good Omens” series is fairly tame satire compared to Monty Python’s “Life of Brian”.

Another recent satire is “The Good Place” (back episodes available on Netflix I think). Unlike Monty Python and Terry Pratchett (who are reacting to explicit biblical themes), the main offense any conservatives might take (so far as our family has watched) with “The Good Place” would probably be in the fact that it pretty much ignores any explicit biblical themes or characters (beyond the requisite existence of angels, and demons with their respective agendas for humanity). So which should irk the “ready-to-be-irked” more? To be poked fun of? or to be ignored?

What it seems that all this satire has in common, though, is a serious (dare I say “sacred”?) discussion of the central issues of humanity. What I appreciate about the late Pratchett (in all his discworld books, though it even shows through in “Good Omens” too) is that he does have an apparent reverence for justice and righteousness. Pratchett would probably disown my compliment to him here, but I would bestow it nonetheless.

As much as organized religions of every stripe are gently, subtly and sometimes not-so-subtly mocked, there is one theme about which Pratchett does not “mess around”. I’d call it his “holy of holies”, so to speak, and that is that there are issues of justice and injustice in the world that are very real and begging to be dealt with. In this “Good Omens” series, there may be much confusion over who the bad characters are - especially among the so-called “good angels”, but one still notices that there is a theme of good and bad, and the associated polarization, even if how the characters get distributed along it is deliberately muddled.

I’m pretty sure there would be films out there that would be much more dangerously insidious to watch than these (even though none come to mind right now). But any that just go totally nihilistic (maybe like the book of Judges) would probably be much more disturbing (and rightly so) to watch.

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A friend once suggested to me that he’s convinced there was a fair amount of humor involved in Jesus nicknaming a couple of his disciples “the sons of thunder”.

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Those do sound a little like camping nicknames. :laughing:

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Yeah, I felt the same way. At first I thought “Oh dear, are they really going to go there?” and you’re right, it completely glossed over Jesus’s divine identity, etc. viewing him more as a victim of the masses than anything else. But yeah, I didn’t find it irreverent in the ways that satire can often be.

That’s a movie I’ve avoided (though found the Holy Grail mostly funny), but I do see what you mean. It does make Jesus into more of a plot device (at least judging from that scene), but I can see how the satire is successful in that case.

Oh great… don’t tell my brothers that. Like they need more things in the world to find that kind of humor in. Is nothing sacred? :wink:

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I LOVE the “Life of Brian”. And the criticism of the church declaring itself to have “heavenly authority” is well made.

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I agree with you that the Life of Brian (which is the only Monty Python film I have seen) is a great movie. (I have also personally met Michael Palin)

However, does not Catholicism insist that the church ‘does’ have heavenly authority?

About that petition to Netflix… (even though Good Omens came out on Amazon Prime)

If Christians are fine with artists drawing Muhammad, they have to allow creators to lampoon their own faith as well. (Generally Christians do accept it more than Muslims do)

As an aside, I find some religious satire hilarious, such as with the Landover Baptist Church Forum, which satirises fundamentalism more than it does religion, and does so in hillarious ways, such as here:

https://www.landoverbaptist.net/index.php/2015/11/10/the-king-james-bible-not-a-translation-but-the-original/

https://www.landoverbaptist.net/index.php/2015/09/30/3-experiments-you-can-do-at-home-that-prove-the-earth-is-flat-2/

Yep, probably. In that regard you can reasonably conclude that I´m not that great of a catholic, though I believe it is the church Jesus founded. However Catholicism had the bad habit of just adding another doctrine, when something seemed problematic, most famously the papal infallibility, which was the straw that broke the camels back for many. Too many doctrines weaken your standpoint.
What I have to give them though: Once you´re in the church you can be as critical and curious about the doctrines and their rationality as you want. So it is not like people get silenced here.
Also the denomination is very heavy on metaphysics, and I love combining philosophy with theology.

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How do you deal with Matthew 18:17-18? If I was a Christian (I’m currently just a YHWH worshipper), I could only be a Catholic, or perhaps Orthodox.

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Good question (and good alternatives, I love the orthodox denomination). I think Matthew was pointing to the preachings of the early church. Of course these are few in numbers and exclude such trainwrecks as the papal infallibility. But in the main doctrines I agree with the church, I believe in the resurrection and in some form of the incarnation and the Trinity (although I think the Trinity has a hierarchy with the father being the most important, because he is being itself(does that make me an Unitarian?)). But to avoid regular qualifications if I speak of the latter two, I just use “divine identity”, this is also less controversial when discussing the theology.

I think the entire book of Jonah is a brilliant piece of satire against certain common viewpoint (one could be God’s blessings are just for us and not for the outsiders). A short little argument was made here:

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I do agree that there is a role for satire. One could argue, though, that we are arguing in a safe, Western democracy, with fewer concerns for collateral damage than in another area. Even we have to be careful what we say; does anyone remember “Innocence of Muslims” and the Charlie Hebdo cartoon of Muhammad? Both resulted in riots by impressionable Muslims of good intent, who didn’t realize the point and validity of criticism.

I would argue that both productions had reasonable drive behind them; the video clip had some truth behind it, and was produced by a Coptic Egyptian, from a minority that had since Muhammad’s time been persecuted by Muslim authorities. However, there are better ways of subduing a hornet’s nest than throwing rocks at it. While the Qur’an and Hadith (similar to the OT) condone violence against criticism of their religious points of view (probably something that encourages safety in tribalism and survival of the people group), peaceful reasoning and interaction on multiple fronts yields more than confrontation does (while not forgetting that we need to actively protect freedom of speech)

https://barnabasfund.org/en/news/Over-70-churches-destroyed-in-Charlie-Hebdo-riots-in-Niger

I knew people whose families lost homes in this riot. Again, we need to protect freedom of satire while realizing that the people whose religion we are criticizing may respond inappropriately.