Mocking the Faith of Others

When does making a joke about religion overstep the mark and become mocking the faith of others? Does it matter if it does? I was wondering about this as I checked my Twitter account this morning and noticed a few tweets about one of the more sensational saints of Latin America. Now, I have no devotion to the saint in question, have never lived in the country where his cult is popular, and have no desire to stir up a rumpus, but I did ask myself how I would feel if he were one of my ‘friends in heaven’, in the way that Our Lady or St Bernard are. I realised I might be a little upset. ‘Love me, love my dog’ has its parallel; respect me, respect what I respect, even if it seems to you a little absurd.

What do we mean by ‘respect’ in such a context? Are we to be afraid of saying anything for fear of giving offence? Perhaps this analogy may help. I may not be a Communist myself, but if you have little busts of Lenin all over your mantlepiece, I will take the hint and confine any remarks to discussion of his theories rather than make a joke you may find tasteless. I may not be a republican, but if you are French and ardent in your love of country, I would not choose today to make derogatory remarks about the fall of the Bastille and all that it entailed subsequently. In both cases, I would be doing no more than showing good manners. Would that mean I was truly respecting you? I’m not sure, but I find it interesting that St Benedict has a lot to say in his Rule about the dangers of scurillitas, a kind of mocking laughter that often degenerated into indecency. I don’t think he was concerned about his monks making an off-colour joke so much as losing that sense of respect and reverence for the person that is fundamental to his concept of honouring everyone.

Ultimately, mocking the faith of others is an act of derision rather than an argument. It may be effective in silencing someone but it can never really advance understanding. So, a thought for the week-end. When we are tempted to mock others, are we misusing one of God’s gifts (for laughter and fun); are we building up or tearing down? The answer can sometimes be chastening, especially for those of us who have a way with words.

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11 thoughts on “Mocking the Faith of Others”

  1. I suspect that people making fun (or mocking) others has always been a satirical art in the UK. Perhaps I’m a bit thick skinned, because I tend to just ignore it.

    Many TV series such as the Vicar of Dibley and Father Ted were great successes, and latterly The Rev has proven a success as well – we tend to find some aspects funny, even if there is an underlying story of pathos or a message. Some of The Rev stories are taken from real life situations albeit dramatized for TV.

    Mocking others because they are a Christian or Muslim is offensive and insulting to the integrity of the person concerned. And, I know that some Christians believe that they are being persecuted in the UK, I don’t believe that’s correct, it appears to me that most of what is going on is either political correctness or plain ignorance of what is acceptable or not, or, a fear of giving offence to others.

    I know that I’ve been guilty of saying harsh things in the past about Christians, when I had rejected Christianity, and even when I returned, about other denominations, based on some bad past experiences – not I regret all of that rhetoric and any offence I may have caused to others. It’s never to late to be repentant!

    Sometimes, it’s about good manners, which sadly, people these days think are out of fashion. I hope that I’m mistaken.

  2. There is a difference between making fun of one’s beliefs and telling it as it is. Sometimes, the two get mixed-up and people keep quite for fear of creating “offence”- that’s just taking the coward’s way out. However, it is one thing to say that the Church of England gets its Apostolic Succession, not from Jesus, but from King Henry VIII and another to make fun of the matter… which, all things considered, lends itself perfectly to humouristic undertones.

    • You can’t just believe what was written in history, after-all history is written by human and moreover I would say faith should never should be questioned or ridiculed unless it harms the integrity of society. Just think what would happen if all humans lost their faith in god.

    • Have you read much Lenin? Not sure why a neo-Nazi doesn’t deserve “respect” if a communist does.

      (I appreciate that there were many “useful idiots” calling themselves communists, who perhaps hadn’t quite thought through to what they were supposing, but the ideology is as murderous as the Nazi one.)

  3. Thank you for sharing your insights which have given me more to ponder. I’d say there’s a qualitative difference between gentle poking of fun and mockery: if the subject of one’s raillery can’t laugh with us, we have probably gone too far — it’s easy to end up mocking. Again, I’m inclined to think that mockery usually doesn’t get a rational response but a purely emotional one, often defensive. So, in the case of Tess’s hypothetical neo-Nazi (please God, it IS hypothetical), I suspect mockery wouldn’t get us very far. I think I’d try what I’d regard as polite but firm argument — and I’d be relentless, like the proverbial dog with a bone. But I suspect one can’t argue with neo-Nazis anyway. It is the usual conundrum of the western liberal, isn’t it?

  4. Ah, but even ‘gentle poking of fun’ can fall flat or draw a defensive response unless the recipient has a sense of humour.
    Fun can often be conveyed by gesture, intonation, facial expression etc and caught and carried by even those lacking in humour among us. (Would it be gentle teasing to ask if there are Communists or Neo-Nazis with a sense of humour?)
    Reading and writing, let alone tweeting humour is a very different matter. It’s a stand alone activity, often between people who do not know each other well and there are no other clues except a ! or 2.
    Wodehouse, Thurber, Hancock scripts leave me cold on the page, but when read aloud, in cartoon form or acted out, I can become quite helpless.
    Isn’t ‘mirth’ a lovely word? And isn’t ‘scorn’ nasty?
    Joke of the week ‘I’m old enough to remember when bank robbers wore masks’. Is that OK with a ex-banker monastic? Even on the page?

  5. Exactly, Patricia, hence my caveat that if the subject of one’s raillery can’t laugh with us, we have gone too far. Humour is a tricky thing to handle, but it would be sad if we never ventured a joke or jest for fear of being misunderstood. And not only can I remember when bank robbers wore masks, I can recall the introduction of what were then called ‘bandit barriers’ in banks — meant to keep the villains out, though nowadays we might think about keeping them in. 🙂

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