No Laughing Matter
16 Half of the wood he burns in the fire; over it he prepares his meal, he roasts his meat and eats his fill. He also warms himself and says, “Ah! I am warm; I see the fire.” 17 From the rest he makes a god, his idol; he bows down to it and worships. He prays to it and says, “Save me! You are my god!” Isaiah 44:16-17 NIV
“The world has become too absurd to be satirized.” G. K. Chesterton, 1911.
Dear Church Family,
Have you heard of the Babylon Bee? It’s a conservative Christian website that publishes satirical news stories about current events and people. There is a similar secular site called The Onion. “Satire” is a form of humor or critique that ridicules, often through exaggerated representation. The problem for sites like the Babylon Bee is that the stories they publish as satire have become prophecy; ideas for news stories that they think are ridiculous are actually coming true.
A couple of years ago, The Babylon Bee published this headline: “CNN Purchases Industrial-Sized Washing Machine to Spin News Before Publication.” Despite the obvious satirical intent of this headline, a fact-checking website called snopes.com actually went to the trouble of declaring the Bee’s story “false.” Facebook then followed up by sending the Bee a warning that their site would be demonetized and de-platformed if they persisted in publishing “fake news.” Facebook eventually apologized, admitting that “satire” is not the same as “fake news.”
This kind of stuff reminds me of the statement by the British author, G. K. Chesterton, quoted above. The stuff I read in the news today strikes me as too absurd to be real, but it is. We’ve got politicians arguing for the “right” of people to riot, burn, and loot. Math is “racist” (and, I recently discovered, sexist).
Does the Bible ever use satire? I’m glad you asked. I think the answer is, yes. Literary devices like satire and sarcasm may seem harsh, and should probably be used sparingly, but there are times when Scripture includes these genres. In Isaiah 44, the passage quoted above, the prophet ridicules people who plant trees to use for firewood, only to turn around and worship images carved from those same trees. In 2 Corinthians 11:19, Paul mocked Christians for tolerating his opponents: “You gladly put up with fools since you are so wise!” (NIV).
It may seem “unchristian” in a way to “make fun” of something, but there are times when Scripture deems it necessary to draw attention to just how ridiculous and absurd an action or belief is. I think of it as a kind of “shock therapy,” attempting through the use of satire to make people see how unreasonable and outrageous something is. It’s not my first approach to correcting something, but it has its place. I just pray the world does not get so absurd that it is impossible to exaggerate. On that note, let me encourage you to follow the command of 1 Timothy 2:1-2 and pray “for kings and all those in authority.”