Religion has been a major target for comedians in the 2006 Edinburgh festival and in the world in general for some time. Should religious people be offended and even angered by jokes about their most sacred beliefs and those they worship? Maybe not as much as they often are.
The topic was discussed recently on BBC 1's Heaven and Earth show. Canon Robin Gamble from Manchester Cathedral suggested that God is big enough to take care of himself. We should only be concerned when the weak and defenceless are lampooned.
Some religions, like Judaism, are already skilled at not taking themselves too seriously. There is a story, for example, about a 94 year old Jewish man on his death bed. Larry Jay Tish, a Jewish comedian, described what happened.
The dying Jew asked his rabbi to find a priest so that he could convert to Christianity.
"You have been a Jew your whole life for 94 years. You are on your death bed. And now you want to convert to Christianity. Why?" asked the rabbi.
"I figure it is better one of them should die rather than one of us!"
It is worth remembering that the priority of a comedian is to get a laugh. They are not too concerned about the possible sensitivities of the individuals in their audience.
Nor are they always trying to be malicious. They just need a laugh or they won't survive as comedians. They may also need to shock in order to increase the size of their audiences.
It is worth taking time to understand exactly why comedians say or do those things which seem outrageous at first sight.
One comedian at the Festival dressed up as a Guantanamo Bay prisoner in an orange suit. He also wore a crown of thorns. Many Christians might well take offence at this but the comedian in question thinks laughter is sacred.
Laughter encourages you to mock authority and to think critically. He believes that such an attitude is typical of the spirit of Jesus.
Early in 2006, cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad were published in Denmark sparking world wide riots and angry protests. One protest placard read “Kill those who insult Islam. " But not all Muslims display such anger.
Omar Marzouk is a Danish, Muslim comedian. He can see humour in the situation but does not intend to offend his fellow muslims. However, he is not afraid to highlight stupidity wherever it occurs.
"It is really difficult being an European, Danish, Muslim because I have been confused about what to burn and who to boycott! It is hard being Muslim because of all the terrorism and now people hate me for being Danish too!"
Omar, born of Egyptian parents in Copenhagen, offends right wingers and radical muslims equally. Some of his comments, like the following where he refers to the London bombings might well offend even the moderates:
"I believe they should employ Muslims to ride on the trains and buses with suicide belts around their waist. Then we could also make our contribution to the war on terror. Then if a genuine suicide bomber should turn up you could say:
'Listen fellow, get off. This is my bus!'"
He also has something to say about the shooting of the innocent Brazilian in London.
"There are certain rules to follow if you look like me and live in England. For example you can't run in order to catch a train or bus. You walk. "
He may well offend many people and especially the relatives of the injured and dead but most of his audiences are just relieved to be able to laugh about such serious and frightening issues. Omar wants to ease the tension enough to allow people to talk about the problems.
Australian comedian, Jim Jeffries, argues that you don't have to see his shows if you are worried about being offended. His posters say he will be offensive. If you are concerned, don't buy a ticket. A typical jokey remark by him is the following:
"Are you worried about suicide bombers in Scotland? No. Of course not. Scotland looks like it has already been done!"
Some comedians pick religion as a target because they do not personally believe in God. For them cracking jokes about God is like making jokes about Santa Claus.
Ed Byrne believes that religion is an easy topic for comedians because everyone knows about it.
He tells his audiences that he became an atheist when he was quite young when he saw Christians installing a lightning conductor on his local church - “What a great deal of faith you're showing!"
Ed does not believe that God, if He exists, could be so petty as to be offended by a comedian cracking a joke about Him. More important things are going on in the world.
Stephen Green from ‘Christian Voice’ argues that if God is not just a private lifestyle choice but the Almighty Ruler of the Universe, we should not take His name in vain and should be worried if we do. He feels that comedians do not have a clue about how deeply they offend religious people.
Ed, on the other hand, is offended by some Christians who believe that hurricane Katrina was sent to purify the city of New Orleans and who believe that God can destroy His own creation with “all the accuracy of a drunk seven year old stamping on ants. "
Canon Robin is most worried about how quick Christians are to take offence. He quoted from the Bible: “Love is slow to take offence. "
He is not worried by offensive remarks about religion: “God is a big boy He does not need me to stand up for Him. I am shocked by how quickly Christians are offended. We should be more tolerant. Life is brilliant. It is about joy and taking part in this joy. "
Stephen argues that you don't insult someone just because they are big. You would not feel free to tell a big man that his mother was a whore. If God is that big, we should be worried about offending Him.
Canon Robin, as usual, disagreed with Stephen Green. We should feel safe and secure in God - not worried about God. If you can laugh at yourself and your beliefs, tensions will dissipate.
On the whole I agree with the views of Canon Robin. God is too big and life is too exciting to get angry about the attempts of comedians to use God or religion as the butt of their jokes. Love should be slow to take offence.
Taking offence has not done the world much good. Religious wars have caused the deaths of millions. It is time to try a different path.
St Paul is probably talking mainly about human relationships when he teaches that love is slow to take offence in his famous passage about love in his first letter to the Corinthian Christians.
A confident human being will not be worried about the people who make fun of him or her. He or she will have enough sense to realise that taking offence could lead to a damaging confrontation which will benefit no one.
As the Buddha said, the angry man is like some one holding a hot piece of coal in his hand to throw at his enemy. He will hurt himself as well as his enemy.
Confident humans will have enough self-confidence not to take insults personally. They will understand that not everyone will like them but plenty will and they do not need to become anxious and angry about the insults of those that dislike or envy them.
A loving human being will see the good even in the people who are insulting them. Those who are big enough to ignore the insults may well see their enemies becoming their friends.
Politicians have already learned the art of not responding to insults with anger. John Prescott, the UK deputy prime minister, is alleged to have called President Bush's policy for peace in the middle east ‘cr**’. The White House replied very tolerantly:
"Being called names is part of the burden of leadership"
To sum up, religious people should not get too angry about offensive remarks about their religion. There is no need. They certainly should not become angry enough to kill.
Those they worship are big enough to defend themselves and usually teach love and forgiveness rather than violence. Enough deaths have already been caused through religious believers being quick to take offence at the fact that others do not share their respect for their beliefs about God.
All humans should be slow to take offence. Loving tolerance will produce far better and more long lasting results than anger.
If politicians, with the possible exception of John Prescott, can keep their cool, so can the rest of the human race!
Gervase Phinn, the Roman Catholic author, noticed that in Northern Ireland there is an emphatic Protestant piece of graffiti:
NO POPE HERE!
Underneath a Roman Catholic wit has written with equal emphasis:
LUCKY OLD POPE!
- a much better response than bombs and bigotry!
John Watson is an award winning teacher and 5th degree blackbelt martial arts instructor. He has written several ebooks on motivation and success topics. One of these can be found at http://www.motivationtoday.com/36_laws.php
You can also find motivational ebooks by authors like Stuart Goldsmith. Check out http://www.motivationtoday.com/the_midas_method.php
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