World Mag writer Lee Wishing and the use of humour in public engagement

After reading Lee Wishing’s article for World Magazine this week I was left confused. Was he writing about Human Events? Was it their overly-conservative tone, and by extension the acidic stuff that comes out of Ann Coulter‘s mouth; the stuff dear reader, of which it is said that its acidity is on par with toxic diarrhoea? Or was he trying to say that as Christians we should not use humour and satire to ridicule our (political) opponents?

By mentioning James Delingpole’s book 365 Ways to Drive a Liberal Crazy we must assume that at least some of Wishing’s criticism was aimed at the admittedly sophomoric and rather lame humor, but humour never the less. As he says himself, by invoking what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, name-calling amounts to murder, so we shouldn’t call people fools.

I agree with the sentiment, particularly with what Jesus says, but there is more to the discussion than that. The Sermon on the Mount was at least about showing how much we need Christ. It was about using evocative imagery to undermine the very idea that we can live up to Christs moral requirements, and the law, embodied so badly by Pharisaism. In one sense the sermon was intended to subvert moral self-righteousness. Yes, it was and is and should be a moral guide and hence we should be careful about what we say about whom. But it doesn’t mean we should never use humour, satire, or insulting language.

The term “libtard” is offensive, but that is not why we shouldn’t use it, since we know that the teachings of Jesus are some of the most offensive teachings around. Some liberals are retards (and there are pleanty of conservatives who are too). But context is important. So while Sarah Palin‘s son who suffers from Downs Syndrome should never be called a retard, I am more than happy to direct the term at his mother.

By using what can only amount to a nuke, a bomb of a guilt trip proof text, to rightly correct the “divisive” nature of Coulter et al, Wishing comes too close to saying that we cannot satirize our political opponents, whether on the left or the right. According to Wishing we cannot call liberals, libtards, because, well Jesus said anybody who says to somebody: “you fool!” is committing murder.

But Jesus also called some “a brood of vipers”. God laughs at fools and he made a fool of Balaam. Luther called the pope the anti-christ and did not shy away from using “potty” humour to make a point about his religious (and by extension) political opponents. Erasmus uses satire to educate a young prince in the ways he should go. He even praises folly

More must have been going on in that Sermon on the Mount, which might actually put Wishing who does not invoke more of the spirit of the sermon, in a rather ironic position. In fact it might be appropriate to say that Wishings correcting words to some extent contradict the very spirit of the sermon, given that he himself would never stoop “so low” as to name-call. The mild aroma of self righteousness wafts away from the article.

More should be said about the constructive and persuasive use of humor in showing-up the Coulters, Becks and Delingpoles of this world. I look forward to Wishing’s engagement with the subject with his students at The Centre for Vision and Values as I am sure he is very capable of doing so. He could start by reading Doug Wilsons, A Serrated Edge.

We need to ensure that the Christian vision and value of humor is firmly embedded in the next generation of conservative leaders. We cannot afford to be humorless, for it is written: God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise … the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” It is in this inversive spirit that we should engage ‘fools.’

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