It seems to me a sad and frustrating fact these days that
lots of comedians have become the new atheist preachers. What’s the secret of good comedy? …..timing. Er no actually. Not any more. Now apparently it’s ripping into other people’s cherished beliefs.
Recently Marcus Brigstocke chatted to Ann Widdecombe in the BBC’s documentary Are You Having a Laugh: Comedy and Christianity. Brigstocke has done a book and tour lampooning Christianity called God Collar, and he explained that most comedians are quite happy to make jokes about Christianity because they don’t think any Christians will be in the audience – because they think Christians don’t have a sense of humour. Marcus Brigstocke, for my money, came over well, listening and responding carefully to Ann Widdecombe’s questions. A few years back I recall hearing a speaker saying that all faith is precious, whether we agree with it or not, and as such should be handled carefully. Not so, say the comedians, bring on religion it’s a soft target. Whatever happened to comedy? It used to be about feelgood, not feelbad. Now so many comedians feel at liberty to deconstruct dearly held worldviews.
Perhaps we’re reaping what we’ve sown.
For so long so many people have had Christianity in its various forms thrust at them as the way, the whole way, and nothing but the way. And now comedians are fighting back, preaching at us in the style we once preached at them. It reminds me of the Adam and Eve scenario. A&E were told by the snake that they wouldn’t really die if they ate the forbidden fruit, so they tried it and hey! No thunderbolt. They survived. So it is with the comedians. One or two tried lampooning faith and bingo! No thunderbolts from the sky. So now all restraint is gone. My question is – where are the rebel comedians? The alternative comedians. If so many are atheists aren’t they all just towing the party line?
That said there are some comedians who are Christians – Milton Jones, Sally Phillips, (both above) Tim Vine, James Cary & Paul Karenza (writers of Miranda) and others. But I wonder whether there are any comedy shows lampooning atheism? Or championing the many comedic stories in the Bible in a life-affirming way? Because the frustrating thing about all this is that the Bible is loaded with comedy anyway – because comedy is a powerful form of communication, as all comedians well know. As I’ve said many times before, the Bible is mostly narrative, story, and we find ourselves in those ripping yarns. The prodigal’s father running down the road to hug him? In that culture? You’re having a laugh. That’s about as ludicrous as the Queen jumping out of a helicopter at the Olympics. And there are many funny moments. ‘Where did that gold calf come from Aaron?’ ‘Oh er… well, brother Mo, now let me see… it er… no no, don’t rush me, I’ll work it out… er… it was er… no, no… er… oh! Yes! I just dropped a few nose rings into the fire with a few tongue studs and bingo – it walked out!’
‘Where’s your god then?’ asks Elijah when the prophets of Baal can’t get their deity to light their fire. ‘Is he having a bathroom break? Taking a leak maybe? Visiting the little boys’ room perhaps?’
I reckon one thing is certain, though I may sound arrogant saying it
– the ‘scientific’ arguments for atheism will rise and fall. When you bear in mind how long humanity has been kicking around on the planet, and kicking the planet around, the notion that we exist without the presence of another reality is a novelty idea. The new kid on the block. At the end of the day it seems to me that somewhere deep down in our guts there’s a hunger for more than this solid matter we call home. Jimmy Carr once said that we all have invisible friends, he just grew out of his. Yet that’s the rub. All children are born with a sense of another reality. Either we choose to abandon that, sometimes because of pain and disappointment as we grow up, or we find ways to nurture, develop and mature it. Come on funny dudes, how about bringing together comedy, intelligence, mystery and faith. It’s a life affirming concoction.
I know what you mean. I can perfectly well understand why “religious” ideas seem so ridiculous to some people and therefore why they make good comedy … but comedy like that makes me feel deeply uncomfortable. Even comedians understand that there are some places you just should not go (and don’t need to go). But I don’t think they appreciate how deep into the heart “religion” goes. Laughing about how someone made God up is just as bad as laughing about how someone’s mum has died. In fact the former could cause more pain than the latter, if you think about it. Bless them, the comedians who do this genuinely don’t really know what they’re doing… now where have I heard that before?
On the subject of ‘Why not take the Micky out of atheism’, C.S. Lewis had some pretty good stabs at it. Here he is on the myth of evolutionism (not biological evolution):
The play is preceded by the most austere of all preludes: the infinite void, and matter restlessly moving to bring forth it knows not what. Then, by the millionth millionth chance – what tragic irony – the conditions at one point of space and time bubble up into that tiny fermentation which is the beginning of life. Everything seems to be against the infant hero of our drama – just as everything seems against the youngest son or ill-used stepdaughter at the opening of a fairy tale. But life somehow wins through. With infinite suffering, against all but insuperable obstacles, it spreads, it breeds, it complicates itself, from the amoeba up to the plant, up to the reptile, up to the mammal. We glance briefly at the age of monsters. Dragons prowl the earth, devour one another and die. Then comes the theme of the younger son and the ugly duckling once more. As the weak, tiny spark of life began, amidst the huge hostilities of the inanimate, so now again, amidst the beasts that are far larger and stronger than he, there comes forth a little naked, shivering, cowering creature, shuffling, not yet erect, promising nothing: the product of another millionth millionth chance. Yet somehow he thrives. He becomes the Cave Man with his club and his flints, muttering and growling over his enemies’ bones, dragging his screaming mate by her hair (I never could quite make out why), tearing his children to pieces in fierce jealousy till one of them is old enough to tear him, cowering before the horrible gods whom he has created in his own image. But these are only growing pains. Wait till the next act. There he is becoming true Man. He learns to master Nature. Science comes and dissipates the superstitions of his infancy. More and more he becomes the controller of his own fate. Henceforward he has nothing to do but to practise virtue, to grow in wisdom, to be happy. And now, mark the final stroke of genius. If the myth stopped at that point, it might be a little bathetic. It would lack the highest grandeur of which human imagination is capable. The last scene reverses all. We have the Twilight of the Gods. All this time, silently, unceasingly, out of all reach of human power, Nature, the old enemy, has been steadily gnawing away. The sun will cool – all suns will cool – the whole universe will run down. Life (every form of life) will be banished, without hope of return, from every inch of infinite space. All ends in nothingness, and ‘universal darkness covers all’. The pattern of the myth thus becomes one of the noblest we can conceive. It is the pattern of many Elizabethan tragedies, where the protagonist’s career can be represented by a slowly ascending and then rapidly falling curve, with its highest point in Act IV. You see him climbing up and up, then blazing in his bright meridian, then finally overwhelmed in ruin.
Such a world-drama appeals to every part of us. There is a beauty in this myth which well deserves better poetic handling than it has yet received.