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Humor, Satire, Sexuality
Are you a transkindophobe?
Doctor Clive Gledhill looked down at his watch – 4:30. Only half an hour until the surgery shut and then he could head off home for the day to his family. He looked at the screen in front of him and saw that he had just two more patients booked in. Perhaps they might give him a more interesting end to the day than what had gone before. A few cases of stomach upset and flu – that was about it, so far as he could recall. “Yes, come in,” said the doctor as he heard a tap at the door. As it opened, he looked up to greet his patient, only to find himself startled. “You wanted interesting?” thought the doctor. “Well here is interesting.” The man entering the room was perhaps the oddest looking person the doctor had ever seen. The fabric that made up all his clothes – from his shirt all the way down to his socks – consisted of a series of irregular shaped brown patches, with white lines in between, rather like a mosaic. It seemed to be patterned like some sort of animal, though for the life of him the doctor couldn’t think what. He also had this same design tattooed onto his hands. Around his neck he wore a series of metal coils – the sort of thing worn by women in the Kayan and Ndebele tribes, which is wound around the neck in order to stretch it. His arms were hung long and loose in front of him, almost as if he were trying to reach down to the floor with them. But perhaps the oddest thing of all was what he was doing with his mouth. He was chewing, but not in the way people chew gum. Rather it was a slow and ponderous action, not too dissimilar to a ruminant chewing the cud. “Come, take a seat,” said Dr. Gledhill beckoning him to sit in the chair on the opposite side of his desk. “I prefer to stand,” said the patient, moving the words around his mouth slowly as he continued to ruminate. “As you wish,” replied the doctor. “Now tell me, how can I help you today?” The oddity shifted around somewhat apprehensively. He seemed nervous and reluctant to speak at first, but the patient manner of the doctor seemed to put him at ease. “Before I tell you of my condition, I would like an assurance from you. Tell me, doctor, do you consider yourself to be a tolerant man?” “Strange question,” thought Dr. Gledhill. Nevertheless he answered in the affirmative, adding that he considered himself to be a man of some high level of tolerance. “Good,” replied the man. “And do you think yourself to be completely open and non-judgmental.” “Well, I would say that I am fairly open,” replied the doctor. “I’ve practiced medicine for nearly thirty years now and I doubt whether there is much I haven’t seen. As for non-judgmental? I don’t suppose I am any more or any less judgmental than anyone else. We’ve all got our prejudices about something or other, but I suppose I try to be as impartial as possible. Can I ask to what these questions tend?” “Yes, you may,” answered the man. “Dr. Gledhill, I have now been to no less than five doctors about my condition. Yet not one of them has taken me seriously. In fact they have all more or less ridiculed me and sent me out of their surgery. I have been humiliated and left feeling emotionally wrecked by the treatment I have received by various members of your profession. Which is why, before continuing, I seek reassurance that you will not treat me with the same derision as I have received before.” “Okay,” said Doctor Gledhill pondering the request, “I promise that I’ll be as open-minded and fair as I am able. Now, what seems to be the problem?” The patient nodded approvingly at the doctor, before walking slowly around the room. As he spoke, every so often he would stand on tiptoes, straining as if he were trying to reach high up for something. “Ever since I was a young child I have felt different,” he said. “How do you mean different?” asked the doctor. “What I mean is that even when I was a small boy, I would look around at the other boys the same age as me, and I knew I just wasn’t like them. Ever since I was about six, I knew what I really was – and it wasn’t what people thought. And the problem has never changed. In fact it has just got worse and worse. For more than thirty years, I have lived a lie. I can hardly describe it to you, but the ‘me’ you see on the outside is completely and utterly different from the ‘me’ on the inside.” “Aha,” thought doctor Gledhill. “I think I know what is coming up.” “The effects on my life have been disastrous and I find myself almost friendless, doctor. My behavior is too much for most people, and I daren’t tell anyone why I am the way I am. That is why I am here. The real me has been trying to burst out for years, but until now I always thought too much of public opinion to actually do anything about it. But enough is enough and I must finally seek a solution.” Doctor Gledhill looked at the man for some moments, weighing up his response. “Look, I think I understand what you’re saying,” replied the doctor after some moments. “Ever since you can remember, you have felt more female than male and now you’ve come to me asking if I can put you forward for a sex change. I must say I’m surprised by the reaction you received from some of my colleagues in the medical profession. Sex changes are really quite common these days and there’s nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about. If you like, I can refer you to a consultant I know at the hospital who specializes in these procedures.” “Oh no, you don’t understand,” said the man looking a little put out. “I’m perfectly happy with being male. I have no desire to become female and I did not come here seeking a sex change.” “Well, I’m terribly sorry if I have misunderstood you,” replied the doctor, surprised by the response. “It’s just that everything you told me sounded remarkably similar to other cases I have dealt with where the patient was seeking to change their sex. So then would you mind correcting my error?” “Yes of course,” replied the man. “Can’t you tell by looking at me? I’m not looking for a sex change. I’m happy with my gender and wouldn’t dream of trying to changing it. What I’m looking for is a species change.” Dr. Gledhill’s head jerked back sharply as if he had just received an electric shock. Had he heard the man right? He’d said he was looking for a species change, hadn’t he? Surely not. Better check. “Look, I’m sorry if I have misheard you, but did I hear you say you were looking for a species change?” “Yes, you did,” replied the man. “And what species are you looking to become?“ asked Dr. Gledhill warily. “Why surely that is obvious.” replied the man somewhat disdainfully. “Ever since I saw pictures of the Maasai Mara as small boy, I have wanted nothing else than to be a giraffe.” Dr. Gledhill quickly attempted to gather his thoughts. Surely this must be some sort of joke. Perhaps one of his colleagues was playing a hoax on him. Yet since the man looked in earnest and gave not the slightest hint of any prank being played, he decided that his best course of action would be to try and talk the man round to a normal way of thinking. “Look I understand that you may have issues and problems that perhaps need addressing,” said the doctor in a soothing tone. “But you do know that you can’t just become a giraffe, don’t you?” “And why not?” came a rather stern reply. “Well…” stumbled the doctor searching for the right words, “well…because you are human. You were born a human and that is what you are. You can’t change that.” “But you were happy to refer me for a sex change?” “That is entirely different,” answered Dr. Gledhill. “There is a world of difference between changing one’s sex and changing one’s kind.” “Oh there is, is there?” said the man cynically. “I’d love to know what that difference is exactly. Apparently my kind is fixed but my gender isn’t. Tell me doctor, you’re not a creationist by any chance, are you?” It took a lot to offend Dr. Clive Gledhill, but this comment hit a raw nerve. He most definitely was not a creationist and he was not about to let his patient off without letting him know this in the sharpest possible terms. “No I’m not a creationist, thank you very much,” he replied tartly. “I absolutely affirm the Darwinian theory of natural selection. But what of it?” “Then you believe in the mutability of species, you deny the fixity of kinds, and you affirm that we both evolved from apes all the way back to some kind of bacteria?” “Yes I do,” replied the doctor. “Well then since you affirm these things to be true,” replied the man, “why do you deny the possibility that I can change from a human to a giraffe.” “Why a giraffe? How about an ape, since they are our nearest cousins,” said the doctor sarcastically. “I was never very good at climbing trees – it makes me giddy – so I dread to think what swinging through them would do,” replied the man with total seriousness. “But you have avoided my question. Look, since you affirm that the gender of a person is not so fixed that it can’t be changed, an opinion which must surely be based on an evolutionary understanding of the world, and since you believe in the morphing of atoms into creatures and of kinds into other kinds, why would you then claim that humanness is so fixed that it cannot be changed?” “Well,” said the doctor, thinking as quickly as he could. “I’m not sure whether such a thing is even possible, but even if it were, would it be desirable? And even if it were both possible and desirable, we certainly do not have the capability of performing species change operations at present.” “Then might I suggest that the scientific establishment begin researching into this capability,” said the man indignantly. “They claim that they can make a man out of a woman or a woman out of a man by cutting bits off here and there and by the injection of various hormones. But if they are as serious about the mutability of species and kinds as they say they are, maybe they need to put their money where their mouths are – else I shall think that they neither understand nor fully believe the logic of their own convictions.” “And might I suggest that you go and see a psychiatrist and perhaps talk over your issues with them?” replied a clearly irritated Dr. Gledhill. “It doesn’t surprise me,” replied the man walking towards the door. “All of the previous doctors I have seen have told me pretty much the same thing. They all affirmed their belief in evolution, yet when push came to shove, they have backed off from the implication of their beliefs, which is that nothing is fixed and so everything is open to change – including a medically-induced species change. I see that you are no more open to change than any of them were.” And with that he walked through the door leaving Dr. Clive Gledhill somewhat shell-shocked at the conversation he had just had. After some moments he managed to pull himself together. “Species change indeed,” he muttered to himself. “Let’s hope my final patient just has an upset stomach.”
Rob Slane is the author of A Christian and Unbeliever discuss Life, the Universe, and Everything
Humor and the life of faith
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Gender roles, Humor
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Comedy as a calling
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Say what? Insights from the "Devil's Dictionary"
Ambrose Bierce (1842- circa 1914) was an American satirist best known for his Devil’s Dictionary. In it he sought to “improve” on Noah Webster’s famous work by providing definitions that weren’t so much devilish as cynical. And a cynic was, so Bierce defined him, “A blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they ought to be. “ Now God says unbelievers are fools (Ps. 14:1) so it follows they shouldn’t be our go-to source for wisdom. That makes it all the funnier/that-much-more-embarrassing when an unbeliever sees something we’ve missed. It is, for example, quite a shock to the system when Bierce sees through the fundamental flaw in the conservative political position, noting that most who go by this label aren’t principled, but are simply “conserving” whatever it is the liberals pushed through in the years preceding! If even an agnostic – if even a blind man – can see through the folly of unprincipled conservatism, we Christians – who have been gifted God’s illuminating Word – really have no excuse for supporting it. This is a rebuke delivered via the mouth of a donkey! What follows below are a few of the diamonds from Ambrose’s dictionary, sifted out from the dross. Admiration: Our polite recognition of another’s resemblance to ourselves. Christian: One who believes that the New Testament is a divinely inspired book admirably suited to the spiritual needs of his neighbor. Conservative: A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from a Liberal who wishes to replace them with others. Education: That which discloses to the wise and disguises from the foolish their lack of understanding. Egotist: A person of low taste, more interested in himself than in me. Idleness: A model farm where the devil experiments with seeds of new sins and promotes the growth of staple vices. Quotation: The act of repeating erroneously the words of another. Radicalism: The conservatism of tomorrow injected into the affairs of today. Referendum: law for submission of proposed legislation to a popular vote to learn the nonsensus of public opinion. Tariff: A scale of taxes on imports, designed to protect the domestic producer against the greed of his consumer. And finally one more that isn’t in his dictionary, but which is commonly (and perhaps mistakenly) attributed to him: Sweater: Garment worn by child when its mother is feeling chilly....
What is humor?
What is humor? It seems a simple question, with a very obvious answer: humor is whatever makes us laugh or smile. But then what of all the cruel pranks and the sacrilegious gags that make so many laugh? Even the crudest of comedians can get big laughs. The fact is, we laugh at a lot of things that just aren’t funny. So we aren’t interested in simply what makes us laugh. Instead we’re going to explore genuine humor, the sort of humor that gets laughs but can be shared without shame – we’re going to explore Christian humor. DEFINITION OF HUMOR Humor is a term used in English since the early eighteenth century to denote a type of writing or speech whose purpose it is to evoke some kind of laughter. So laughter is a key element. But we want to go deeper – we want to go beyond the knock knock joke. Instead of being something merely light or superficial, the best humor depends upon profundity. "A humorous rejoinder, " said Kierkegaard, "must always contain something profound." For example here’s a joke about a person getting their just deserts (as described in Galatians 6:7-8): While doing his daily rounds a prison chaplain stopped in on a prisoner who had been assigned the task of making pillowcases for the entire 5,000 inmate prison. “Good morning,” said the chaplain, “Sewing, eh?’ “No, Chaplain, “ replied the prisoner with a grim smile. “Reaping.” Elton Trueblood observed that humor takes intelligence: "It is not possible to have genuine humor or true wit without an extremely sound mind, which is always a mind capable to high seriousness and a sense of the tragic." THE NEED FOR HUMOR Sometimes humor is dismissed as being trivial but genuine humor is an important and effective tool in many settings. Properly used, it can allow us to see our lives in more realistic proportions, restrain an explosion of anger, and deliver us from pessimism and despair, and do so much more. For example, it can be a wonderful educational tool and a means to restoring order in a classroom with a smile. It can even be a way to ensure better parent/teacher relations as a wise Grade 1 teacher was said to have done by sending the following note home on the first day of school: "If you promise not to believe everything your child says happens at school, I'll promise not to believe everything he says happens at home.” Humor is a necessity within the church as well. When we lose our sense of proportion and humor, controversies in the church become battlefields. We look for "heretics" in each corner and even tend to look under our bed before we dare to go to sleep. We can be so busy with controversies we can no longer hear the footsteps of our approaching Lord, whose coming is at hand. And how sad it is to see people spend time and energy to paint their position in bright colors and put others in worse light than warranted. We may not build bomb-free shelters where criticism cannot enter. Humor should not be overlooked in evangelism either. It is easy to visit people who are with you, but it is hard when they are filled with bitterness against the Lord and His church. With tact and humor we can make contact with people who are filled with criticism against church members, and especially ministers. Real humor blossoms only where God's Word has taken root. "A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones," says Solomon (Prov. 17:23). So a Christian remembers that he is always in the presence of God, and his speech is the gift of the Creator. As Augustine put it: "Speech is not simply our possession; it is God's gift to us. To recognize and acknowledge this gift in truthful words is to offer grateful praise to the One from whom it comes." LAUGH AT YOURSELF All of us ought to be ready to laugh at ourselves because all of us are a little funny in our foibles, conceits and pretensions. What is funny about us is precisely that we take ourselves too seriously. The ability to laugh at oneself shows we understand some of our imperfections. A Christian who understands he is living his life under the judging eye of God does not boast about his moral achievements. He understands that is pride and folly. One of the qualifications of a missionary is a sense of humor - while learning a new language and new customs it is easy to make embarrassing blunders. When we were serving in the Philippines, I made my share, and a good laugh at myself helped me survive. But there is another side to laughing at oneself. If we keep laughing when we have done something wrong, if we cannot recognize the real evil of sin, laughter turns into folly. If we continue to laugh after having recognized the depth of evil we have committed, our laughter becomes the instrument of irresponsibility. DISTORTED HUMOR It is easy indeed for humor to be distorted. A.D. Dennison, a Christian cardiologist, says in his 1970s bestseller Shock it to me Doctor that he recalls one man who sped up to a drugstore and asked the druggist if he had anything for hiccups. The druggist, without a word, hit the man between the eyes and knocked him to the floor. The man slowly got up and graciously asked again, "Sir, do you have anything for hiccups?" The druggist replied, "You don't have them any more do you?" The man responded, "No, I never did, but my wife out in the car does." This may be a clever joke, but it’s is devoid of compassion and respect for others. Is this Christian humor? A type of humor often used during war is called "gallows humor." Soldiers are known on occasion to engage in hysterical laughter when nerves are tense before the battle. They speak flippantly of the possible dire fate which might befall this or that man of their company. "Sergeant," a soldier is reported to have said before a battle, "don't let this little fellow go into battle before me. He isn't big enough to stop the bullet meant for me." The "joke" was received with uproarious laughter by the assembled comrades. But when the "little fellow" died in battle the next day, everyone felt ashamed of the joke. At any rate, it was quite inadequate to deal with the depth and breadth of the problem of death. But as the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr points out: "If we persist in laughter when dealing with the final problems of human existence, when we turn life into a comedy, we also reduce it to meaningless. That is why laughter, when pressed to solve the ultimate issue, turns into a vehicle of bitterness rather than joy." HUMOR IN THE BIBLE If we are going to investigate true humor, then we must not overlook the Bible. The Bible deals with very serious subjects – heaven, hell, sin and salvation - but that should not cause us to overlook its literary beauty, and the humor in the Bible. There are critics who regard the Bible as deficient in the sense of humor and they can point to the fact there is little laughter in the Bible. But the Bible is filled with humor. Humor in the Bible appears especially when idolatry is mocked. One powerful example occurs when Isaiah pokes fun at a man who carves an idol from wood. In chapter 44:15-17 he describes in some detail the absurd process: "It is a man's fuel for burning, some of it he takes and warms himself, he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Half of the wood he burns in the fire; over it he prepares a meal, he roasts his meat and eats his fill. He also warms himself and says, ‘Ah! I am warm; I see the fire.’ 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.'" GOD LAUGHS The only instance in which laughter is attributed to God occurs in Psalm 2:4, which says, "The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them.” This is not a happy image – God is pictured laughing at man and having him in derision because of the vanity of his imagination and pretensions. God mocks kings who plan to divide the world amongst each other, while God says to the Messiah, " I will make the nations as your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession" (vs. 8). But the humor in the Bible is not limited to that of derisive laughter. Throughout Scripture God reveals a real sense of humor. When the human race wanted to build a city with a tower that reaches the heavens so that they could make a name for themselves, "the Lord came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building (Gen. 11:5). God acts as if the tower of Babel is so small that He can't see it from heaven – He had to come down to see it. And when Israel is threatened by the Philistines, God uses a most unlikely means to save His people so that the Messiah could come in the fullness of time. What does He do? God writes history with a small stone from a brook. Young David with a small stone smites Goliath and Israel was rescued. JESUS AND LAUGHTER The Heidelberg Catechism confesses that the eternal Son of God took to himself, “a truly human nature so that he might become David's true descendant, in all things like us his brothers except for sin” (Q&A 35). So when we speak about Jesus and humor, we are not disrespectful, We accept His incarnation as real. He was seen as the carpenter's son. Christ's characteristic humor depends, for the most part, upon a combination of ideas rather than upon a combination of words. But it is very important to understand that the purpose of Christ's humor is to clarify and increase understanding rather than to hurt. When Jesus teaches His disciples about being light bearers in this dark world, he uses sly humor about where to put light. The message is about the necessity of witness, but the failure to be a witness is rendered laughable when Jesus asks, "Is a lamp brought in to be put under a bushes, or under a bed, and not on a stand?" (Mark 4:21). Since the lamp mentioned has an open flame, and since the bed is a mattress, it is easy to see that in this situation the light would be suffocated or the mattress would be burned. The appeal here is to the patently absurd. The sensitive laugh; they get the point. When Christ said not to cast pearls before swine (Matt. 7:6), He was again employing the patently absurd to make His point. Christ tells us that we are not to waste precious words or time or effort on those who chronically resist the Gospel. We must remember, of course, that the joke about casting what is precious before the pigs was even more preposterous for a Jewish audience than it is for us. The rejection of pork was deep-seated in their consciousness. Christ's major weapon against the Pharisaic attack was laughter, and He used it fully. The point at which they were most vulnerable was their manifest self-righteousness. There is no one more ridiculous than the sinner who claims to be perfect. Jesus asked the Pharisees, who accused Jesus of casting demons in the name of Beelzebub, "If I drive out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your people drive them out?" (Matt. 12:27). Jesus pokes fun at the critics, since everyone who listens will realize that the subtle question has no possible answer. Christ's question really means, "By what demonic agency do you perform your miracles?" It is easy to see that the humorous question is a far more effective rejoinder than a serious argument about demons. The severest critics of Christ could not stand ridicule, for seriousness was their central strength. CONCLUSION What then is the secret of true humor? The answer is found in the Gospel. It is to know that you are a forgiven a sinner, to have no illusions about the self, and no inclination to appear morally better than you are, either in the sight of man or of God. Our release from bondage of sin gives joy. This joy expresses itself in an exuberance of which laughter is not the only one, but certainly one, expression. Rev. Johan Tangelder (1936-2009) wrote for Reformed Perspective for 13 years. Many of his articles have been collected at Reformed Reflections....