November 9 marked the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, which, for 28 years, divided socialist East Germany from the free West. To mark the anniversary some old East German jokes gained new life. What sort of jokes? Jokes that mocked the State for its incompetence and vindictive pettiness. Jokes that could get an East German arrested back then if the police found out he’d shared them.
But if jokes could land you in jail, why did people risk telling them? Because every punchline was an act of resistance. A government that couldn’t take a joke was a government that had overstepped its bounds and this became a small way of pushing back. So to mark the anniversary here are a few of the more popular jests from 30 years ago.
- Why do Stasi (East German secret police) officers make such good taxi drivers? – You get in the car and they already know your name and where you live.
- The five rules of socialism:
If you think, don’t speak.
If you think and speak, don’t write.
If you think, speak and write, don’t sign it.
If you think, speak, write and sign it, don’t be surprised.
- What would happen if the desert became a socialist country? Sand would become scarce.
- Three East German political prisoners were sharing the same cell and got to talking about what they were in for. The first explained, “My watch always ran ahead, and I would always arrive at work early, so they said I must be spying.” The second fellow shared, “My watch always ran slow, so I was always late for work, so they said I was guilty of sabotage.” Then the third fellow said, “I was always exactly on time for work so they said my watch much be from the West.”
Asking, how could it happen here?
We mark this anniversary as a tribute to those brave and wise souls who fought tyranny in the past. But we also mark it so we can learn from the past to hopefully avoid the same sort of mistakes going forward. When we see the trouble Big Brother brought the East Germans, we’ll be motivated to pre-empt the same sort of government over-reach here… before it gets to the point where we’re arrested for telling jokes.
With that in mind, here are a few jokes worth telling while we still can.
- Three Americans businessmen were sharing the same cell and got to talking about what they were in for. The first explained, “I charged more for my goods than anyone else. So they convicted me of price gouging.” The second fellow shared, “I charged less than anyone else for my product, so they convicted me of anti-competitive dumping.” Then the third fellow said, “I charged the same for my product as everyone else, so they convicted me of price-fixing.”
- Here’s a switch worth making: let’s treat convicted murderers like we’ve treated the unborn and let them be executed, and treat the unborn like we’ve treated convicted murderers and give them life.
- A cheap Albertan fellow heard that women drivers get better insurance rates so he phoned up his insurance company and asked, “If I identify as a safer driver, can I get this cheaper rate too?” “I’m sorry sir,” the insurance rep replied, “You can’t simply identify as a safer driver and expect us to take that seriously.” “Okay,” he said, “but what if I identify as a woman – can I get the better rate then?” To which the insurance rep replied, “Of course ma’am. What do you think we are – a bunch of transphobic bigots?”
What should a Christian think of mocking humor?
Some Christians argue that humor, and particularly biting humor, has no place in Christian dialogue. Passages will be cited such as 1 Peter 3:15 and Proverbs 15:1:
“…give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…“
“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
But this “absolutely no mocking” understanding overlooks that God Himself mocks foolishness, with one of the funnier examples occurring in Isaiah 44:14b-17:
“He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it. Then it becomes fuel for a man. He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, ‘Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!’ And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, ‘Deliver me, for you are my god!’”
During His time on Earth, Christ had a biting way with words as evidenced repeatedly in Matt. 23 in thrusts like these:
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean” (vs. 27).
“Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” (vs. 24).
Ah, you might say, it’s one thing for God to do something and quite another for us to do the same. There is truth to that, but let’s also remember that we are called to be imitators of God (Eph. 5:1, 1 Cor. 11:1, 1 Peter 2:21). And let’s remember, too, how others in the Bible have used humor or in other ways shown approval for mockery. For example, Luke evidenced a dry wit in Acts 17:21, poking fun at the Athenians:
“Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.”
Solomon wasn’t pulling any punches when he compared beautiful women without discretion as being “Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout” (Prov. 11:22). David in Ps. 52:6-7 spoke of how the “righteous will…laugh at” the foolish fellow who “trusted in his great wealth and grew strong by destroying others.” More texts could be cited, but this last one is a must – in 2 Cor 10:5 we are told to “tear down arguments, and every presumption set up against the knowledge of God.”
It takes wisdom to know when to tear down arguments and when to answer more gently, but one general (and certainly not absolute) rule is that the broader the audience, the more pointed we can be. And vice versa. So if one of our coworkers is bald, bearded, and loves wearing his summer dress even into the depths of fall, we won’t want to start a conversation by making fun of his fashion sense. But when politicians and judges and celebrities start insisting that men should be allowed to compete as women, that is an idea that must be mocked – to treat it as anything less than insane is to give it too much credit (Prov 26:4).
So as we mark the Berlin Wall’s demise some 30 years ago, we can remember that humor has been used as a weapon for a lot longer than that, by both God and man.
To learn more about the godly use of pointed humor, a great small book on the subject is Douglas Wilson’s “A Serrated Edge.”