Sunday, April 15, 2012

Why Atheists Have Trouble Laughing

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ may [on the surface] seem to have nothing to do with laughter, but a closer examination reveals otherwise. The Good News of Jesus Christ is perhaps the simplest and most satisfying religious formulation in all of history. Yet if we were to ask any Christian today why that is, they probably couldn't tell us. Sure, they could stammer out something about "Jesus dying on the cross for our sins", but beyond that they would be unable to say much more. Presumption may very well be at the heart of this dearth of imagination. In any case, the Good News of Jesus Christ is simply this; that every human being as a consequence of sin is/was destined for eternal death, but by some miracle of grace, we are able to rise out of the grave and share bodily in the unending joy of the Holy Trinity. Even if this is white noise to most, it can hardly be for the man who is on his death bed, for he, more than anyone else, knows the fear of everlasting corruption.

It is this basic idea that provides the whole basis for unadulterated laughter. Hence, the cornerstone of all humor comes down to this seemingly incidental dogma. The fact that men can go to heaven means that genuine laughter is possible. If a man believes that he will live forever, and that no matter what happens in this life nothing can change that- then there is really nothing that can prevent him from laughing at anything. A prime example of this can be seen in how the Church celebrates certain details about Christ and the saints that some may deem morbid (I personally call it the dark humor of the Church). For example, who would even think to call the day that God died, "good", or who would wear a miniature replica of an instrument of torture around their neck and then call it a sign of hope. Or better still, who would take the manner of martyrdom endured by someone and create a kind of iconography out of it (e.g. Lucy presenting her eyeballs on a silver platter, Bartholomew with with his skin, or making St. Lawrence the patron saint of cooking because of his famous request while he was being burned at the stake)? There is no middle ground here- either the Church is demented in her attitude towards death, or she sees something that is less apparent to the rest of us. The point is it is very difficult to laugh at anything if you do not believe that life has any meaning. It is rather the recipe for despair. But if you believe that even death cannot separate you from God, and that even suffering has meaning, then it is possible to laugh at a funeral (though I do not necessarily recommend that). Such laughter may be bittersweet, but as the word itself suggests, bitterness is not the end of the story.

Some may declare that they indeed have witnessed this rare species of unbeliever who has either told a gut-buster, or busted a gut laughing. I would not try to deny the existence of such a creature for several reasons. First, whether one is an atheist or a Hindu, they do not cease to be a human being because they do not believe in Jesus Christ. Consequently, it is always possible that one might succumb to said vulnerability even if they don't believe in everlasting life. While one is alive there is always that whiff of hope (without which it is impossible to laugh), not to mention the natural lightness that comes with living itself. Hell is the only place without humor, for its inhabitants refuse humor's key ingredient, namely God's presence. Secondly, I do not deny that there is a kind of humor that is rather common among non-believers, such as Bill Maher, Richard Dawkins, and other celebrity atheists. What I would disagree with is the idea of labeling it as humor in the deepest sense of the word. Yes, it is true that such men, as G.K. Chesterton once pointed out, can sneer, but they can hardly laugh. Indeed, if you observe their laughter, there is always that hint of sourness and cynicism about it (not a smile but a smirk). What is missing is all that is truly gratifying and freeing about laughter. The punch-lines directed towards Christians by atheists may amuse in a very narrow sense, but how can they bring ultimate satisfaction when all they have really done is satisfied the ego of the joke-teller himself? What is the pay-off for successfully convincing everyone through the vehicle of humor that life is meaningless? Or as Stephen Colbert once put it while discussing Christopher Hitchins book on Mother Theresa; 'Hurray, I won, I proved that my life has no meaning, yeah'! It is for this same reason that one can hardly be joyful when marching in the name of abortion.

At this stage, some are likely to point out that many Christians (as well as their coreligionists) are anything but a barrel of laughs. To this I would simply reply, "Tell me their view regarding God and salvation and I can probably tell you why". If you believe, as do some Hindus, that man is destined to go through an endless cycle of rebirths, then I would say it is not difficult to see why Hindus lack a certain comedic flair. Or if you believe that God is a cold monarch whose primary function it is to scrupulously adjudicate and tally all of our sins and transgressions, then I do not think it is difficult to imagine why such a person might be as stiff and un-humorous as a sneering atheist. What is missing from every one of these philosophies is the conviction that because God has saved us from death, we need not be so grave. Indeed, because as Christians we realize that God has loved us to the point of foolishness, we feel that it is only just that we should return the favor.


  1. You should have said Saint Lawrence was cooked "like" a steak, he was grilled.

  2. SO,death,oh death where is thy sting?Gods gracious gift in joyous srains doth sing-eternal life to Thy laughing children bring.Love,Dad

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