instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Monday, November 17, 2003

Humor cuts both ways

Michelle of And Then? posts on "scathing humor":
I have a friend, my spiritual godmother (not my first godmother since I didn't know her at the time), who ... would be heartbroken at the public display of scathing humor heaped upon Bishop Robinson and his homosexual partner. She would be no less distressed by the Episcopal church's actions in ordaining him to their episcopacy, but can't bear any display of uncharitableness....

Anyway, it probably says something about my lack of spiritual sensitivity that I was less offended by the humor in the Encore discussion box than Cin was or than I imagine my friend would be.
I have a habit of using irony for humorous purposes. When the humor is directed at another person, the irony easily slides into sarcasm.

St. Thomas Aquinas so revered the truth that he taught even a jocose lie -- an untruth told to amuse the listener, not to mislead him -- was sinful.

To me, that seems excessive. In fact, getting through a week without telling a jocose lie seems impossible, impractical, and a pretty silly goal.

Or at least it did. I'm beginning -- just beginning, mind you -- to wonder whether St. Thomas is closer to the truth than I am. He, after all, is the one whose daily sins were those of a five year old. (Mine are those of a two year old.)

It's true that cutting humor is often used to expose some evil. But exposing some evil doesn't justify cutting humor if cutting humor itself isn't morally right. I wonder whether we aren't simply using effective rhetorical tools, rather than good rhetorical tools.

In the absence of clear moral guidance on the use of humor, I suppose we fall back on the prudential question of whether its use in a particular circumstance makes us more Christ-like. That's a question I don't often ask myself before making a joke at another's expense (or, for that matter, at my own).