instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Friday, February 17, 2006

Divine comedy

In the early 1950s, when the TV ratings for Bishop Fulton Sheen's Life is Worth Living were beating his own show, Milton Berle is said to have explained it this way: "He has better writers." Of course, he didn't mean he had better comedy writers... but maybe he could have.

Here's an interesting reflection on the relationship between humor and faith Donald Casadonte sent me:
Faith is an assent to truths in possible worlds which we cannot see, which do not seem possible to the naked eye, but cannot be dismissed because of the authority of the one making the claim (God). Thus, an atheist can make jokes about death in which death is all there is, but for the Christian, there is a real heaven, even though we cannot see it. Thus, we too, have restrictions on what we see to be funny.

If you remember that the purpose of a joke is to resolve an apparent contradiction by projecting the answer into another possible world, then the possible worlds which Christians have access to, but non-Christians do not, forms the deposit of Faith. These other realizable possible worlds are given access to us at Baptism. Thus, Christians have access to "ways out" which non-Christians do not.

Who gives us these accesses, these permissions to enter: Jesus, by his death and Resurrection. When he said, "In the world you will have troubles, but BE OF GOOD CHEER, I have overcome the world," Jesus was letting us in on the joke. More than that, he was telling us that he was the head writer. The situation may be unbearable, but the way out has already been provided for and so, a Christian can always look forward to Heaven and see the resolution to his problems which only Jesus can provide.

This is why Jesus gives his followers permission to laugh at hopeless situations. Jesus is the Way and has given us that hope that the apparent contradiction is, after all, not so real as the world would have us believe because this is not the real world, after all. That "imaginary" heaven of the pagans or atheists is the real one.

So, just as humor involves moving between a real and an imaginary world, just so, the Christian moves also between a real and an imaginary world, except, "this" vale of tears, the atheist's real world is, in fact, the imaginary, transient one. And Jesus says to every Christian at Baptism, "Surprise". This is why Christians should be of good cheer.

The first words he said to the disciples on Easter was, "Shalom." Peace is the tranquility that flows from God's right order (to paraphrase Augustine). Jesus said, "Peace," meaning, "Don't worry any longer, it is finished -- the right order has been re-established." The apparent reality of Adam's post-sin world has been relegated to the imaginary nightmare it was always meant to be. The joke is on the Devil.

Thus, in a sense, Jesus is the Divine Comedian and we Christians are his Court Jesters!