f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: “God is a comedian playing to an audience too afraid to laugh.” Voltaire

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

“God is a comedian playing to an audience too afraid to laugh.” Voltaire

I don’t have my copy of Lamb with me at the moment so I feel a little blind as I head into this entry, but we’ll soldier through. I do know that the quote above serves as the epigraph for Section I of Moore’s book. I don’t know if the quote is meant as a defense for what’s about to come, a one sentence summary of Moore’s own philosophy of religion, or simply the theme of the book, but I like the quote.

G.K. Chesterton did some writing on the problem of pleasure that fits here. His point is that just as “the problem of pain” (how does pain exist in a world with a supposedly beneficent and all-powerful God) is a major thorn-in-the-side for Christians, so too is a pleasure a thorn-in-the-side of atheists (i.e., “why do we experience pleasure at all in things like beauty or nature if they weren’t created for us”) I guess my own feeling is that God has the best sense of humor of all of us and that our attempts sometimes to maintain the holiness of Christianity also strip it of its promised joy.
The problem is: Where’s that line in the sand? When do we step over into irreverence or mean-spiritedness? Like with most things in Christian culture our answer seems not to try and actually discuss the issue, but rather to say that its safer not to even talk about the question. Tolerance and freedom are sacrificed in the name of forced abstinence –which is its own kind of heresy.

We don’t have gobs of humor in popular Christian culture. There’s magazines like The Door and sites like Holy Observer and Landover Baptist Church ("Unsaved Unwelcome. As Jesus Commanded."). You have VeggieTales. (Which I find funny sometimes, but feel the humor often comes outside of any religious context for the most part.) You have a handful of Christian humorists (Barbara Johnson, Dave Meurer, Martha Bolton) who are writing and then a small handful practicing stand-up as well. And I'd say it's about 50-1 in terms of serious novels to light-hearted ones. (Though this trend may be changing. Flabbergasted by Ray Blackston, Rene Gutteridge's Boo!, and Paperback Writer by Stephen Bly are some recent offerings that were funny. On purpose.)

Lamb tries to pull off an interesting trick by being wholly irreverent in nearly everything but the characterization of "Josh," Jesus to you and me. While this book certainly won't make many church book club's reading lists anytime soon, the author profers much more respect for Jesus than one might have expected. There's a certain appreciation for Jesus' life and teachings and, very little that I found disrespectful. (You may have other opinions.)

If you're going to try to write for the CBA Market though, my guess is that anything less than almost complete honoring and revernce of the Bible is going to be looked at with a lot of skepticism. It may be a good way to raise a ruckus and possibly offend a lot of people (which may not be bad) but it may also get your manuscript returned with a "no thank you."

What can you joke about then? (Other than Elisha sending the bears to attack some teenagers for calling him "bald" and the sensous/goofy images of Song of Songs. ) Mostly you can set your humor amid Christian culture. Flabbergasted is set in the church singles scene and there's a few good send-ups of folks who attend for reasons other than to be uplifted. That's your best bet if you want to write CBA fiction. I think the culture as a whole needs a bit more skewering and lampooning and I'd rather it be done by people of faith than those who despise even the saving words of the Gospel. Just know that to really write sharp, incisive humor you're going to have to get rid of self-censorship and simply go for the jugular.

Lamb isn't about going for the jugular. It's not a satire; it's more of a spoof. Think Mel Brooks or the Airplane guys rather than something like Dr. Strangelove. The humor tends to be a bit broader and often on the bawdy side. There's some anachronisms thrown in for cultural laughs but most of the jokes aim a bit lower than the brain. This is mostly because a good portion of them come from the mouth of Biff, whose brain is about fifth on the list of organs that controls his actions.

Tomorrow we'll look at some other "comic" novels and break all the rules by analyzing a joke. We'll see if learning to write humor is a talent one is born with or a skill one can learn. ,