Now I realise the zeitgeist of the Mohammed Cartoon Controversy was a couple of weeks ago now. However, there seems to be a lot of meat left on this particular bone, with bloggers all over the world breaking their promises to talk about something else almost as soon as they are made.
I have just finished reading The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. Set in a monastery in the Thirteenth Century, one of the monks hides a book by Aristotle on comedy. He believes that comedy and laughter will undermine Christianity:
“Laughter, for a few moments, distracts the villein from fear. But law is imposed by fear, whose true name is fear of God… [Aristotle’s] book, considering comedy a wondrous medicine, with its satire and mime, which would produce the purification of the passions through the enactment of defect, fault, weakness – would induce false scholars to try and redeem the lofty with a diabolical reversal: through the acceptance of the base. This book could prompt tyhe idea that man can wish to have on earth … the abundance of the land of Cockaigne [a land of easy living]”
By laughing and enjoying the here and now, we might lose our fear of God and suppose that we can find happiness not in heaven, but on earth. Jorge the monk is correct: Laughter is indeed a threat to a religion, especially one which depends on a fear of the afterlife for its power.
While the Abrahamic scriptures contain many lofty ideas on ethics and how we should live our life, they are short on wit. True, the Old Testament does declare “Eat, drink and be merry,” but even when Jesus spikes the water with wine at the teetotal wedding at Cana (John 2:9), he does so earnestly. I suppose that “suffer the little children who come unto me” (Luke 18:16) could be delivered with a smirk, and the passage about paying tax to Caesar (Matthew 22:21) shows a quick mind… but there is no irony to be found, and if the Prophets and Messiahs turn criticism on themselves at all, it is through po-faced self-flagellation, rather than self-depreciation of someone who appreciates the funny side of humanity.
When it comes to discussing their faith, true believers are totally without humour. Not for them the chuckle as they consider some contradiction in their position. If dogma is the inability to imagine how you might be wrong, then it is also the inability to imagine how others might consider you funny. Are there any Christians who laugh at Jerry Springer: The Opera? It it possible that we could create a cartoon of Mohammed that muslims would laugh at? If you can only see one side of an issue, then you cannot see the funny side.
The real battle is not over what we say or how we say it, but about how people react when they hear it. A world in which everyone is free to offend does not interest me. I would rather a world in which criticism does not cause offence… but laughter instead.