The role of ridicule in religious rhetoric

This cartoon was posted earlier today on the First Thoughts blog, but it was subsequently removed after a couple of commenters questioned the appropriateness of lampooning a theologian like this. I’m curious what you think. Take a look.

The cartoon was taken down both because of the two comments that it received and because the poster felt that it “may have been more mean than satirical.” Now, I can understand the desire to protect theological discourse from degenerating into pure meanness and descending into ad hominem attack. And, satire is a tool that should be wielded very carefully. As I discussed in my review of Imaginary Jesus, you need to be careful not to cross the line.

Nonetheless,  removing a cartoon like this still annoys me. Does theology always have to be so serious? Personally, I like to make fun of people (as long as they don’t do it back to me, that makes me sad). Like any good caricature, it can be a very effective way of highlighting what you think are the most distinctive characteristics (i.e. flaws) of the person/position you’re trying to describe.

What do you think? Am I off here? Do we need to be more careful in using satire and such things in our religious discourse? Or, is there a legitimate role for this kind of rhetoric?

About Marc Cortez

Theology Prof and Dean at Western Seminary, husband, father, & blogger, who loves theology, church history, ministry, pop culture, books, and life in general.

Posted on May 26, 2010, in Humor, Theology and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. In this particular instance, it is probably not a good caricature (e.g. Kung isn’t a heretic according to Rome, only a big-mouth who has been censured). What it boils down to saying is “God is on our side, Hans, not yours.” And its not clever (unless the fact that they are borrowing a cheesy artifact from American Evangelicalism (“Footprints”) to identify Kung as some kind of tacky, low-church Protestant. But that would be too subtle for something like this that in every other way is about as subtle as a chainsaw.


    • Yah, I agree that this particular caricature was not very well done. Although I will say that I thought the end was humorous. It was more the idea that some like this had to be taken down rather than discussed that annoyed me.

  2. Marc, I agree that there is a legitimate role for satire and a good sense of humor in theology. The problem is that the mark is so subjective. What is fun gesturing to one individual is a vicious attack to another. I personally think I have a responsibility to make fun of people who take themselves to seriously (of course not you since I don’t want to make you sad), but I see this as a personal ministry of exhortation.

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