Should Christians ever openly mock the enemies of God?
Should Christians ever publicly ridicule anti-Christian concepts, causes, and worldviews?
Even when those concepts, causes, and worldviews are espoused by professing Christians?
If so, how?
What is appropriate?
When is it appropriate?
And why is it appropriate when it is appropriate?
What forms of public mockery and ridicule are honoring to God, profitable to His people, and helpful for the expansion of His Kingdom?
These are important questions that we as Christians have to answer biblically if we are to ever have any hope of taking vast swaths of territory currently occupied by the enemies of Christ (usually after having been handed said territory without much, if any, of a fight from professing Christians). Of particular interest here will be the realm of humor, with specific focus on satire.
Questions regarding the nature and profitability of satire seem timely in the wake of The Babylon Bee‘s recent launch and rocket-like rise into the stratosphere of Internet reach and influence. That already culture-shaping, yet still new-car-smell saturated Christian satire site inspired the launch of our own The End Times site, which has already in just three months’ time gone on to connect with people on a scale many times over that which we’ve accomplished here at our primary (and non-satirical) Fire Breathing Christian blog.
Christian satire has become “a thing” – or at least much more of a thing than it was a short while back – and in that context it seems wise to take a serious, sober look at the particulars of satire from a Christian worldview perspective.
Before diving into deeper points on the subject, it’s important to clarify a few basics:
- First off, while the hope here is to get into some detail on the subject of satire and how it’s properly practiced from a Christian worldview perspective, this is in no way intended to be a comprehensive study of the subject. All readers are encouraged to consider this subject further first by the perfect light of the Word of God, and also through any other studies or presentations on the subject of satire offered from a Scripture-centered Christian perspective.
- Secondly, though one goal of this article is to better explain both how and (more importantly) why we’re doing things the way we’re doing them at our recently launched satire site, The End Times, this article should in no way be taken to convey the notion that we believe ourselves to have a perfect understanding of satire (or anything else, for that matter). We don’t. We’re works in progress just like everyone else and are hoping, through ongoing contemplation of things like satire from a Christian worldview perspective, to constantly improve our own understanding and application of these things.
The point of going into some detail explaining how we perceive (and therefore how we pursue) the nature, value and potential beauty of satirical expression is to make plain as best we’re able why we believe that satire as a vehicle for communicating truth is both valid and vital – valid in that it is a biblically sound form of expression (despite the fact that, like every other good thing given us by God, it is often warped and perverted by men) and vital in that it is a realm that must be taken captive to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5) and conquered in accordance with the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20).
.As Christians commissioned, commanded and equipped by Christ to do these things, we simply do not have the option of ignoring, dismissing, or preemptively surrendering the realm of satire to enemies of the King and His Kingdom.
Our goal here is to promote an understanding of satire that is vigorously biblical, so that we as Christians might approach, consume, and produce satire not because it may be “technically allowable” or something that we can “squeak by under the wire” of God’s Law, but rather to understand and pursue satire in a confident, clearly Christ-glorifying manner that inherently honors His name, edifies His people, and advances His Kingdom.
- Finally, even regarding what many readers may generally agree to be relevant citations from Scripture and historical examples from church history, serious-minded and sincere followers of Christ can and very likely will come to very different understandings as to what the passages and examples in question actually mean with regard to the subject of satire. Satire is a particularly tricky (and therefore potentially dangerous) thing to handle. Yet here we are: Placed by God in His creation – a creation that includes humor, satire, and sarcasm – and charged by Him to take everything in it captive to Him, all by His grace and all for His glory.
I say all of that to say this: We must be gracious and loving to those with whom we disagree…even though biblical concepts of graciousness and loving are far more difficult to understand and apply than we would like to believe.
That said, it’s very important to note that we live in a culture defined by dangerously warped standards of love and grace. Biblical love for one another includes – out of love for Christ and then love for one another – honoring the command to confront, exhort, correct, rebuke, and actively engage in “iron sharpening iron” debates with one another with “great patience and careful instruction”. (See: Proverbs 27:17; 2 Timothy 4:2; and 2 Timothy 3:16.)
As Christians, we are to be marked by a love for one another (see: John 13:34-35) that appreciates and embraces the beauty and importance of these things, rather than sweeping them all away in order to accommodate the world’s wispy, wimpy counterfeit version of love.
True love encourages growth through the (often very hard and challenging) biblical concepts of correction, rebuke, and debate mentioned above. We will not grow to depth and maturity as people, families, communities or cultures until and unless we embrace the lovingly provided and oft repeated biblical commands to pursue these things.
While genuine, Spirit-filled Christian Brothers and Sisters may disagree significantly on exactly what all of this means in detail and therefore what makes for good and proper Christian satire, we should all agree that satire is something that we are to strive to better understand so that we might more effectively conform our understanding of it to the nature of God as revealed in His Word.
To that end, let’s consider some core concepts that should fundamentally shape a Christian approach to satire:
1. We are to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. (For reference points on this, please consider: Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:30; and Luke 10:27.) This comprehensive command is a theme of Scripture. With that understood, satire is naturally something that we can and must strive to rightly understand (by God’s grace through His Spirit and in light of His Word)
2. We are to love our neighbor as our self. (See: Mark 12:31 and Matthew 22:39.) This selfless, other-serving perspective must inform and define our pursuit of all things, particularly easily mishandled concepts like satire. If we truly love our neighbor, we will appreciate the warnings, corrections, and rebukes that can be effectively communicated through satire in ways that other literary forms are generally less able to effectively convey in certain contexts. This is one reason why God has modeled things like satire for us in His Word.
3. We are to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. (See: Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31.) In concert with the above point regarding loving our neighbor as our self, any sort of correction or rebuke offered or heralded through satire must be the sort of correction or rebuke that we would have others confront us with if we were in a similar position to the object of our satire.
4. We must not cause one another to stumble. (See: 1 Corinthians 8:13 and Romans 14:13-23.) One important area of consideration where the use of satire is concerned in light of this principle is our responsibility not to contribute – either intentionally or unconsciously through negligence – to the stumbling of Brother or Sister in Christ. We are to always be mindful and sensitive to the needs and vulnerabilities of weaker Brothers and Sisters (those less mature in the faith).
That said, the mere fact that a “weaker Brother” might misunderstand or misapply satire is in no way an inherently sound or compelling argument against the use of satire.
Frequently, people use the “stumbling weaker brother” argument (or, more generically put, the argument that since people often can’t handle a thing, the thing in question ought to be banned) as a basis for completely avoiding (and even legislating against) perfectly enjoyable and profitable (though also easily abused) items such as alcohol and firearms. Rather than spending a lot of time chasing this rabbit, let’s be simple and clear: This is an unlawful approach to law and legality. It is an abuse of power. It is an abuse of law. And it is an abuse of power and law that inherently inhibits the growth and maturity of the people it claims to be protecting.
Put another way, running away from the things that frighten or intimidate us – be they concepts like humor and satire, or physical items like guns and beer – rather than taking them captive and using them responsibly as Christ has commanded and equipped His people to do through His Gospel-fueled Great Commission, is always a recipe for disaster.
It never works.
Are there contexts, seasons, and situations in which it is wise to personally refuse to partake of or dwell in close proximity to certain things, be they material or immaterial, due to specific vulnerabilities or weaknesses that have not yet been sufficiently addressed through the sanctifying work of Christ? Absolutely.
But those contexts and situations never require a broader, sweeping public abandonment of the otherwise perfectly legitimate thing in question (beer, guns, humor, satire, etc.).
The command that we not cause a weaker Brother to stumble requires many things of us, such as making reasonable (but not universal, society-wide) accommodation for their weaknesses. This is loving. This is good. This necessary.
But this is not a basis upon which each of us must entirely eliminate or avoid the concept or item causing (or potentially causing) any Brother anywhere to stumble.
To consistently apply the principle of item/concept avoidance in such a manner would almost instantly reduce all of Christian civilization to the level of the weakest Brother or Sister on any particular issue. We would end up very quickly avoiding engagement with or use of virtually every (even moderately) challenging concept or material thing in creation.
This is approach is a sure recipe for rapid cultural disintegration and the ongoing avoidance of maturity, depth, character, and mastery of the things we have been called and equipped by our Master to master.
…and that approach pretty much defines the culture in which we live, doesn’t it?
And lest there be any confusion, our “Christian subculture” definitely fits easily into that category as well.
Truth be told, it’s the professing Christian subculture that has led the rest of the culture to this sad condition…by running away from the very things we’ve been called and equipped to master.
5. We must have an accurate understanding of the actual nature and purpose of satire. To that end, a working definition of satire is necessary.
Here’s a definition compiled from various sources with a few clarifying tweaks intended to accurately convey the objective meaning of satire from an explicitly Christian worldview perspective:
Satire is a genre of literature in which vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, corporations, government or society itself, into improvement. Although satire is usually meant to be humorous, its greater purpose is often constructive social criticism, using wit to draw attention to both particular and wider issues in society.
A common feature of satire is strong irony or sarcasm, but parody, exaggeration, juxtaposition, comparison, and analogy are all frequently used in satirical speech and writing. This “militant” irony or sarcasm often professes to approve of (or at least accept as natural) the very things the satirist wishes to attack.
Please consider this definition as a basis for defining the term “satire” as it is used throughout this article and applied at The End Times.
With those core concepts in place, let’s make note of a couple of key historical reference points where Christian satire is concerned:
1. Satire (and even sarcasm) are prominently and purposefully used by God in Scripture. From biblical accounts of Elijah mocking the prophets of Baal and Jonah being swallowed by a giant fish to the Apostle Paul’s polemics and God’s direct dress-down of Job, core attributes of satire and sarcasm are frequently and quite clearly on perfect, purposeful display in Scripture.
Satire is prominently, purposefully and perfectly used by God in His Word. That last aspect – perfect application – is something that we are given in biblical examples as a means by which we are to constantly improve our understanding (and therefore our application) of satire. That said, it’s important to note and remember that we are to be in a constant state of personal reformation in all areas of life as we learn and grow by the grace of God and the light of His Word. The fact that God perfectly uses satire (or anything else) should never be taken to mean that we are presently without need of further testing and reformation of our understanding or use of satire (or anything else).
We must be in a perpetually reforming state of mind in all things, always seeking to test and improve ourselves by the light of God’s Word…including that Word’s use of satire.
So it is that the many examples of sarcasm and satire used in Scripture can rightly and profitably be viewed A) as confirming the value and even the beauty of satire as a form of communication, and B) as God-given examples through which we are to constantly hone, polish, refine, and reform our appreciation, consumption, and production of satire.
This Scripture-based theme of perpetual reformation leads us quite nicely into the next point of consideration…
2. Satire played a significant role in the Reformation. Luther and other leaders of the Protestant Reformation made regular use of very pointed, hard, and challenging expressions of satire.
Of particular value in our consideration would seem to be Luther’s (and others’) use of satirical cartoons. These cartoons were of particular value because Luther and the reformers were aiming to reach a population of largely illiterate non-readers. In an effort to communicate important points, they used satirical cartoons to convey certain points that they believed were of great importance.
This historical fact is one of several examples of proven, revered, and quite courageous Christian leaders engaging the culture on its level in order to advance the Kingdom of God.
While long, thoughtful articles or books on the subject of satire from a Christian worldview perspective, complete with mountains of footnotes and a plethora of appropriate Bible citations, may well be an excellent, God-glorifying, and Christian-edifying tool, the simple fact is that most people – including most professing Christians in America and the West these days – have no interest in such a thing. They won’t read it. They don’t want it.
They will, however, read things like satire. And while we shouldn’t be in the business of diving into the gutter out of a warped “ends justify the means” or unbiblical “seeker sensitive” approach to reaching the culture on the culture’s terms, we should be willing (and eager, even) to engage the culture with biblical truth as conveyed by the means of communication that the culture actually uses.
This is not to be confused with watering down truth so that God-haters will find it more appealing. The concept of biblical satire is rather aimed at communicating biblical truths – which are often inherently unpopular, convicting and unmarketable to unbelievers – in a manner that effectively inspired their interaction. Biblical satire plants seeds of truth much more effectively than other forms of communication given us by God to use in advancing His Kingdom. That fact should make us thankful and eager to use what He has given us, regardless of how profoundly the tool of satire may have been perverted by others.
We’re to reconcile all things to Christ, including the very tools that He has given us to reconcile ever-bigger things. Satire is one significant tool that He’s provided for the shaping and eventual conquering of culture and civilization.
Reformation is “a thing”. A real thing. A central thing. A Great Commission thing.
The reformers understood this and acted accordingly.
Of course, Luther, the reformers, and other church leaders, however impressive and inspiring they may be, are not our ultimate standard for anything, including a proper understanding of satire.
That position belongs to Scripture alone…which is why must strive to start and center everything there.
With these Scripture and church history reference points noted, let’s consider some particular questions that often arise in the wake of the sort of satirical presentations made at The Babylon Bee, The End Times, and other Christian satire sites:
1. Is the use of real people and/or real organizations in satire appropriate?
The use of well known and very real personalities, organizations and situations as the foundation for a satirical piece is commonplace. While we always must be careful to test our motives for choosing subjects and the manner in which we address them, there is nothing in Scripture that inherently precludes this common approach to satirical writing from being used in a God-glorifying, Christian-edifying, Kingdom-building way.
2. Is the attribution of fictional quotes to real people appropriate?
Hand in glove with the previous subject, it is common in satire to attribute fictional words and/or actions to very real people or organizations for the purpose of exposing the absurdity of a particular worldview or situation. In the case of Christian satire, this approach is usually undertaken to expose the insanity and consequences of anti-Christian worldviews.
Again: While we must always be very careful to prayerfully test our motives for the manner in which we represent individuals and subjects, particularly when we are attributing words to them and especially where the object of the satire in question claims to be a Christian, there is nothing in Scripture that inherently precludes this aspect of satirical writing from being used in a proper, Christ-honoring, and productive way.
3. Does the fact that satire is “not true” in the sense that it is fictional render it an unacceptable vehicle for conveying truth about very real (non-fictional) people and situations, often by name?
No. Of course not. Scripture itself and Christ Himself routinely use fiction-based literary forms to convey very real and very important truths.
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Now let’s consider two great benefits that flow from the proper understanding and use of Satire.
Proper interaction with satire – in both Christian and non-Christian forms – hones our discernment as Christians. By heeding the crystal clear biblical command to “test all things” (including written articles of any kind) to see what is true, we are called and equipped to become a reliable filter through which both satire and falsehood (and sometimes both at the same time) are identified. This discernment enables us to serve others as reliable identifiers of satire who will not uncritically assume a satirical piece to be a non-fiction sort of truth and share it as such, but will rather recognize the satire in question as satire and treat it accordingly.
In the context of sound (Christian worldview based) satire, this means that while we may well craft, share, and enjoy a satirical piece, we of all people should not be about the business of either lazily (through lack of maturity and discernment) or purposefully presenting it as non-fiction truth (by actively and deceptively concealing the satirical nature of an item).
Apathy toward discernment and pervasive laziness in the professing Christian subculture are two major causes for many calls made by professing Christians to abandon or avoid satire. This sad situation was the basis for a particular post at The End Times aimed at confronting those who would ridicule or call for the abandonment of the realm of satire to the enemies of God. (Click here to read The End Times article in question: Mob Of Angry, Embarrassed Christians Demand End To All Satire That They Cannot Recognize As Satire.)
That post was far longer and more serious (“preachy”, even) in tone than anything else we’ve done at The End Times, but, having witnessed some disconcerting examples of immaturity, laziness, and lack of discernment in response to posts from The Babylon Bee as well as our own site, we thought it might be helpful to address the subject not only in an article like the one you’re reading now, but also via satire.
Which leads us neatly into the subject of…
Far from being a simple, base, weak form of expression limited to shallow, entry-level illumination at best, satire can be used to productively explore many of the deepest subjects. Though most (but not all) Christian satire tends to stay in the sallow end of the pool at best, focusing on the “elementary things of Christ” (Hebrews 6:1) like TULIP, Calvinistic soteriology, the nature of man, sin, etc., while studiously avoiding the deeper truths that shape life, culture, and civilization, since those heavier things are far less marketable, with The End Times we’re aiming to not only offer up the warm, fluffy, funny stuff that is a relatively “easy sell”, but we also strive to dive deep into meatier things in a pointed, properly confrontational and challenging manner in accordance with our understanding of the Great Commission.
Satire is one of many excellent tools that God has given us to address everything from American child sacrifice (abortion) and American statism (the worship of America itself) to the flagrantly satanic foundations of American public schools and tragi-comedic awfulness of American evangelical leadership.
These are all things we hope to tackle satirically in a manner that is productive, profitable, and, above all else, glorifying to God…which is one of the many reasons why the world (and sadly, many confused Christians) are so opposed to the subjugation of satire to Christ and the use of satire by His people.
Of course, and as we mentioned at the outset, perceptions and understandings of everything shared in this article will vary, sometimes widely, among true, Spirit-filled Brothers and Sisters in Christ.
My hope in sharing these thoughts is to in some small way help to encourage and equip the Brothers and Sisters that I love (even in the midst of disagreement) to more profitably contemplate the concept of satire from a Christian worldview perspective, and to better understand how and why we are doing what we’re doing at The End Times.
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