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Thursday, October 04, 2007

Laughing at Ourselves: Through a Screen Darkly 2

As part of my preparation for a youth retreat I'm speaking at this weekend in Marshall, Michigan, I've been studying a new book by Jeffrey Overstreet called Through a Screen Darkly. I've long been a reader of his blog.

Yesterday, I read his comments on a film I actually have not seen. It's called Saved! I don't want to remark on the particulars of this film since, as I said, I have not seen it. I have only read and heard about it. The reason I have not seen it is not because I necessarily object to it. I just haven't seen it yet.

If I may, the movie is basically a spoof of the Evangelical Christian subculture as exhibited at a Christian high school. I went to a small Lutheran High School myself and spent a great deal of my teen years going to Youth For Christ camps and events. So I think I probably have a grip on the premise. Being Lutheran, I wasn't ever fully steeped in all the subcultural moves the film probably highlights, but I've been around them plenty.

If you guessed that Saved! elicited a firestorm of protest from Christians, you are dead on. So, once again, I remind you that since I have not seen this particular movie, I won't add to the specific controversy. I have a feeling that I would NOT share the same righteous anger of many of my brothers and sisters about this movie, but I don't know that for sure.

Really, I want to respond to some of the insightful observations that Overstreet makes in this part of his book. He highlights the fact that many Christians consider every poke of fun at the church as a direct attack on God. If I read him correctly, he cautions Christians from being hyper-sensitive to legitimate criticisms offered in the form of satire. It is a healthy thing to know how to laugh at one's own foibles and failings. It shows humility. The wise man, after all, delights when someone corrects him.

Overstreet observes that comedy serves a useful role in society. Even silly screwball farces like
or Anchorman serve a purpose beyond mere entertainment by putting light on man's various pretensions in an entertaining way. I am reminded of the classic Saturday Night Live sketch during the presidential debates between Al Gore and George W. Bush in 2000. Both candidates were skewered by the show and it was hilarious, not because they were trying to be disrespectful, but because their exaggerated performance was rooted in truth. And it's a testimony to their talent that so many who watched the program recognized its truthfulness, including the advisors to both Gore and Bush.

Let's face it. Christians really are pretty ridiculous at times. I will applaud artists and performers who skillfully pop our balloons from time to time.

I would, however, like to add a couple of cautions. Overstreet recognizes the difference between making fun of Christians and making fun of Christ. While one is acceptable and even welcome, the other is not. Certainly not every protest from the Christians is a result of their being thin-skinned. They may not register their objections in a seemly fashion, but mocking God is a real offense. The Creator does not appreciate having His name abused.

Further, mock the hypocrisies of the Christians. But don't mock the doctrines or beliefs of the Christians. This is a fine line to distinguish at times because so much of what it mock-able in us are the eccentric extremes or deviations we make to the historic creeds of God's people. A bit of fun poking at the ways we express ourselves is at times fitting, but the underlying truths are sacred realities that impart life. Such things deserve a foundation of fear and trembling.

Satire can serve a beneficial function, but it can also be taken too far. I realize that this is subjective. What is "too far" to you, may be appropriately strong to me, but mean-spiritedness does little to advance understanding. It is in this respect, that I find fault with much of what Hollywood produces. While there are notable exceptions, it is generally true that Christians are negatively portrayed in the entertainment media. Are all Christians hypocritical all the time? Are all clergy pedophiles, greedy, insane or dimwitted? And why be one-sided? I don't see many shows or films that ridicule secularism.

I can accept fair critiques that demonstrate the goofs of the Church. But without balance, such comedy strengthens stereotypes. And stereotyping undermines understanding. It effectively kills the thought process.

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Doorman-Priest said...

Yes, we really do have to lighten up on jibes at Christianity and
a) not take everything personally
b) recognise that some battles are worth fighting and others not and
c)that some of the jibes are justified.

Too many Christians have had a sense of humour bypass. Some of the best laughs I have had have been at the expense of the church. I think that's healthy.


Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...


I think your three points are very well considered.


Elijah the Tishbite said...

I've seen "Saved!" I think it's brilliant. Perhaps those who took offense did not want to see themselves in the characters.


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