So What If The Tonightly Sketch Mocked Christianity
It wasn’t a skit about religion, it was a skit about hypocrisy. Amen
People are ridiculous. We say ridiculous things. We do ridiculous things. We believe ridiculous things.
One of the defining characteristics of the human race compared to other animals is that we are capable of recognising what absurd creatures we are, and one of the best things about humans is that we use our ridiculousness to make each other laugh.
Comedy is just one of the ways in which we take note of the essential silliness of our fellow humans, and personally I think it’s one of the least destructive ones. Others may disagree, but if you’re hoping that comedy can be eradicated, that people can be prevented from laughing at each other, you are in for a very disappointing life.
And speaking of disappointing lives, let’s talk about the staff of The Daily Telegraph. See what I did there? That’s what I’m talking about -- laughing at ridiculous people. Fun, isn’t it? The Tele yesterday printed a front page that, if a page could have a mouth, would’ve been frothing at it.
The reason: the ABC program Tonightly aired a sketch in which two actors portraying joyous “Christian rock” singers performed a song about how Christian it is to lock up and torture refugees. The premise here is simple: our new prime minister Scott Morrison has openly declared his devout Christian faith, as embodied by one of the happier and clappier denominations.
He has also frequently displayed his enthusiasm for what one could, if one wanted to be especially generous to the government, call our country’s startlingly brutal treatment of asylum seekers. Some have observed that the principles of love and compassion espoused by the average Christian church, and the principles of vicious punishment meted out to innocent people espoused by the Australian government, are somewhat contradictory. This contradiction forms the basis of the joke.
That’s important to note: if you don’t think there’s a conflict between Christian doctrine and Australia’s refugee policy, you wouldn’t get the joke. You’d just nod along with the catchy tune and say, “why yes, Jesus WOULD want us to say f*** off we’re full, that’s quite correct”. To get the joke, you have to get the contradiction.
The Daily Telegraph got the joke. And they hated it.
They raged against the tax-funded ratbags of the ABC “mocking the faith” of the nation’s leader. The good folk of News Corp found it utterly despicable that these sacrilegious little parasites would make disrespectful jokes about a man’s most deeply-held religious beliefs.
Obviously, the skit did not actually mock Christianity: it mocked the discrepancy between a man’s publicly-proclaimed faith and his actions. It wasn’t a skit about religion, it was a skit about hypocrisy.
But even if it wasn’t -- even if the sketch was a full-blown attack on Christianity itself, filled with savage zingers about biblical contradictions, religious intolerance and the impossibility of miracles -- so what?
Even if the critics of the song accurately described it, and even if those critics weren’t from a media organisation that has frequently in the past published articles and cartoons mocking and attacking women, LGBT people, Aboriginal Australians, and Muslims, among others… even if that were true, what of it?
There are many theories advanced as to what the “purpose” of comedy is. But really, comedy has just one purpose: to make people laugh. Anything else is a bonus. Comedy makes us laugh, and laughing makes us feel good, and that’s enough.
And as noted above, what makes us laugh most is how ridiculous we all are. What that means is, people make jokes about other people. What they say, what they do, and what they believe. And that’s a good thing, because our capacity for finding humour in our own absurdity is one of the greatest things about our species.
So, what if Tonightly had made fun of Christianity -- which, to remind you, they didn’t? What if they’d sung a song along the lines of Tim Minchin’s “The Good Book”-- a genuinely vitriolic assault on Christianity’s most sacred text, that also happens to be very funny?
If they had, and if any Christians -- or any tabloid newspapers -- objected, to them I would say, suck it up. Do religious people really think they have a right to never have anyone make fun of their beliefs? For that matter, do people think they have a right to be immune from mockery of any of their beliefs, religious or otherwise?
Of course, that’s exactly what people DO think, but the rest of us need not indulge them in their peculiar sensitivities. In fact, we can help them build resilience by not humouring them when they whine that the nasty comedians are being rude to them.
Comedy exists because people noticed that people are ridiculous. Life is better because comedy exists. Life is better because we have people who are willing to make jokes when they think someone is being ridiculous.
If the price of that is a few snowflakes at the Tele putting on a pouty face over a skit every now and then, that is very much a price I’m willing to pay. It’s time to harden up, comedy-haters, because we do not plan to stop joking any time soon.