June 10, 2006

The Use of Satire


1. a. A literary work in which human vice or folly is attacked through irony, derision, or wit.
b. The branch of literature constituting such works. See Synonyms at caricature.
2. Irony, sarcasm, or caustic wit used to attack or expose folly, vice, or stupidity.
{from Dictionary.com}

There are many people who think that satire is unfitting for Christian use. Perhaps that is because satire is so often used against us (the good folks at the Landover Baptist website, for example) that we don't want to use it ourselves. But when you've got such Christian heavy-hitters as G. K. Chesterton and C. S. Lewis doing satire, it's hard to ignore the thought that humor, especially scathing humor, is very useful in getting a point across.

A month or so ago, the Reformation21 blog had several posts on just this topic. Of course, the root of the matter is Carl Trueman's posts, which are often a bit satirical, or are at the very least parodies. I particularly appreciated this wuote (from May 5th):

After all, sin is absurd; sinful human pretension is absurd; and while it is indeed tragic, it is also, in its pompous claims for itself, ridiculous in the true sense of the word.
Phillip Ryken also notes in that blog that there are many times when satire or sarcasm are the methods used by the Old Testament prophets (in a post that promises an ESV Literary Bible, which I am eagerly awaiting).

We have to be careful how satire and sarcasm are used. We seem to live in a world of Ford Prefects, who cannot understand sarcasm unless they are really paying close attention and looking for it. People may miss our point alltogether if we're not careful. But without sarcasm and satire, we would be without passages like this, when Paul is lamenting those Judaizers who want to require new Christians to be circumcised:

Galatians 5:12-15 (ESV)
12 I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!

13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." 15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.

But what really brought this topic back to my attention was Doug Wilson's post today, concerning satire and sarcasm in Christian discussion. And HE says
As we read through Scriptures carefully, without a pietistic set of blinders, we find that satire, mocking, godly taunting are routine weapons of choice whenever God's people confront idolatry.
I like satire. I have a warped enough sense of humor that I really enjoy reading satire, whether it's Swift's "A Modest Proposal" or C. S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters, or even just enjoying the latest edition of The Sacred Sandwich or Lark News. I'm not skilled enough to wield this weapon properly, unfortunately, though it doesn't keep me from trying. It's my hope that what we cannot correct by using more direct means (vast petition drives, boycotts, occasionally preaching and teaching) we might be able to address and correct through humor -- especially satire. By showing people how ridiculous they are acting, we can show them that they need to change.

And change is a good thing. Really.

Posted by: Warren Kelly at 01:09 PM | No Comments | Add Comment
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