Sunday, September 9, 2012

Human Nature, Humor, and God

I could assume that God has absolutely no sense of humor, and frowns on merrymaking of any sort. As for getting more drinks when a wedding party runs dry? Horrors! (John 2:1-10)

Then there's Matthew 7:3 and Acts 9:11. Those verses have, I'm confident, deep spiritual significance. They also, I strongly suspect, had a funny angle that's still there for folks who are willing to admit my Lord's humanity. That's almost another topic.

I do not think that God gave humanity a sense of humor - and now intends to punish us severely for having a sense of humor. That just doesn't make sense. Not to me, anyway.

Still, I'm just "some guy with a blog," with no more teaching authority than any other Catholic layman. (And Now, for Something Completely Different: Catholics and Humor)

Phyllis Diller and - Dignity?

I've been meaning to write about the funny side of faith for a while now. The death of Phyllis Diller last month helped get this post started.

'Phyllis who?' I remember Phyllis Diller: but I also grew up in America; and remember the Apollo 11 landing, the first Earth Day, and the days when transistors were the latest cutting-edge technology.

I found short 'Phillis Diller' clips, "Embedding disabled by request." They're a pretty good introduction to her style of comedy.

I think they're funny, but your experience may vary. Also, the language and content of some jokes was typical of '70s America. You have been warned:
Phyllis Diller's comedy routines didn't exude dignity, but I think she helped establish dignity for women in America. That's going to take a bit of explaining.

First, saying that someone has "dignity" isn't the same as saying that the person is a stuffed shirt:
  • Stuffed shirt
    • A bore who is extremely
      • Formal
      • Pompous
      • Old-fashioned
      (Princeton's WordNet)
  • Dignity
    1. The quality of being worthy of
      • Esteem
      • Or respect
    2. Formality in
      • Bearing
      • Appearance
    3. High office or rank or station
      (Princeton's WordNet)
Stuffed shirts have "dignity," in the "formality in bearing and appearance" sense. They also, according to the Catholic Church, have the dignity that comes from being human: "the quality of being worthy of esteem or respect." (Princeton's WordNet)

I'm quite sure that when the Church talks about "dignity," it's that sort of basic respect.

I'm a practicing Catholic, so I have to embrace "...a Christian humanism that radically affirms the dignity of every person as a child of God...." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1676)

Comedy and Culture

Not all stand-up comedy "affirms the dignity of every person as a child of God," radically or otherwise. Sometimes, though, I think getting folks to laugh gets some of them to think: and can help change a culture.

Retro People Clip Art, via, used w/o permissionAs I've said before, I remember 'the good old days:' when "she's as smart as a man" was supposed to be a compliment; and one of my sister-in-laws shocked a school by taking shop class. 'The good old days' are gone: for which I am profoundly grateful.

Being a grimly serious social activist is one way to try turning a culture around. Another approach is to become a successful stand-up comedian:
"The Power Of Comedy And Phyllis Diller"
Liza Donnelly, ForbesWoman, Forbes (August 21, 2012)

"Phyllis Diller reminded me of my mother. I grew up in the fifties and sixties, and my mother and I loved watching comedy on television. Laugh-In and Sanford and Son are the two I remember us watching together, but in the years before that, we often saw Diller performing her wacky routines on the talk shows. My mother was of the post-war generation and was a homemaker. She really only got to express herself by decorating the house and cooking us dinners - I always thought she aspired to do more....

"...She understood that in order to break into the male world of stand-up, she had to play by their rules: don't vary from the stand-up format; and because you are a woman, act and look ridiculous. She needed to pretend she was not a successful at being a 'woman' (read: pretty, sexy, domestic, good wife and mother) because in 1950/60s America, 'real' women were not supposed to be funny...."

'Nice' Women, Culture, and Assumptions

I don't think Phyllis Diller's jokes transformed American culture - by themselves. I do think that Phyllis Diller's success as a comedian helped change America's rather limited notions about what a 'real' or 'nice' woman should do.

I've known folks who seemed to believe that men and women should act 'correctly.' So far, I'd agree. The problem was that they seemed to believe that God's eternal and unchanging law was indistinguishable from the cultural mores of a particular set of Americans: between about 1945 and 1955.

By those standards, these women weren't being very 'nice:'
"At this time the prophetess Deborah, wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel."
(Judges 4:4)

"When one finds a worthy wife, her value is far beyond pearls....

"...2 Like merchant ships, she secures her provisions from afar....

"...She picks out a field to purchase; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.

"She is girt about with strength, and sturdy are her arms...."
(Proverbs 31:10-28)
I'm not shocked at Deborah's behavior, because I understand that there's more to my faith than what's happened in my native culture recently. A lot more.

Popular piety: Dryly Discussed

"Popular piety" is what happens when folks take what the Church teaches, and apply our cultures' ways of 'being religious.' Sort of:
"Besides sacramental liturgy and sacramentals, catechesis must take into account the forms of piety and popular devotions among the faithful. The religious sense of the Christian people has always found expression in various forms of piety surrounding the Church's sacramental life, such as the veneration of relics, visits to sanctuaries, pilgrimages, processions, the stations of the cross, religious dances, the rosary, medals,180 etc."
(Catechism, 1674)
Quite a bit of 'etcetera' has collected over the millennia. For example, my own native culture is essentially northwestern European. We drag a tree inside near the winter solstice, when the Church celebrates the birth of Jesus: and call it a "Christmas tree." Our midwinter celebrations also involve quite a lot of stuff that's red and green: just like in the older 'good old days.'

The Church didn't change what my Lord taught to accommodate barbarian warlords. But we weren't forced to pretend we were Romans, either. Or Hebrews, or anyone but ourselves.

"This Wisdom is a Christian Humanism"

There's a serious side to being human: but like I said before, humor is in the mix, too. And the Church is okay with that:
"Pastoral discernment is needed to sustain and support popular piety and, if necessary, to purify and correct the religious sense which underlies these devotions so that the faithful may advance in knowledge of the mystery of Christ.182 Their exercise is subject to the care and judgment of the bishops and to the general norms of the Church.
"At its core the piety of the people is a storehouse of values that offers answers of Christian wisdom to the great questions of life. The Catholic wisdom of the people is capable of fashioning a vital synthesis. . . . It creatively combines the divine and the human, Christ and Mary, spirit and body, communion and institution, person and community, faith and homeland, intelligence and emotion. This wisdom is a Christian humanism that radically affirms the dignity of every person as a child of God, establishes a basic fraternity, teaches people to encounter nature and understand work, provides reasons for joy and humor even in the midst of a very hard life. For the people this wisdom is also a principle of discernment and an evangelical instinct through which they spontaneously sense when the Gospel is served in the Church and when it is emptied of its content and stifled by other interests.181"
(Catechism, 1676) [emphasis mine]
I've quoted that part of the Catechism before. (December 18, 2010) Maybe I should seriously consider using more humor in this blog. And that's another topic. Topics.

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From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.