Errant European

When I was a kid going to Catholic school in Pennsylvania, we used to tell puerile religion jokes:

Knock, knock.

Who’s there?


John who?

John the Baptist.

At which point you’d get a squirt from a real or imaginary water pistol. Get it?

Clean, innocent fun, like the one about God’s phone number, which you can only “get” if you (1) had been an altar boy (no girls then, sorry) prior to the demise of the Latin mass and/or (2) remember when phone numbers in the States went like “Quincy 53-220.”

Fun at the expense of religion got a bit more racy in the Seventies, with the likes of Life of Brian (official site, where you can procure the “Immaculate Edition“) – an alternative manger tale, so to speak, about a boy named Brian – and one that still shocks the stilted:

Brian: I am NOT the Messiah!
Arthur: I say you are Lord, and I should know. I’ve followed a few.

One of the 1979 film’s memorable quotes from IMDB. Believers with a sense of humour can enjoy the film too. As they could R. Crumb’s cartoon “Genesis.” God knows there’s plenty of material in the Old Testament (“and they proceeded to take their daughters as wives for themselves…”) for ridicule. Sorry for taking the Lord’s name in vain in the previous sentence – now you can’t even take the Pope’s name in vain, according to the Vatican.

Lighten up: religion can be funny too

A sense of humour, apparently, is what is missing somewhere in the following news items from our brand new 2010:

  • 1 January: Ireland promulgates new anti-blasphemy law, and Atheist Ireland publishes a list of 25 blasphemous quotes, from Life of Brian to Pope Benedict XVI, in protest;
  • New Year’s Day in Denmark: police shoot an intruder bent on assassinating one of the cartoonists whose drawings in 2005 sparked violent protests among Muslims.

Humour, difficult enough to export across linguistic lines (my attempts at humour at NATO luncheons often fell flat among southern Europeans but were a hit with the Ango-Saxons and Scandinavians), is sometimes deadly when it touches the sensitive boundaries of belief. Theocratic Ireland now is pitted against a citizenry with a wicked sense of humour.

On the US Comedy Central network, Stephen Colbert’s God Machine (Deus ex Machina) should be whirring into overdrive this week, and blogger Steve Benen’s This Week In God needs a post-Christmas wrapup. But it’s harder and harder to poke fun into this all-too-human activity called religion. What if I want to make fun of some weird cult out there which believes that we’re all in a matrix, disembodied thetans or some such gibberish which is more at home in a science fiction film than in a “church?” But wait a minute: they already exist…

So, youngsters in Dublin telling those silly “jokes” about Scientology, watch out. According to the new Irish law, you might be guilty of

publishing or uttering matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters sacred by any religion, thereby intentionally causing outrage among a substantial number of adherents of that religion

Come to think of it, so could I, bejeezus.

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This first appeared in my other blog, Avuncular American.

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