Thursday, October 13, 2005

A priest, a minister, and a rabbi...

I was reading about Harriet Miers, and why some of the important wingnuttery like Pat Robertson have faith that she is reliably anti-abortion. It's because she is an apostate Catholic who drifted to Episcopalianism, then to Presbyterianism, and then to something called the Valley View Christian Church in Dallas where she was re-baptized by full immersion, her Catholic baptism apparently being suspect, and most recently she has become part of a rump faction of the Valley View congregation which meets for worship service in a hotel.

So, as you can see, she is rock-solid in her beliefs.

Yesterday I was reading some of my wife's notes on humor. Kay was an anthropologist, and one of the courses she occasionally taught was about why people in different cultures laugh. Kay's belief was that it is ultimately kind of a mystery. But Kay thought that one variety of humor, jokes, were usually mean-spirited, and that that was _why_ they made people laugh.

That's why there are so many political jokes.

A priest, a unitarian-universalist minister, and a rabbi walk into a bar, where a heated discussion about abortion is going on. The bartender turned to the spiritual authorities who just came in, and asked them when life begins.
The priest said life begins at conception.
The unitarian minister said life begins when a baby is born.
The rabbi said life begins when the youngest child is out of college and the dog dies.

Jokes and true believers are natural enemies, because followers of the truth realize that jokes are by nature seductive, disreputable, malicious and contrary to the public good. A man laughing at a joke is a man reveling in someone's misfortune or the overturning of the good and established rules of decent behavior. Jokes are an expression of what Jungians would call the shadow, an eruption of rebellion and hostility, expressed, however, in a far better way than street muggings and war. So jokes are good, in a weird way.

Or are they? Chaucer's audience laughed at the Miller's tale (wherein a man is tricked into kissing someone's anal sphincter in the dark, and later returns the favor by applying a hot iron to the selfsame bodypart of one of the tricksters in vengeance.) A laff riot. Would we laugh today if we spoke Middle English? Probably.

Many jokes are actually disgusting. Jokes, jibes and funny stories exuberate in filth and announce amusement with shit, stupidity, genitalia, drunkenness, aliens, drug addiction, bureaucrats, the other sex, stuffed shirts, sexual prowess or the lack of it, folks who smell bad, inferior nations and peoples, deformity, fools, victims, losers, morons, crazy people, rich people, the President, victims of starvation in remote continents, aggies, elephants, the alleged habits of the people of neighboring countries, dead babies, sex with animals, crime, improbable and cruel happenstance, and death. This is not an exhaustive list.

I laugh at some of these things. Others, not. Those of us who oppose racism, for example, don't like to hear jokes that contain the n word, the most taboo word in modern English, or worse yet, that go on to malign black people openly and explicitly. I find that it offends me. Is there a part of me that wants to laugh? Not lately. I often find myself not laughing at jokes about other racial minorities, or women with yellow hair. So I wonder if I am becoming a tight-lipped true believer. Maybe it's just the influence of Buddhism, which either kills your sense of humor outright, or, if you are a Zen Buddhist, it makes your sense of humor incomprehensible. I'm a Zen Buddhist, I hasten to say. Or maybe I'm just getting older.

But to get back to the President's nomination of Harriet Miers:
Who's there?
Harriet Miers.
Harriet Miers who?

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