Why Can’t We Christians Laugh Anymore?
When 50 Shades of Grey took over the world last year, it spawned so much Christian outrage that I took to satire and wrote a piece called “A Modest Proposal: 50 Shades of Grey in Every Classroom.” In it, I commended the author for successfully ignoring ISIS and the wars around the world and instead using her artistic skills toward a far greater social ill: puritanical mores and sexual repression. Both were clearly harming marriages and hampering our over-studious youth. A copy of 50 Shades in every classroom should do the trick! So many of my (mostly Christian) readers were incensed and offended at my “proposal” that I had to explain I was using satire. And then, to some, I had to explain satire. (My shorthand definition: “When people are deaf,” wrote novelist Flannery O’Connor, “sometimes you have to shout.”)
Last week I ventured into political commentary on social media. Along with the cascade of Republicans who were struggling to express their qualified support of Trump, I joked that I too found a way I could support Trump. First, he’d have to choose a smart, non-racist, non-misogynist running mate. Second, he’d have to behave badly enough to get impeached right away so that the comparatively virtuous VP could take his place. In response, several earnest souls chided me for failing to speak “with truth and grace.” (Really?) Other readers, mostly Christians, became so heated and vitriolic that I had to take the post down the next day.
My other writing friends tell me the same: Christian readers are grave and grim. One friend wrote a piece not long ago on PDA (public displays of affection) and was met with numerous queries and worries along the lines of, “Is hugging even biblical”?
What’s happening to us? We seem to have lost not only our sense of tolerance and civility, but worse, our sense of humor. When I first noticed the phenomenon, I thought we Christians were creating our own lonely dystopia, but now I think we’ve simply joined the larger culture’s misery. There’s little mystery why we’re so unhappy. We’re all caught up in a particularly vicious election cycle. We’re depressed by mass shootings and gun violence. Terrorism can strike at any time. Heat waves and wildfires are raging, the environment is degrading, and a hundred other ills unfold before us every day in the media.
But while there’s enough bad news to sink us all into the Slough of Despond, I think there’s more at work. One culprit is right in front of our eyes, or rather, beneath our fingertips. We’ve all heard sociologists proclaim the harms of our addiction to Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms, but there’s one ill we haven’t talked about enough. Social media has insidiously and invisibly deputized us all. While I laud the “democratization” of the media, how can we rest with a deputy badge on our chests?