THE TAKE AWAY  



Sarcasm, Satire, and the Christian


By Kersley Fitzgerald



It is said that sarcasm/irony is a sign of intelligence and promotes creativity. If that's the case, GotQuestions has some pretty smart employees. It can get so bad that we actually have one employee who is the "nice" one. Not because she can't be sarcastic, but because she consciously chooses not to. Until recently, I was known as the queen, but a few months ago we hired an editor for our new commentary site, BibleRef.com. He's from Ohio, he looks like Wil Wheaton, and within a month I knew I had to mail him my "Snarkiest Employee" plaque.*

Truth is, I used to be worse. It got so bad I was confronted once by my SBC pastor about my sarcasm. Sarcasm doesn't often fly in the South. I'm sure there's some socio-historical reason for this involving "proper" things that just aren't a priority in the West. It was really hard to hear his words, and I still think he overreacted, but it got me thinking.

Irony is like sarcasm but without an insult behind it. It can be said that irony is the native language of my family, but I began to realize it came from a place of fear. We are an avoidant, passive-aggressive people, and irony is used to test the waters before committing to an opinion or request.

Why, yes, it is exhausting.

We recently went to Minnesota to visit our former pastor (a different pastor — not Southern) whose personality is more informed by the Land of Chicago. He actually called me out because I wasn't as sarcastic as usual. It was making him feel unloved. I didn't quite have the words to say, "I've always liked you but now know you well enough to not need to hide behind sarcasm. Plus, I know you're going through a difficult season and I want to be supportive." I think I just made a snarky remark to reassure him at least one small part of his world was stable.

Sarcasm and irony have their uses. They can jolt someone out of a wrong thought pattern. They can encourage camaraderie when a team is faced with challenges. They're dangerous on the web, though. The wrong phrase at the wrong time can make others think you're a troll and lead to — gasp! — over-explaining.

And then there's satire. Satire is designed to publicize the foolishness of a relatively public person or entity, sometimes to encourage them to change. Online, the Onion is probably the most popular purveyor. Recent articles include "More Realistic Meat Substitute Made from Soy Raised in Brutally Cruel Conditions" and "Obama Receives Classified Briefing on Likelihood of Krull Reboot"**. There are even Christian satire sites like LarkNews.

But the site that has most recently tanked the GotQuestions staff's productivity is The Babylon Bee by the creator of the Christian apologetics comic site Adam4d.com.

There's the report of the visitor who was traumatized by the "meet-and-greet" at a church he was visiting. Creflo Dollar raising money for a "desperately-needed ministry spacecraft." The youth leader who "still can't hear if everyone is having a good time." And, my personal favorite, the report that Joel Osteen can now fly.

We love our jobs. We love researching and writing and making God's Word known. We're always up for one more question on being slain in the spirit or infant baptism or deathbed conversions. Still, it gets frustrating to know that false teaching and false teachers so easily deceive. To find satire that uses reduction ad absurdum on such topics is becoming a guilty pleasure. We wouldn't be surprised if our friends at Logos Software really did come out with a Klingon Interlinear Package. The Babylon Bee doesn't always get it right — Russell Moore has been anything but silent on Trump. But other articles hit a little too close to home.

So when do irony and satire cross the line? I've rejected one article for Blogos that I felt was inappropriate, although it was picked up by another site. And there's a difference between satire and vulgarity. Osteen using positive thoughts to fly sounds about as reasonable as his followers using them to become healthy and rich. But how about an article on the Pope smoking pot? Or the 700 Club's co-host tranquilizing Pat Robertson before he says something else embarrassing?

One article on the positives of sarcasm mentioned that in order for it to be effective and appropriate, both parties must be in on the joke. In that way, it actually becomes a different dialect. There's a lot of ministry/church inside jokes on The Babylon Bee that we, being in ministry and being lifelong church-goers, relate to and appreciate. Some of the articles, like those on Pat Robertson and Ann Voskamp, I feel a little guilty reading. They're funny, but I'm not invested in the people enough, so they edge to the sarcastic end of irony.
There is a place for irony and satire, but how and when to use it is a matter of spiritual discernment.tweet
There is a place for irony. There's a place for satire — even Paul used it (1 Corinthians 4:8-13). How much, when, with whom...I think these are issues of spiritual conviction and maturity.

But I am going to get that snarkiest employee plaque back. We're having a contest to see who can get published on The Babylon Bee first — so far three articles have been submitted and several more are in the works — some of them about GotQuestions. Nothing cruel. Just ironic, satirical reflections of working in ministry and growing up in the church. Because if you don't find humor in ministry, you're not going to survive.



* No, it's not real! I was being ironic.
** This would be bad? I love Krull! That music! Hagrid! And a really young Liam Neeson!



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Published 3-22-16