A socially acceptable form of aggression. It’s an unfair response to an unfair imbalance of power – a seizing of the joystick. You get to name the targets, you get to fire the bullets – and what you’re essentially doing is putting those people in an impossible situation where they’re forced to like it. There’s a great deal of hostility involved – and the wonderful part is, after you’re finished, you say, ‘What’s the matter, can’t you take a joke? This is humor, sir!’ You can shame them into agreeing that the attack is acceptable. Nobody wants to be accused of not taking a joke. It’s a double-bind. – George Carlin
Your [human] race, in its poverty, has unquestionably one really effective weapon—laughter. Power, money, persuasion, supplication, persecution—these can lift at a colossal humbug push it a little weaken it a little, century by century; but only laughter can blow it to rags and atoms at a blast. Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand. You are always fussing and fighting with your other weapons. Do you ever use that one? No; you leave it lying rusting. As a race, do you ever use it at all? No; you lack sense and the courage.
Satan, in The Mysterious Stranger by Mark Twain
Humor…where do you start? The psychology of it still isn’t agreed upon, and probably won’t be for a long time. It’s one of the sharpest, deadliest tools we have, and yet we so often say that we’re “just joking.” It has been part of the rise and fall of many a movement in history, and the downfall of more than a few politicians. It is, in short, really frigging awesome.
Making fun of something is the greatest insult we can give. We are saying that the object of our mirth is so ridiculous that we have only to point to it and everyone will see what we mean and laugh too. We are saying that the target is so absurd that we don’t even need to address it, because everyone can see for themselves that it is beneath address. And we’re allowed to do this!
When we use humor against those above us, what can they do? If they respond angrily, the world thinks that they have no sense of humor, and that’s humiliating. If they ignored it, an enormous challenge to their authority over us is going entirely unanswered. If they respond in kind, they are mean spirited, picking on the little guy. If they censor us, they are a great oppressor.
And humor really is a powerful tool. It can destroy a position more effectively than a hundred articles and essays. The light of mockery burns away the rationalizations that defend a position and make us see the thing for what it is. Many of our greatest, most deeply held beliefs are absurd and propped up by rationalization, so humor cuts through us. And it is the one medium that we will accept the criticism from. We bluster angrily at a direct challenge to our beliefs, but are left speechless by satire.
And yet we demean humor! “It’s just a joke,” we say. It’s a vicious attack, but we can use adjectives like “merely” to describe it. Perhaps, on some level, the average person is much smarter than we give them credit for. Somewhere in them, almost all people see humor as some sort of sacred right that should be protected, far more than they do of other forms of criticism. Something about it slips past our defenses, and on some level we realize that that’s a good thing.
I think you know where I’m getting with this… 😉
Don’t just debate religion. Laugh about (not at) it. It’s funny, and even Christians see that when it’s criticized with humor. And, what the hell, it’s fun!