"Sapiens", "The Great Dictator", "Whatever Works", "Zero Theorem", Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Christoph Walz, Hitler, Indulgences, John Cleese, Monty Python, Oscar Wilde, Saturday Night Live, Terry Gilliam, Woody Allen, Yuval Hariri
Humor can be subtle and sophisticated, as exemplified by Oscar Wilde, or vulgar and lowbrow as on “Saturday Night Live”. The absurd, as seen in Chaplin and Keaton, Monty Python and Terry Gilliam movies, tickles our funny-bone and makes us laugh. In his signature slapstick comedies, we love to see Charlie dodging the blows of the burly bully and kicking him in the pants, we guffaw at John Cleese in “The Ministry of Silly Walks” and with his Monty Men riding invisible horses in their search for the Holy Grail, and we manage to smile at Christoph Walz’s royal plural and absurd credulity in Gilliam’s “Zero Theorem”. We appreciate Woody Allen’s wisecracks and characters in his movies like “Whatever Works” and its near-Nobel obsessed hand-washer. Sometimes, as in Hitler’s harangues, the absurd is not funny at all, until the orator is incarnated by Chaplin in “The Great Dictator”. We love the Theatre of the Absurd, because it succeeds in making us both laugh and think. It is remarkable, however, that so many people fail to recognize the absurdity of their religious beliefs and practices.
In his discussion of money as a “universal medium of exchange”, Yuval Harari, whose book “Sapiens” has already several times been quoted in this Blog, writes : “It is even possible to convert sex into salvation, as 15th century prostitutes did when they slept with men for money, which they then used to buy indulgences from the Catholic Church”. The claim is outrageous but credible, although unlikely to be appreciated, let alone considered amusing, by fervent Catholics. As believers they cannot recognize or admit the absurdity of so many of their beliefs and so much of their religious practice. If only they would step back a moment, take five and examine objectively dogmas and devotions like the following :
- Jesus, having walked on water, restored sight to the blind and raised the dead, Himself rises from His tomb three days after being crucified. St Paul himself recognized the “folly of the Cross” and the absurdity of believing in the Resurrection
- Catholics proclaim out loud that they believe that the wafer they are about to swallow at Holy Communion is in reality “the body of Christ”
- God plunges his sinful children into Hell, but has appointed priests to pardon lucky Catholics in the Sacrament of Penance
- Overlooking God’s apparent indifference to, or at least failure to intervene in response to, prayers of the faithful, believers continue to accept Jesus’ hollow “Ask and you shall receive”
Ignoring the reason behind their wishful thinking, believers continue to believe in an after-life for themselves and their loved ones
Some theologians have seriously suggested that absurdity is itself a reason for believing : “Credo quia absurdum”, “I believe BECAUSE it is absurd” ! It would be funny, were it not so . . . absurd.
P.S. You might like to re-read several earlier posts on this theme : “Sticks and Stones” (August 3, 2013), “You Still Believe That Stuff ?” (December 20, 2013), “To Argue or To Sneer ?” (July 24, 2014), “Don’t Just Sit There !” (August 28, 2014), and “The Final Solution To Terrorism : A Muslim Holocaust” (November 15, 2015).