The importance of being satirical
The threat of religious faith to society and civilization, to progressive thought and development, to the well being of human beings and the planet we inhabit, has never been greater. As many commentators have observed, the cocktail of archaic, ancient world beliefs upheld with impenetrable faith, and deadly 21st century weapons of mass destruction, makes a dangerous enemy to the future of our race.
While civil war rages without respite in Iraq, Iran’s government persists with a public bid for nuclear power, which may mask a clandestine effort to develop nuclear weapons. Hindu India and Islamic Pakistan, two countries who already possess nuclear weapons, are merely in a state of detente. Jewish and Islamic tensions in Palestine and Israel are as stretched as ever, exacerbating the fragility of the ever-volatile Middle East.
The gravity of these circumstances cannot be overstated. Exaggeration is a mere fantasy of which we can only dream. Reality is the nightmare we are faced with right now, and action must be taken. Not through force or tyranny, as they are the very foes against which we are pitched and, on this occasion, fire cannot be fought with fire.
We must speak out. Not just atheists, but also, and in fact especially, religious moderates and liberal theists. We must speak out with passion, with courage, with sincerity. We must talk to friends, colleagues and strangers. We must email journalists and politicians. We must keep our blogs and debate with believers.
But however serious all of this is, let us never forget the power of humour. The importance of religious satire can no more be exaggerated than the problem it addresses.
The absurdly violent and intolerant reaction to the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy was a chilling and tragic example of the view fundamentalist religion takes of satire. There was nothing wrong with the cartoons that were printed, and we must not appease the tyrannical fundamentalists by retreating, but be ever resilient in our tradition of enjoying satire.
TV programs and films, books and magazines, websites and radio shows – regardless of the medium through which satire is presented, the value is just as great. Satire allows us to enjoy our right to free speech and challenge religious ideas, while simultaneously being entertained. It provides a shrewd method of analyzing and refuting spurious claims, sometimes more effectively than through conventional means. It shows advocates of poorly supported belief systems who make unreasonable demands for respect and protection from criticism, that we will not bend over backwards to accommodate them, and that their claims will be subjected to the scrutiny and, if necessary, ridicule they justly deserve. It encourages and endears middle ground hoggers and fence sitters towards sceptical inquiry, by highlighting the flaws in religious claims. Some people, who turn on the TV to find a debate on religious faith just beginning will switch off either their TV sets, their minds or both. Satire allows us to reach these people, by caricaturing the people they wouldn’t otherwise listen to. As importantly as anything else, satire provides some badly needed comic relief. The problems we face are serious, but as long as we inhabit this world we should savour every moment and strive to be happy, and we are seldom happier than when we are laughing. The fact that we are laughing at a very real problem simply allows us to keep it in the foreground of our minds, and place it in a different perspective.
I expect the majority of my readers, by the very fact of their presence at this site, to hold strong opinions on religion one way or another. Whether believer, atheist or undecided, I implore you to enjoy the humour with which religion provides us. By all means, do your reading and research, write your articles, debate with your opponents, analyse the texts and evidence, for the importance of these activities is paramount. But every once in a while, take the time to seek out some first class religious satire, make yourself a hot drink, take the phone off the hook, unplug the computer, put your serious head in sleep mode, and laugh your arse off! Sometimes, as the old saying goes, if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry.
Author’s note: I have never enjoyed researching any article as much as I did this one! Please take a moment to share some of my favourite religious satires with me.