Thursday, March 17, 2011

Up for laughs

In the past weeks, two major religious groups have been on the receiving end of one or the other sharply-edged comedic barbs.  Trey Parker and Matt Stone's musical “The Book of Mormon” is playing on Broadway. According to the “South Park” duo, the Mormon community is not a target, but a “vessel or vehicle” of social commentary. Given the cartoon's reputation, I actually believe that. (Not that I'm tempted to buy a ticket to a musical that depends on vulgarity to keep things on pace.)

Meanwhile, in TV-land, Bill Maher had some fun of his own, repurposing a lay Catholic movement's “Come Home to the Catholic Church” video spots to tar every priest in the world with the brush of pedophilia. You can't exactly say that this Ash Wednesday spoof was “social commentary”: I did an Internet search for “Bill Maher hates Catholic church” that yielded 1.4 million hits. (The man is in my prayers.)

It can be a fine line that separates humor from ridicule. The deciding factor isn't how it is received, but how where it came from.

Here in Chicago, one of the longest-running shows in history is set in a Catholic school classroom. “Sister” is still in charge at “Late Nite Catechism” and its spin-offs. Sometimes older Catholics who haven't seen it express the fear that it sets “da nuns” up for ridicule, but the improv routine never goes that (cheap) route. The show's creators have even taken a special interest in raising money ($2 million so far) for the retirement needs of the Catholic school teachers whose legendary idealism and strictness inspired the schtick in the first place. (Chicagoans: Mark your calendars now for the May 28 performance of "Sunday School Cinema"--a fund raiser for our documentary film project!)

As long as our religious communities are having an impact on society, we can expect to provoke interest, exasperation and … humor, both within and without. As St Teresa of Avila, the 16th century Spanish mystic, is said to have remarked, “Lord, preserve us from sorry saints!”


Deacon Bill said...

You do great work in evangelization. I look forward to your blog posts and tweets! May God continue to bless you in your amazing ministry. The Daughters of St. Paul used to have a Catholic bookstore in downtown Buffalo. I would visit it often when I was young. Much of my early catechesis came through your Order's outreach. If ever there was a time for the Daughters of St. Paul's charism to become contagious it is NOW!

Pax Christi
deacon bill hynes
St. Benedict's Parish
Dicoese of Buffalo, NY

Moses said...

I kinda like Bill Maher... but if you listen to him long enough, you'll learn that he really doesn't have a clue about religion. And it's really best if people stick to subjects they know, hey?
As for the deciding factor between humor and ridicule, I'd have to say that it's BOTH where it came from and how it's received. If you're continually hurting someone with your message, maybe you should work on your delivery?

Sr Anne said...

Thanks, Deacon! I was stationed in that Buffalo book center very briefly (maybe two months) in 1986. You'll forgive a New Orleanian for remembering mainly that by the time I left (October) I was wearing all the warmest clothes I had, and didn't know how I was going to get through a whole winter. And here I am, ten years in Chicago! (I have warmer things to wear now, though.)

Sr Anne said...

Thanks for the input, Moses!