Midweek Faith Lift
June 15, 2022
Humor and Religion
Clark Ford, Guest Speaker
All of us have heard religious jokes, perhaps only some of which can be repeated in Church. Bit we can learn a lot from these jokes - about religion, the divine, ourselves, society, and especially our relationship to the divine. In doing some research for this talk, I came across all kinds of jokes and cartoons, from puns and silly stories to biting commentary on religion or society. But this first joke really sums up why I chose this topic, and why I think it is important:
A Sunday school teacher asked her children on the way to service, "And why is it necessary to be quiet in church?" One little girl replied, "Because people are sleeping."
Yes, we pay attention to jokes: we want to know the punchline! And jokes make it easy to process difficult topics. Jokes allow us to look at and more easily accept our own foibles, and our own quirky religious beliefs and traditions in our churches. They allow us to look at the sacred without awe, to question the authority of Jesus and God and Bible and Church – all without having to feel like we are disbelievers, or disloyal to our faith. In a joke, we get to see our own religion and beliefs the way others might, who don’t believe what we believe.
Many religious jokes, like the first one, are told through the eyes of a child:
A preacher arrives in a small town in order to preach a sermon, but he’s early and with some time to spare he wants to post a letter. He can’t find the post office so he asks a young boy where it is. The boy shows him, after which the preacher thanks him and says to him, “If you come to the church this evening, you’ll be able to hear me telling people how to get to heaven.” The boy replies, “It’s ok thanks, I think I’ll give it a miss. You don’t even know your way to the post office.”
So here, the child voiced the feelings of probably many in the congregation and could get away with it because he’s a kid.
There was this little boy who was scared of the dark. One evening his mother asked him to go out onto the back porch and bring her the broom. The little boy said, “Mama, please don’t make me go out there. It’s dark and you know I’m scared of the dark.” His mother smiled at him and said reassuringly, “There’s no need to be afraid of the dark. Jesus is out there and he’ll look after you and protect you.” The little boy seemed unsure and said, “Are you sure Jesus is out there?” The mother said, “Yes, I’m sure. Jesus is everywhere and is always there and ready to help when you’re in need.” The boy thought for a moment, then went to the back door and opened it a tiny amount. He looked out into the darkness and called out, “Jesus – if you’re out there, please pass me the broom.”
We’re all told Jesus is with you always, Jesus is your co-pilot, etc., but as adults even though we know that’s metaphorical, we want to take it literally just like the child does in this joke. We have compassion for this frightened child, and for the child in us who wants the safety and assurity of the religion of our childhood…
When I was little I would pray to Jesus every night for him to get me a new bike, I learned one week in Sunday school that that’s not how it works, so instead i just stole one and asked him for forgiveness.
Boom! This one cuts right to some heavy duty theology that may leave us uneasy instead of laughing. But where else except in a joke about a kid trying to understand religion are we going to take this topic on? Kids also take things literally with an innocence that bolsters their faith in ways that adults can sometimes totally miss:
The little boy ran home from Sunday School telling his Mom excitedly, "I learned God's name today!" She asked, "Oh, what is it?" He responded, "Andy!" Mom, said, "How did you learn that? The little boy sings, "From the song - Andy walks with me. Andy talks with. Andy tells me I am His own!"
Or: A boy is praying to God one day and asks, “How long is a million years?” To his surprise God answers, saying “To me, it’s about one minute.” The boy then asks, “God, how much is one million dollars?” and God replies, “To me, it’s a penny.” The boy thinks and then asks, “God, may I have a penny?” God replies, “Wait a minute.”
This joke takes on cosmic measures of time and material wealth, and serves as a segue into other jokes about God. Who is God and why does God do the things that he or she does? Don’t want to have a heavy-duty theological conversation on this topic? Tell a joke!
Jesus, Moses and an old man are playing golf one day. At the first hole, Moses steps up to the tee and hits the ball. It goes sailing over the fairway and lands in the water trap. Moses goes over to it, parts the water and chips onto the green. Next, Jesus steps up to the tee and hits the ball. It also goes sailing into the water. Jesus just walks on the water and chips the ball onto the green. The old man then steps up to the tee and hits the ball. It goes sailing over the fairway and heads for the water trap. But just before it lands in the water a fish jumps out of the water and catches the ball in his mouth, then an eagle swoops down and grabs the fish in its claws, then the eagle flies over the green and is hit by a sudden bolt lightning and the eagle drops the fish. When the fish hits the ground, the ball pops out of his mouth and rolls into the hole for a hole in one. Jesus looks at Moses and says, “I really think I’m leaving Dad at home next time!”
Here we actually get to imagine that God has a sense of humor, and likes to goof around, raising the question: what is God’s personality? This is an important question in terms of how people come to relate to the divine. Is God a stern, jealous, punishing patriarch? Or is he/she the loving creator of all that is wonderful and beautiful in life, including perhaps humor?
Now, here’s one you’ve all heard:
A preacher who couldn’t swim was on a boat one day. He fell into the sea and sadly no-one noticed and the boat sailed away. When another boat came past, the captain shouted out to the preacher, “Do you need help?” The preacher replied, “No thank you, God will save me.” A short while later another boat came past and the fisherman on it shouted to the preacher, “Do you need any help sir?” Again the preacher calmly replied, “No thank you, God will save me.” Eventually the poor preacher drowned and of course he went straight to heaven. When he got there, he asked God, “When I was drowning why didn’t you save me?” God replied, “You fool, I sent you two boats!”
This joke seems to be about the same thing as the little boy who wanted Jesus to hand him the broom. The question is: does God listen to our prayers, and how does God intercede in our lives? And the answer seems to be: not in the way you may think or want.
Two guys are walking through a game park & they come across a lion that has not eaten for days. The lion starts chasing the two men. They run as fast as they can and the one guy starts getting tired and decides to say a prayer, "Please turn this lion into a Christian, Lord." He looks to see if the lion is still chasing and he sees the lion on its knees. Happy to see his prayer answered, he turns around and heads towards the lion. As he comes closer to the lion, he hears the lion saying a prayer: "Thank you Lord for the food I am about to receive."
Now this one not only questions how God answers our prayers, but takes on the Christian church as well: what does it mean to be Christian? When the man prayed for God to turn the Lion into a Christian, some of us were going “Uh oh! That could turn out bad!” And what does it mean to receive a blessing from God? Of course, if you want to go really deep on this one, you might remember the history of Christianity where good Christian people believed they were receiving a blessing from God (like the lion does) when they enslaved Africans or conquered the New World, but were actually just exploiting other people who they believed to be inferior. The nice thing about jokes is that they often work on many levels, and you don’t have to unpack them like that if you don’t want to!
Of course some jokes just hit you over the head, and are not meant to be funny except in the most darkly ironic way. In this cartoon called “A Brief History of Religion” a caveman is praying to a stone, and a second caveman asks him “What the heck are you doing?” The first caveman says “I’m praying to this sacred stone. It gives me peace and purpose and spiritual connection. You should do it too!” to which the second caveman proclaims “Are you kidding? It’s just a stupid rock!” What follows is the first caveman attacking the second with the rock, shouting “Blasphemer!” and when it is over, praying again to his rock, saying “He deserved that. Oh Holy One, he was an infidel.” And at the bottom of the comic it says “And so on and so on.”
Wow. Only by engaging in a cartoon would most people even think of going there, let alone contemplating the history of their own religion or the religious wars that likely propelled their own religion into a world religion.
Which reminds me of a joke: I only believe in 12.5% of everything the Bible says – Which makes me an eighth theist!
As an extension of the God jokes, there are many about the afterlife, most having to do with athe ironies of how we lead our lives, and not really about the pearly gates at all.
In This one, God is at the pearly gates with a computer, and says “Sorry, your user name and password don’t match.”
Here’s another: It’s the day of judgement and all the true believers are waiting in line to get into heaven. The Angel Gabriel appears and says to them, “I want all the men to separate into two lines – the first line is for men who were the true heads of their household. All those men who shared decisions with their wives should form the second line.” He continued, “And now all the women should go through the gates and report to Mary.” (notice that all the women get into heaven immediately!).
On their way to get married, a young couple is involved in a fatal car accident. The couple found themselves sitting outside the Pearly Gates waiting for St. Peter to process them into Heaven. While waiting, they began to wonder: Could they possibly get married in Heaven? When St. Peter showed up, they asked him. St. Peter said, "I don't know. This is the first time anyone has asked. Let me go find out,'" and he left. The couple sat and waited, and waited. Two months passed and the couple were still waiting. While waiting, they began to wonder what would happen if it didn't work out; could you get a divorce in heaven? After yet another month, St. Peter finally returned, looking somewhat bedraggled. "Yes," he informed the couple, "You can get married in Heaven." "Great!" said the couple, "But we were just wondering, what if things don't work out? Could we also get a divorce in Heaven?" St. Peter, red-faced with anger, slammed his clipboard onto the ground. "What's wrong?" asked the frightened couple. "OH, COME ON!," St. Peter shouted, "It took me three months to find a preacher up here! Do you have any idea how long it'll take me to find a lawyer?"
Well, this one obviously pokes at the morality of lawyers and perhaps some preachers, and really tells us nothing about the afterlife except that it affirms people’s hope that God is just and wise -- that although lawyers succeed on earth, God isn’t fooled about who they are as people.
People may also wonder if pets go to heaven. In this Wizard of Id cartoon, the peasant says to the friar “I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to seeing my dog in heaven.” The friar replies “That’s still a debate among Theologians. There are some that contest that pets DO go to heaven.” The peasant asks “What do YOU believe?” to which the friar replies “Spending eternity with your relatives, but no family dog…sounds like the other place to me. And the peasant says “Amen.”
Jokes also make us think about other religions. Which is the true religion? Why do other religions have such different customs? Here we have different people representing different religions saying “I’m so happy to know that…Out of all the different religions…I was raised in the…Only one that holds…The real truth!!”
There are many “a Priest, a Minister and a Rabi walk into a bar” jokes, but many of those can’t be told in church. And there are also Jesus jokes, again many of which can’t be told in church. But as a teacher, I did find some very intriguing humor about Jesus called “Selected Negative Teaching Evaluations of Jesus Christ.” What if Jesus was a teacher at the university? What would the student’s reaction be to Jesus? What does that tell us about Him, and about ourselves? So imagine these are 15 end-of-semester evaluations received by Jesus, in no particular order…
1. “Very inconvenient class! Always holds lectures on top of mountains, in middle of the Sea of Galilee—but never close to the main campus.”
2. “All the other professors use the 1st edition for the course. This guy told us we didn't need to buy any texts. But honestly it just felt like he was winging the lectures each week.”
3. “He’s nice enough, I guess, but he doesn’t vet his TAs: they all provide completely different, conflicting lecture notes. (TIP: Try to get in Luke’s section.)”
4. “By week one, I was already tired of his anti-rich, pro-Samaritan bull... I wanted to take a course in Christianity, not liberalism.”
5. “Kind of absent-minded. My name’s Simon, and he’s called me ‘Peter’ for the entire semester.”
6. “I wanted to like this class, but on the first day, he submerged us in a river instead of going over the syllabus, and that was kind of a lot.”
7. “Doesn’t respect students’ time. A line of us had been waiting outside his office for over an hour. Finally, he showed up, said, ‘And the last shall be first,’ and started seeing us in reverse order. Made me late for work-study.”
8. “Tells too many stories. Easy to get him off track during lectures.”
9. “Feels like a class for farmers. Hope you like talking about seeds. Wheat seeds. Mustard seeds. Seeds, seeds, seeds.”
10. “DON’T take his class if you care about your GPA!!! Treats everything like pass/fail. Only cares about you if you’re failing the class, so good luck getting that A- up to an A.”
11. “Won’t give straight answers. I asked him if something was going to be on the test, and he said, ‘You say that it will be,’ and stared at me with no expression. I mean, come on, bro.”
12. “Weird format for a discussion class. He put everyone on one side of the table, so we can’t face each other when we talk.”
13. “What is this class? Why do we keep going out on fishing boats? What was with the thing where we had to sort out goats from sheep? Why did we have to shove a camel through the eye of a needle? What is this class?”
14. “He straight-up ghosted us. He took on the entire class as his advisees, got us all excited to work with him, then immediately left for a 2,000+ year sabbatical. Thanks for nothing.”
15.“A complete joke. Only got the job because his dad is important.”
Well, there you have it! In closing I have a couple of Unity jokes to bring it all back home:
What did the Unity Minister say to the hot dog vendor? “Make me one with everything.”
And… It seems that there was a little church in the historic district of town, painted white and with a high steeple. One Sunday, the minister noticed that the church needed painting. She checked out the Sunday ads, found a paint sale, and the next day bought a gallon of white paint. Then the minister went back to the church and began painting. The first side of the church was quickly finished, and was looking great. But then she noticed there was only a half gallon of paint left. Not wanting to go back to the store, and being a creative person, she found a gallon of thinner in the shed out back, and began to thin the paint. It worked out great. The remaining three sides were finished with that last half gallon of paint. But that night, it rained, and it rained hard. The next morning the minister saw that the first side of the church looked great, but that the paint on the other three sides had washed away. In anguish, she decided to pray about it, asking God “What shall I do?” A voice came back from the heavens saying, “Repaint, and thin no more!”
With gratitude and a belly laugh.....
Blessings on the Path,
Rev. Deb & Clark!