“Is This Real Life?”

At the moment, over 70 million viewers have tuned in to YouTube to watch the wacky antics of a kid named David who has just left the dentist. Aside from the fact that I waste too much time surfing the Web for comedic nuggets such as this, David’s drug-induced musings say a lot about our world. First, we identify with David because, just like him, we
often find ourselves confronting a scary and confusing world that prompts us to ask questions such as “Is this real life?” or “Why is this happening to me?”  Second, when faced with the brutal reality of the world, we usually look for an escape, a glimmer of hope, or maybe just a funny YouTube video that can keep us distracted from hard and serious labor.

Recently I came across a book that helps make sense of our need for laughter and what this tells us about the world we encounter. The esteemed Austrian-American sociologist and Lutheran theologian Peter Berger, in his insightful and frequently funny work entitled Redeeming Laughter: The Comic Dimension of Human Experience, argues that humor is not only a universal, anthropological necessity but also “a signal of transcendence” and ultimately “a promise of redemption.”[2]

But is this a stretch? What have Christians had to say about laughter, and what does the Christian worldview really have to offer on the subject of humor and our apparent need for it?

Admittedly, there have been many serious-minded and quite unfunny Christians. One of Nietzsche’s many criticisms of Christianity was that its adherents always looked so depressed and unredeemed, and as Berger notes, with some exceptions, “One does not have to be a Nietzschean to look upon the history of Christian theology as a depressingly lachrymose affair.”[3] At the same time, not every Christian needs to act like the unflinching optimist Ned Flanders from The Simpsons. The world is noticeably full of sin and suffering, and Christians are affected by it just like everyone else.

Nonetheless, the Gospel offers a vision of reality drenched with dramatic irony and scandalous humor. Take, for example, the central Christian tenet that the Creator of the universe took on human flesh only to be born in a stable next to barnyard animals.[4] Did God forget to remind Joseph and Mary that they needed to make a reservation at the inn? Or maybe Jesus, prior to the virgin birth, left his confirmation number back at home, outside of the space-time continuum. Then there is the account of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, where in a manner typical of a medieval court jester, Jesus clumsily rides in on an ass.[5] Here, again, we have at once a number of very ironic events and historic Christian beliefs: the Redeemer of the world shuns all pomp and circumstance, undergoes a humiliating trial and execution, and then surprises everyone with His glorious resurrection three days later. Certainly, this has to be the greatest prank anyone ever pulled.

In the end, the Gospel is captivating because it acknowledges the tragedy of the human condition and promises to heal us eternally. The fact that we can be healed eternally despite our serious physical, emotional, and spiritual imperfections is also seriously funny, and as God breaks into the bleakness of human history to do this healing, Christians are all the wiser for embracing the joy and laughter that are part and parcel of a redeemed life. We’ve all heard the expression that laughter is the best medicine, and maybe we should realize that being a Christian means that the Doctor has prescribed laughter as an integral part of our redemption. We are, then, free to laugh and remember that, “It’s okay, bud, it’s just from the medicine!”

Paul McClure is a World Religions and Ethics teacher at Episcopal High School in Houston, TX (USA).  


[1] “David after Dentist.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=txqiwrbYGrs

[2] Berger, Peter L. Redeeming Laughter: The Comic Dimension of Human Experience. (Berlin: Walter De Gruyter, 1997). 205, x.

[3] Ibid, 197-198.

[4] Luke 2:1-4

[5] Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-41

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One response to ““Is This Real Life?”

  1. I had never thought of it, but Jesus’s death and resurrection is indeed the greatest prank I have ever come across! Even better than the grade 6 stuff we pulled off at school, hahaha

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