Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Cheap shots or sheep shops?

“Laughing at religious people and doctrines for being mad, bad and dangerous gives us the comfort of thinking that, unlike them, we are sane, good and peaceful. Good stand-up makes us question ourselves: but the contemporary ridicule of religion fails to do that. Instead, it just narcissistically affirms that we were right all along. It is not edgy, original or insightful. One might even be tempted to call it preaching to the converted.”
Says who?
Says a bloke called Patrick McKearney.
Who is he?
Well, apparently…..
“Patrick McKearney is studying for an MPhil in theology and religious studies at Cambridge University. A scholar of the Cambridge Interfaith Programme and Queens' College, he is researching the implications of the contemporary ridicule of religion.”
I am half-tempted to add “…or is he just taking the piss?”
No, but seriously folks, go to http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2011/jun/21/stand-up-comedy-religion and see if, like those he takes aim at, your jesting about the faithful amounts to more than
“tedious repetition of generic, flat-pack criticisms”.
I don’t for a second accept that of, say, Stewart Lee or a very few other comic talents. But I would admit acute boredom these days reading the kneejerk comments in reaction to stories on some of my old favourite secular sites, and wondering what closed minds came up with them.
On the other hand, I wonder how Mr McKearney got public subsidy to be at one of the world’s most elite colleges just wondering if the sky will fall in because the general public are less than reverent about a gaggle of gents in frocks who take themselves far more seriously than the rest of the world does?
Maybe his Imaginary Invisible Friend really does move in mysterious ways. Or maybe we live in an unequal society, still over-respectful of superstition, where purveyors of bible bunkum just have more sway with those who hand out grants and allot university places than they should. And it is also worth noting the close links between, say, the Cambridge Interfaith Foundation and the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, which no sensible person has any faith in.
Funnily enough though, I read elsewhere of David F. Ford, one of the founders of the Cambridge Interfaith Foundation, that “He is highly regarded for his scholarship, wit and humour.’’
Shame his students and staff are not similarly blessed then.
No, but seriously, that is a cheap quip, and Mr M offers a valid challenge. The best humour does not enshrine prejudice and encourage lazy thinking, but strips away the pretensions and shortcomings of the powerful and, if really good, pulls out the rug from below our feet too. Where McKearney’s polemical argument collapses, as I hinted earlier, is that it fails to recognise the institutional power and privilege of religion, and settles instead for the whiney tone of other religious spoilt brats asked to share their toys.
But do we just mock comfortably from the distance, training our sights only on the less educated religious, or could we make better jokes that batter away at the privilege, reveal the links to power?
Interesting challenge. I may well take it up, and I hope others will too.

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