Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Is Ridicule The Answer?

As I was studying for the message I delivered in youth group tonight, I came across a very interesting article on the famous French philosopher Voltaire by Robert G. Ingersoll. My message was about how the Bible has survived over time, persecution and criticism. I wanted to share with the teens how their faith can also endure, like the Bible has. As they get older their faith can be consistent, it can endure persecution, and most importantly - it can stand up under criticism. Their actions can match their beliefs and like the entire New Testament, they can exist with very few variants. Unusual comparison, I know.

Voltaire challenged the Bible on every front (science, archeology, prophecy, promises, etc.). After he began to gain notoriety for his anti-religious views he was inspired and predicted that within 100 years of his death the Bible and Christianity would vanish from the earth and into history. Interestingly, within 50 years of his death the Geneva Bible Society used his printing press and house to print stacks of Bibles.

The more I read the article by Ingersoll, the more I began drawing a comparison between Voltaire and my current blogging friends. He had many of the same issues with the established church of his time as my friends do with the current church. And he used the same method they use to point out the inconsistencies and hypocrisy - ridicule.

Which brings me to my point. Is ridicule the answer to a church gone astray?

Here's what Robert G. Ingersoll feels about it:

"But in what way can the absurdity of the "real presence" be answered, except by banter, by raillery, by ridicule, by persiflage? How are you going to convince a man who believes that when he swallows the sacred wafer he has eaten the entire Trinity, and that a priest drinking a drop of wine has devoured the Infinite? How are you to reason with a man who believes that if any of the sacred wafers are left over they should be put in a secure place, so that mice should not eat God?

What effect will logic have upon a religious gentleman who firmly believes that a God of infinite compassion sent two bears to tear thirty or forty children in pieces for laughing at a bald-headed prophet?

How are such people to be answered? How can they be brought to a sense of their absurdity?

They must feel in their flesh the arrows of ridicule.

So Voltaire has been called a mocker.

What did he mock? He mocked kings that were unjust; kings who cared nothing for the sufferings of their subjects. He mocked the titled fools of his day. He mocked the corruption of courts; the meanness, the tyranny and the brutality of judges. He mocked the absurd and cruel laws, the barbarous customs. He mocked popes and cardinals and bishops and priests, and all the hypocrites on the earth. He mocked historians who filled their books with lies, and philosophers who defended superstition. He mocked the haters of liberty, the persecutors of their fellow-men. He mocked the arrogance, the cruelty, the impudence, and the unspeakable baseness of his time.

He has been blamed because he used the weapon of ridicule.

Hypocrisy has always hated laughter, and always will. Absurdity detests humor, and stupidity despises wit.

Voltaire was the master of ridicule. He ridiculed the absurd, the impossible. He ridiculed the mythologies and the miracles, the stupid lives and lies of the saints. He found pretence and mendacity crowned by credulity. He found the ignorant many controlled by the cunning and cruel few. He found the historian, saturated with superstition, filling his volumes with the details of the impossible, and he found the scientists satisfied with "they say."

Perhaps ridicule does have an affect on mankind, but is it a good method for those within the Church to use on their own?

What scares me is that Voltaire threw it all away. Because of the corrupt, superstitious church of his time, he resigned to believing only in the God of Nature. But, after witnessing the loss of many believers in an earthquake, he decided there could not be a loving God who would allow such suffering of his own children. Who knows how he really ended up, but one thing's for sure, he hated the church and the Bible.

Even though we may hate the status quo, would it not be better to use loving correction on our own rather than ridicule?

Isn't it human nature to dismiss every idea of those we ridicule?

I've heard it on blog strings already "If they believe that God is really like that...then I don't want anything to do with Christ or their religion." Eventually there is nowhere left to go but to the worship of humanity and self. To their folly, men dare to protest in God's face thinking that their morality is superior.

Just something to chew on. I don't want to end up like Voltaire.


dorsey said...

Interesting point, JimmyBob. And I absolutely agree that faith can endure any attack. As my brother always says, If my faith can't stand up to the questions, then it's not a faith worth having. But let me challenge your perception of those "on the outside" a little.

I certainly don't speak for everyone who has left the church for whatever reason, but I need to say that I no longer consider ANY of my opinions nor methods the answer to "a church gone astray." I don't consider my use of satire and parody to ALWAYS constitute ridicule, nor do I employ such in an effort to induce change within the church. I have spent YEARS (as you know) attempting to impart and induce sensible scriptural perceptions among the brethren. And to some degree, I have succeeded (except with the brethren who hold the power of change in a religious death-grip).

Now I find myself on the outside—my sincere and loving (I believe they were—at first, anyway) attempts to provoke broader thinking and effective praxis now vilified as rebellion and conspiracy (they were certainly neither).

My use of humor, however biting (and it only bites because of the truth of it), is not aimed at causing church leaders to recognize their apostasy. I consider many of them to be irretrievably delusional. I'm looking more to connect with others who have read about Jesus from the gospels, listened to His words, and recognize the great distance that exists between that and the American church. My message is not just bitterness and resentment (although I admit it's there), but hope that we can find some form of fellowship that revolves around the real Jesus, not the American flag-waving Republican caricature of Jesus that I was offered Sunday after Sunday.

You seem to suggest that those who criticize are likely on the road to rejecting Christ. Not so. Here on the blogs, there have been several instances that I have responded to a mischaracterization of Jesus, by saying something like, "If that's who Christ is, then I want no parts of him." Please don't mistake the meaning there. Such a comment does not mean that I'm might reject the real Jesus. All it means is that I want no part of THAT misrepresentation of Christ.

Unlike Voltaire, my aim is not to discredit the truth about Christ, but to redeem it from those who have manipulated it into a self-serving entity whose primary purpose is to keep itself going.

Personally, I don't hold out much hope that the institution-at-large can be brought into line with what I perceive to be scriptural priorities, but that is not to say that no good thing happens there. For all its shortcomings, the church (small c) gets some things right, and bears some fruit. That's fine. But a lot of people think Jesus is way bigger and His message way broader than that to which the church has confined them.

To answer your question, though. Pointing out hypocrisy and unscriptural practices does not necessarily constitute ridicule. Even if it does, such commentary is not offered in an attempt to correct. It's too late for that. It's offered as context for the rest of us. We must be self-aware as we proceed.

And a lot of the time, it's just venting steam, to keep my head from exploding.

BruceD said...

Hey, I love your new banner picture!

JimmyBob said...

Thanks for being so thorough in your post, Dorse. I appreciate that. I want to at least respond to one thing you said in particular.

You seem to suggest that those who criticize are likely on the road to rejecting Christ.

I did not mean for it to come across that strongly. I cringe to think that I would be of that mind. We should be able to question without being judged as a rejector. And I know you don't reject Christ.

Help me to understand better. Is your position to ignore the church because they are hopelessly off track? The only "ridicule" or criticism of the church you offer isn't directed at the church or its leaders, but you share with others as a means of finding common ground?

I can easily understand how you would choose "ignore" over "ridicule" because of the reasons you gave. You have certainly been offering your thoughts for some time without result.

I cannot imagine the tremendous pressure Voltaire had in his day. He no doubt felt that "ignore" wasn't an option, given his passions. Very interesting article.

Did you read the part about when he purchased his own church and hired a priest so that he could run things his way?

JimmyBob said...

Thanks Bruce. It took me FOREVER to figure out how to get it there. Now, I'm not sure how I could put it back if I tried. I suppose I could just pick the default template all over again.

Did you notice the Star Wars ships? I'm a huge fan!

dorsey said...

Thanks for clarifying, JB. I didn't consider that part of your post pointed at me.

And it is I who got off-track. Toward the end of my comment, I began to think generally about the purpose of my web presence and wandered from the ridicule topic. Humor is not my device per se. It's just the way I think, and therefore, the means through which I connect with people.

It's possible that some of the ridiculing aspect is born out of a certain amount of anger. I have a fair amount of that, largely stemming from the disappointment of having fruitlessly invested so much into the institution, among other reasons.

But then, some of the things we do are just ridiculous—by definition, worthy of ridicule. Perhaps making fun of idiocy might act as a deterrent to budding idiots.

And, brothers and sisters, if we can save just one person from acting like an idiot, then all this will have been worth it. [/grin]

BruceD said...

Yeah, I had to look pretty close, but I did figure out that it's a star wars scene. Nice!

Hey, I visited your church's website. Nice pics of you and the family! Sounds like you guys have a good thing going there.

I think I told you... I actually come from an A/G background. That was my last hurrah with organized religion. There were a lot of good folks there. It's too bad though that the system was eating them alive. Funny thing too... after leaving I learned that I didn't really have any friends there. The people I thought were my friends only seemed to do so because they were required to. I think it's in the bible or something. ;-)

It amazes me how some folks I tried to reach out to soon after I left, seemed very uncomfortable around me. They were all nervous and fidgity, like they suddenly had to be somewhere else. I don't know, maybe it's my imagination, but the whole thing was really strange. But, God brought me into a new facet of His church. He surrounded me with good friends who encourage me and love me. Imagine that, we're not even members of anything "official", but there is a closeness that I have never experienced before. It's like I've been plopped into the middle of the "real".

Who knows? Maybe I'm all screwed up. I've been told that on many occasions. But, that's OK. I've never been happier. I guess that's my greatest hope for others I meet... that they might experience the same incredible joy and peace that has come into my life.

DCMetalJr said...
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JimmyBob said...

DC, I see Jesus in you every time you smile, dude. It's been awhile since we moved so far away from each other. I miss that smile. I bet your kids inherited your enthusiasm. Good comments. Especially when you said, "I think it is impossible for us to show Jesus to anyone if we do not first listen and find out where they are coming from. If we won't be quiet how can we possibly hear the still small voice nudging us gently towards an opportunity to show the glory of Jesus our God?"

Man, do I need to work on listening better! I have been reminded of that again recently.

Bruce, thanks for sharing you're personal experiences. It makes me sad to hear what happened but happy to know you've found something better. People do act ridiculous.

Hey gang, did you hear that? I actually confessed with my mouth (ahh, keyboard) that church people do act ridiculous. Steve would be proud and Jeff should start shouting Hallelujah! (DC, I tend to argue alot, especially when the topic is "negative" in my mind about church people/stuff. You already knew that I could argue. Ha, ha.) And you all owe it to Bruce, who befriended me, told me his personal testimony and FIRED ME UP!

Dorse, you are an amazing thinker and good explainer. I love your wit. I think I understand better that it is possible for a Christian to differentiate between someone's beliefs and their actions. Voltaire seemingly failed to make that distinction. He saw the absurdity in not only the actions of Christians, but their belief's too. To him they were solidly tied together. If the Christian was an idiot, hypocrite, or mean by their action, then it must be that Christianity was idiotic, hypocritical and mean. I've heard those same arguments from college students. I guess you can say that most people think this way about everything. Islam must be a horrific religion, because it's followers have done horrific things, for example. And so, people throw out the baby with the bathwater.

You on the other hand, say that a particular brand of Christianity is idiotic and believe there must be a more excellent way.

Finally, the point of the blog was to question the use of ridicule among the brethren and I see that so far, none prefer it, although some deserve it, and that ridicule is best served as stories to share among commoners for a good laugh or to aleviate cranial stress. But, direct ridicule would be of no use due to dilusion. Does that sound right?

dorsey said...

Not just ridicule, but satire, parody, direct criticism—every contrary notion is lost on the delusional mind.

"Let him who has ears to hear..." takes on a fresh dynamic in this context. Some have lost their hearing, so to speak.

Luke Britt said...

What text did you use for that message?

Steve said...

After reading this I think I have fallen in love with Voltaire... sounds like my kind of guy.

He mocked....kings that were unjust; kings who cared nothing for the sufferings of their subjects....popes and cardinals and bishops and priests, and all the hypocrites on the earth....historians who filled their books with lies, and philosophers who defended superstition....he haters of liberty, the persecutors of their fellow-men....the arrogance, the cruelty, the impudence, and the unspeakable baseness of his time.

If anything this post is a tribute to mockery and a reminder for the need for those who can see that the emperor is not wearing any clothes to stand as tall as they can, and scream as loud as they are able... "The Emperor's arse is showing and it's as ugly as can be!"

Steve said...

Oh and lest my point be missed...

The Church=the Emperor

Pastors/Church Leaders=the Emperor

Let's mock the Emperor for the fact that he is naked and doesn't know it. Let's laugh at him because he is naked and thinks we do not know it... or worse won't say anything because, after all, he is the Emperor.

DCMetalJr said...
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JimmyBob said...

luke britt - Sorry for taking so long to get back to you. It was a topical sermon/message, so I did not have one central text. But, I did focus on the theme of endurance and used the following main verses in that regard: Psalm 125:1, Matthew 10:22, Romans 5:3, and 1 Timothy 2:10.

Peter...ahh...DC (I joke because I love you man. Thanks for defending me as a pastor.), I don't think you'll get an answer to your questions. I'm not sure Steve wants to rehash the reasons for his rage (I could be wrong?!?). I don't want to speak for him. But you should check out his blog site StupidChurchPeople and see what he's all about.

Steve said...

DC: Rage?? Where in my comments do you see "violent and uncontrolled anger". That's too funny.

You don't know me DC... but I am sure you are intent on trying to fix me as evidenced by your comments. I mean, that's what church people do... assume people are broken and try to fix them.

I made my point but it is possible that you can't understand it. So listen to your pastor and come visit my site. You are welcome anytime.

JimmyBob: You are right... no need to rehash. It's all there in black and white but I think it is far from rage. Thanks for allowing me to comment on your site. I really enjoyed what you wrote here.

jeff said...


Sorry I'm so late in this discussion. But I wanted to investigate before I posted this.

The story you tell concerning Voltaire naking that statement about the bible... do you have any documentation to support it? I've been looking and looking, and all I can find are typical christian websites that all have that quote. But, no one has any ACTUAL documentation/footnotes...etc.

It's a good sermon illustration, but like many of the sermon illustrations I've heard, I'm wondering if it's actually true.

just curious.

JimmyBob said...

Jeff, let me do some research myself and I'll get back to you on that one. I originally read it in Evidence For Christianity. It was used as an illustration of how the Bible has survived in spite of predicted failure. I believe there was a reference for that quote and I looked it up. I'm thinking that's how I came to the article by Robert Ingersoll. The book's in my office at church, sorry. You'll have to give me until tomorrow on that one unless I can figure it out on the internet tonight.

Anyway, I'll be the first to repent if I have gullibly fallen into one of those "Christian" fables. Why does that happen anyway? Are there really that many gullible Christians out there? What kind of person feels the need to conjure up stories about people just to make a spiritual point?

jeff said...

eah, I remember every week during the Bush/Gore elections when my Pastor quoted Al Gore as saying his favorite scripture was John 16:3 instead of John 3:16.

After reading john 16:3, its a great republican, christian sermon illustration. But it was totally untrue.

I get tired of those fables. I'm looking forward to your documentation. If there is none, there's a lot of websites out there who have this story wrong...

Still, interesting point to your post. you opened a good discussion here.

JimmyBob said...

Jeff, checked the book today and found two references for that story and both were from previous apologetics books. One from Geisler/Nix and the other one I can't remember off the top of my head. So, it looks like I'll have to do some deeper digging and actually go to the library. I'm thinking of calling an old college professor. That may save me time. What I'm looking for is a direct quote from Voltair's work, or at least a historians account apart from Christian influence. I believe the article I placed a link to did mention the Geneva Bible Society using his printing press. Also, here is an essay that doesn't seem to be Christian influenced Voltaire. Back to the hunt!

DCMetalJr said...
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JimmyBob said...

DC, I would have refered to the Wikipedia site, but there is no citation for that quote. So, it cannot be verified that it was really said. I emailed the International Bible Society because they use the same quote on their site without verification. I asked them what history book or Voltaire work they pulled that from. Anyway, good to hear from you again. Thanks for helping me out. You're the best!

Steve, thanks for joining the discussion here. I have gone to your site several times but have not yet posted there.

I do have a question for you and I was reluctant to ask you on your site because I didn't want to cause a problem. This is something that has been bothering me since I read your latest blog.

Would you be offended if I posted a picture of the Philadelphia Gay Pride Parade and titled it "It's Gay Season?" Do you think that would be hate speech and should it be flagged? I mean, is that really appropriate on a public blog?

I don't mean to sound preachy, it's a serious question. Tell me what the difference is.

Steve said...


I'd be interested to hear what you think the similarities are?

JimmyBob said...

Steve, just basic similarities, like using the provocative title with the word "season." It sounds like a call to take up your hunting rifle and go bag some food for the winter. And when you use that in connection with a specific people group, it takes on a different tone. Add your personal views and commentary into the mix and it only reinforces the notion that you hate those guys and what they stand for. That's why you have those shooting comments posted by readers. I don't think YOU would joke like that, would you? I just think that title was a bit over the top.

You used to work at Saddleback, right? Did you burn all your bridges? I can't imagine any of them having respect for that post. I mean, I know you don't care, so please don't take me like I'm trying to fix anything there. I'm just making an observation.

Come and post anytime. If I feel brave enough, I might post something on yours. Your partner is definitely out of the box.

dorsey said...

I've been thinking about this, and I don't think that's the only way to consider the post. I grew up near Ocean City, MD, where summertime is considered "tourist season." Locals generally look upon tourists with a fair amount of disdain (even as they rely on tourism for their living). But the use of the word season isn't a call to arms (except maybe tongue-in-cheek, as I perceive the SCP commenters to be). Besides, post titles need to be provocative (I'd Rather Go to the Apple Store than Church, for example).

JimmyBob said...

Yeah, I did think of that angle (and I'm sure the SCP authors did too). Maybe they meant it exactly as you say, like "It's the Holiday Season." This is the time of the year when all the Purpose-Driven Pastors come to California. I guess you can't help what your audience will say.

However, I would still like to hear from Steve on that. What a mistake that would be if someone posted "Gay Season" to describe the time of year they all come to parade in Philadelphia and then mock their beliefs and organization. Wouldn't they still be held accountable if audience members posted comments about shotguns even if they were just tongue in cheek? That would be called "hate speech" wouldn't it?

Steve, please articulate the difference?

Steve said...

JB.... I think I am just going to walk away now from the accusations you seem to be tossing in my direction.

You seem to like to argue for arguments must be fun to live with!

I meant what I said and you can interpret it however you like. Your use of a straw man argument in this case is a wonderful way for you to avoid discussing the meat of my post on the Purpose Driven Pastor Season....which you can find on my site later today.

Keep majoring on the minors Pastor....oh and that reminds me... I forgot to ask....

So JimmyBob how many are ya runnin'?

JimmyBob said...

Steve, I can take correction. I know it was a minor question and didn't have anything to do with the meat of your post (that's why I asked it here, rather than cause trouble there).

I'll have to work on how I ask questions so as not to come across as accusatory.

I've never been to a Purpose Driven seminar, so I'm unfamiliar with that particular culture, but after reading your blog, I got the idea of what you think about it. I can tell you that I don't ask questions like "How many you runnin?" But, I know there are guys that do. They tend to be new to the ministry or of the older generation. Guys my age don't care about that stuff (at least in my circle). They care more about what you've got going on.

I don't know you Steve. I should have called Dorse and asked him for his opinion first before I asked you this question. I was hoping for a different response.

Sorry for the offense. I see now that it was a mistake to even bring up such a question. Please forgive me.

Now I'm gonna have to keep my wife from seeing your response to me because she'll probably bring it up in our next argument. Just think, soon your name will be tossed around in my house, used against me as proof that she's not alone saying how hard I am to live with. Thanks a lot!

Steve said...

JimmyBob: You are right... the "how many are ya runnin" is a question that dates me as do the other questions I brought up in that post. They also poke fun at a specific Southern subculture which I had the opportunity to be a part of....the dress...the manner of speech.

I see the "what have you got going on" as a hipper, more emergent version of the same genre of questions though... or I guess they can be... depending on the persons I am certain.

To answer one of your questions though... I have a good relationship with Rick and many on the staff at Saddleback. My site is not about Saddleback or Rick... nor do I hate anyone there... and I am thankful for much of what I learned there (part of my series of posts on "Life's Too Short" will talk about Saddleback very fondly). I did not burn bridges with them but maintained an integrity and dignity upon leaving. I would never disparage or attack Rick or the church at Saddleback or any of the churches personally with which I have served... collectively I have experiences that have been negative that I think can be learned as to what God's church is to be about....but I also have many, many positive experiences (as chronicled in the "Life's Too Short" posts to date).

Let me emphasize one other thing if I say that from my post you have an idea of what I think about the Purpose Driven Church Seminar from what I wrote. I am sorry but where exactly did you see that?? You see my ending comment on that post (the meat as it were in the last paragraph) was not necessarily a negative commentary on the seminar or conference itself.

Having been to several and taught at a couple back in the day, my comments were an encouragement (in a backhanded fashion) to pastors to take what they see and hear at these conferences at face value... to remember what they know to be true but might have temporarily forgotten in the glitz and glamour of "the show".

Saddleback Church and all other mega-churches struggle with the same problems, contain the same struggles, and possess the same sin (and I am not talking about just members, but staff) as the church the visiting pastors serve in. It's easy to look at your church or yourself as a failure in light of churches like Saddleback. Your goal as Pastors is "to be and do all God has called you to be and do right where you are".

Lots of pastors leave Saddleback feeling like they just don't measure up... I know I did at times. It's frustrating to be somewhere and not have your group grow, or people getting excited about serving, or the offerings going down... these things can seem very depressing. But none of those things are the realities of church ministry nor should they even be the emphasis... because there simply isn't a formula to follow to accomplish what God wants to do through you in the place you are serving.

That's what I want pastors to know. That's what I hope you know already. Because when it is all said and done... what truly matters JimmyBob is that wife that you have and those kids that you were given as a gift to you. That's your true ministry. The rest is negotiable.

Sorry for the message....once a preacher always a preacher I guess. Take care.

BruceD said...

JB said "Just think, soon your name will be tossed around in my house, used against me as proof that she's not alone saying how hard I am to live with. Thanks a lot!"

That completely cracked me up!

JimmyBob said...

Steve, thanks for sharing and I'm sorry for saying those things. I'll be way more careful next time.

To answer your question about the seminar, I probably should have said, "I have never fellowshiped with the seminarians of the Purpose Driven Seminar to understand their culture." I've been to Youth Specialties and sat under Doug Fields. He's a very good teacher.

Thanks for helping to sharpen me.

With all sincerity.

david.s said...

Found this blog through Google. Thoughful stuff! I was interested in the Voltaire quote and his house being purchased and used by a Bible Society after his death. This story, with variations, is widespread on the internet. Most versions say it was the Geneva Bible Society, 20 or 50 years after his death, some say it was also later used by the British Foreign Bible Society.

I've seen references to "A General Introduction to the Bible" by
Geisler and Nix, but it is not in my electronic copy. Was it taken out on revision? I've also seen a forum where someone said they contacted the French Bible Society and they said Voltaire's house at Ferney had never been used by any Bible Society and that this was a ridiculous rumor invented in the USA. The Geneva Bible Society website says they were founded in 1917, which is much to late, being 139 years after Voltaire's death.

As already commented, the actual quote is also difficult to substantiate.

It would appear that this story is not true, but I would be interested in any other info.

JimmyBob said...

I have had trouble myself substantiating the story. I decided to use it however, because of the volume of articles that tell it. Ingersoll certainly admired Voltaire, so I feel comfortable that his writing would not be slanted in God's favor.

Anyway, thanks for posting and God bless you my friend!