Have you heard the one about the unscrupulous contractor who watered down the paint he was using on the church's steeple? A sudden storm came up, a gust of wind blew him to the ground, and as he looked up in pain and fear, a deep voice boomed, "Repaint and thin no more!"
Do you know the four religious truths all people of faith need to know?
1. Muslims don't recognize Jews as God's chosen people.
2. Jews don't recognize Jesus as the Messiah.
3. Protestants don't recognize the pope as the leader of the Christian world.
4. Baptists don't recognize each other at Hooters.
And then there are those party-loving, far-from-teetotalling Episcopalians: Wherever two or three are gathered together, you'll find a fifth.
Go ahead. Laugh. You know you want to.
The more important something is to us -- whether faith, family or a great cause -- the more essential it is to laugh about it. I don't mean the mocking, derisive sort of laughter, but the chortles that spring from seeing the absurdity that lurks in every human endeavor. It keeps us from taking ourselves too seriously. It punctures our pomposity.
When joking about such a potentially sensitive subject as religion, of course, it's wiser to poke fun at your own tradition than to rib others. In your own family of faith you're more likely to know where the line is drawn between humor and attack. Laughter turns ugly when that line is crossed -- I was once appalled to hear a Christian make a casual joke about the Holocaust. Hint to aspiring comics: Anything that kills millions of people is not a laughing matter.
Some Muslims have reacted with deadly violence to cartoons and caricatures that they saw as an attack on Islam or the Prophet Muhammad. As British author and broadcaster Sarfraz Manzoor wrote last month in The Washington Post, "Muslims aren't exactly famous these days for lightheartedness." But that's changing, he wrote, with the rise of Muslim comedians who can poke fun at themselves:
"Earlier this year, I sat in a West London hall watching a heavily bearded Muslim man rip into his audience. Azhar Usman is no fundamentalist; he's an American comedian who tours with two fellow Muslims in a show they call 'Allah Made Me Funny.' Everywhere I looked, British Muslims of all ages -- some women wearing head scarves, some men in suits -- were doing something you hardly ever see: laughing. Here were ordinary, moderate Muslims reveling in a good time, as if in defiance of the extreme voices that overpower theirs in the public square.
"The irony is that 'Allah Made Me Funny' springs from a tradition that stretches back to the days of the prophet Muhammad himself, who by all accounts enjoyed a good laugh; indeed, he had a companion with the honorific title 'jester of the prophet.' It's only recently that Muslims have become sensitive about religious jokes. "
Laughter: the antidote to extremism. What a great punchline!
Care to share a joke about your own tradition?