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Archive for June 10th, 2011

Everything is beautiful in a person when he turns toward God, and everything is ugly when he  is turned away from God.

-Fr. Pavel Florensky

A meditation from Fr Stephen Freeman:http://fatherstephen.wordpress.com/2011/06/10/saving-beauty-2/

Icon by Father Gregory Krueg

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I really wish there was a better word than “sarcasm” for what I want to defend, but I cannot think of one. “Irony” is too weak, and “pointed humor that cuts through the nonsense” is too awkward. So “sarcasm” will have to do.

I have been taken to task a few times for my mocking tone when I am talking about certain politicians. One person suggested that this is contrary to Christ’s command to love one’s enemies, which I have said I take seriously.

To this I can only reply that the Scriptures are full of sarcasm.

Take  Elijah’s taunts to the prophets of Baal as they implored their god to bring down fire from the sky. Then, in a real sarcastic move, Elijah poured buckets of water on his own sacrifice to really make an impression when fire did indeed descend. This just before he cut the throats of the false prophets.

Christ, of course, cut no one’s throat and transcended the Old Testament paradigm of justice, teaching his followers to love even our enemies. But that did not stop him from using wit to criticize his own enemies. His words mocking the religious establishment are classics in the canon of sarcasm. “Whited sepulchers”, he called them, “vipers”. He made fun of their legalistic approach to holiness, straining at gnats while swallowing camels.

Our Lord was a real smart ass.

Of course we should proceed with caution; none of us have anything close to His purity of heart. But His followers also could be quite sarcastic. St Paul, for example, frequently employed sarcasm,  often with salty language (largely cleaned up by the translators). And many saints followed suit, from the early fathers to the holy fools.

I use sarcasm because if I didn’t I would descend into anger. It sometimes seems the only response I can manage. And it sometimes seems the only response that is justified.

If someone would say to you that the logical solution for Third World hunger and overpopulation is for the poor in underdeveloped countries to eat their children should the response begin with a calm  “On the other hand…” or should you tell him to his face that he is a monster?

When someone who professes to be a Christian tells you that it is morally defensible to hang a man by his thumbs, to deprive him of sleep, to pour icy water on him in a cold room, to simulate drowning him, or any of the other horrors that are employed in “enhanced interrogation” do you dignify this with a logically constructed, reasoned response? No, you tell him in the strongest terms you can muster that he is a moral idiot.

Nonsense must be treated as nonsense.

I mean, really, when Newt Gingrich shows up at a Catholic venue  with former adulteress Number Three on his arm to promote his documentary on John Paul, or his book on religion in America, does it make sense to dignify his efforts with applause? Instead, he should be laughed off the stage. When he said that he committed adultery because, darn it, he just loved his country too much he should have been met with guffaws (and for once that was generally the response). I can see how excessive nationalism can lead to violations of most of the commandments, but not that one.

Or when Rick Santorum presents himself as a Catholic moral crusader,  he who campaigned for pro-abortion Arlen Spector when political expedience dictated, and who is a zealous promoter of torture and war? And an anti-Muslim alarmist? He is begging for mockery.

And when President Obama lectures a Middle Eastern audience on the importance of nonviolence, even when at that moment he is bombing the hell out of  several of their neighbors and targeting his enemies for assassination shouldn’t he be called a hypocrite to his face?

But isn’t this mean and unloving?

No, I don’t think so. Our Lord used strong language in speaking of the Pharisees, and by definition he must have loved them. To say that strong criticism and rapier wit is contrary to love probably stems from a confused notion of love. Love is not warm feelings. Love does not mean that one holds a high opinion of someone who does not merit it. Love is an act of the will, a refusal to desire harm to another. I pray for my enemies, for their “health and salvation”, in the words of the Liturgy. And I think the jolt of sarcasm may be just what they need to wake up from whatever illusion they are entertaining.

And don’t forget that the saints, from the Desert Fathers to St Francis, have told us that the one thing the Devil cannot stand is to be mocked. He takes himself too seriously for that, and so do all afflicted with pride.

Sarcasm is a tool. Just as a blade may be used to vandalize and wound, or to excise a cancerous tumor, so sarcasm can be wielded for good or ill. It can be employed to bully the weak, or to mock the marginalized. It can be racist.

Sarcasm in the service of righteousness should only be addressed to the powerful and proud.

And we must never descend into meanness.

As I said in the last issue of the magazine, you have to ask yourself, “Am I being prophetic, or just pissed off?”

Not that the two are mutually exclusive.

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