Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Why Satire can Hurt Your Fealings Without Being Mean-Spirited or Evil

As is so often the case, Wikipedia provides an excellent clear definition of true satire which I will post here in support of my point:

"Satire is primarily a literary genre or form, although in practice it can also be found in the graphic and performing arts. In satire, vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, and society itself, into improvement. Although satire is usually meant to be funny, its greater purpose is often constructive social criticism, using wit as a weapon." (my emphasis added)

If a harsh remark or insult is like shoving a knife in someone's gut in order to do them harm and cause them pain, true satire is more like a surgeon's scalpel which must inflict harm with the intent of doing a greater good. Satire seeks to cut out the tumors of ignorance, abuse, folly, and other ills. It must do this because, in the estimation of the author, all other tactics have failed. The perpetrators of the wrong that a particular satire seeks to address have closed their ears to polite criticism and humble encouragement. The patient is too far gone for mild treatments. It is time to operate... always with the intent of forcing change, improvement, and awareness.

No doubt, people considered Jonathan Swift cruel and wrong for suggesting infanticide and cannibalism in "A Modest Proposal" as a way to deal with poverty, over-population, and hunger in 18th century Ireland. I'm sure the rich English establishment did not like the implication that they were being hard-hearted.

No doubt, people considered Mark Twain's portrayal of Huck Fin's moral guilt over betraying his southern upbringing by being racially tolerant to be offensive and mean-spirited.

No doubt, people even today hate to even read George Orwell's "Animal Farm" and Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451" because they don't like to encounter such direct, dystopian, and derisive analysis of modern culture. Portraying socialists as pigs and comfort-addicts as brainless, spiritless, and heartless is not a way to win friends. It is a way to get your point across when people otherwise will not listen.

That brings us to the knee-jerk defense when you find your faults cornered, exposed, and ridiculed by satire. You want to call the author out for being mean... or at least being unfair. Are they being mean or unfair? Is the author just being a jerk who unnecessarily tears down his opponents? Does the author have a point or is he just being overly critical to different poitns of view? These are important questions. They are important enough to warrant serious evaluation and application instead of just an uninformed and emotional denial.

There are alot of jerks out there who hide their bad attitudes and offensive sense of humor under the label of "satire". There are alot of bad examples of satire where it falls flat on its face. But it is easy to answer these questions on a case by case basis by just looking at the individual piece itself. Satire isn't about tearing people down in order to be funny. It uses humor and wit to tear down bad ways of thinking in order to build people up and improve their situation if they would just abandon the folly that the author is pointing out.

So when a Christian creates true satire in speaking about the church with the intent to address and correct public matters of doctrine and practice, is he sinning against his neighbor? I don't think so. Individual cases vary, but one should not jump to the conclusion that the strategy is inherently evil especially when the intent is to bring about a greater good and all nice approaches have failed time and again.

...especially when the Prophet Nathan uses a satirical parable in 2nd Samuel 12 to rhetorically corner King David and call him to repentence by turning his own words against him: "You are the man!" If David was a fool, he would ignore his sin and accuse Nathan of being mean and trapping him. David was not a fool. He saw the point of the exchange and recognized it for what it was: a harsh, direct call to repentence.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Causing Offense with New Age Jargon

If you want to win me over to your cause, do not use the word "tribe" to describe some non-tribal group. Using it in this way is a weasel word, a piece of jargon made to manipulate people while obfuscating the details of the actual truth.

Examples of this include calling Lutheranism the "Lutheran tribe" or calling the Jews in the New Testament the "Jewish tribe" (which is properly called a culture that happens to contain 12 actual tribes if you know anything at all about the subject) or the "Gentile tribe" (which is the biggest abuse of the word "tribe" thus far). None of these groups are tribes in the sense that the word tribe has ever been used in the history of the English language. Stop it. You might as well call a group of cats "a fleet", or a collection of books "a herd", or the whole human body "an organ", or two boats "an armada", or the State of Alabama "a county".

It makes you sound stupid and ignorant. It makes you sound like you are putting on heirs. It tells me that you are the kind of person who can't use words properly or is just not honest and precise enough to call something what it actually is. It tells me that you are a parrot who picks up things that sound interesting and repeats them without true understanding or analysis. Parrots are annoying.

Most of all this artistic use of the word "tribe" is very offensive to people who have actually interacted with real tribal groups and all the complex community-based interactions that go along with it. If you have lived with, worked along side, or known people who actually have true tribal ties you realize that Lutherans are not a tribe. The whole Jewish culture is not a single tribe. Everyone who is not Jewish is not a tribe. That's just silly and wrong.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

A Few Lessons That I have Learned by FAILING at a Fast

Now is the time of year when everyone wants to talk and read about successful fasting techniques and the kinds of lessons you learn while fasting. I'm going to engage in the exact opposite discussion by talking about some of the things that I have learned by unsuccessful fasting and what can be learned after you fail at it. :P

1. Your inability to keep your outward disciplines has no effect on your eternal standing before God... and neither does your ability to temporarly obserive such disciplines. On account of Christ, you remain an heir of the Kingdom of God by grace alone through faith alone. You have failed in even the simplest things and remain His beloved child in spite of what you do or do not do rather than because of it. Even when you fail in greater things, the promise of the forgiveness of sins and heaven are not denied to you. At the point of failure is where the Gospel is at its clearest.

2. Your fallen nature is such that you cannot keep this simple devotion for a short period of time... where then is your boasting in things which are far more difficult or impossible? If any man boasts, let him boast in the Lord.

3. While you were being successful at your fast, you felt pride at your accomplishment which was replaced by disappointment and shame when you failed. That entire time while you fasted, you habitually engaged in sins far more heinous and injurious to faith. Why do you not lament them as severly as this abandonment of your simple outward training?

4. Your lack of dedication has not cut you off from God's revelation to man. You have made a concerted effort to exercise a discipline and failed... and yet God continues to speak to you in His Word and from the mouth of your pastor, God continues to give you the forgiveness of your sins in His word of Absolution, and continues to draw you to Himself through the mysteries of the Holy Sacraments. He remains steadfast and true to His promises to you even when you cannot keep the promises and resolutions that you make to yourself. Contrast this assurance with the vein worship of the mystics who wrongly think that they must prove themselves worthy before they can be truly enlightened and uplifted by the Holy Spirit.

5. God's loving blessings to you in this world are so complete, lovely, and abundant that even His gift of daily bread is a precious thing to you that you hardly call to mind... a gift that you do not realize how much you enjoy until you attempt to do without it. It is hard to understand the great hights of blessing that God has given you in this life until you attempt to forgo a few of them. You are so blessed that you have food and simple delights that you must constantly ignore in order to observe any kind of fast. God's bountiful riches are given to you in such abundence that they bombard you like an annoyance when you attempt to forego them. How can you then complain about your lot in life with such profound and bountiful gifts from the Heavenly Father?

6. You could not do without a few meals by choice. Imagine the suffering of those who involuntarily go without food on a regular basis through poverty or famine. Imagine the horror you would know if you could not end your fasting as easily as you did. Realizing this, you can now recognize that you have the power in this modern age to help your fellow man to feel as physically satisfied as you do now... through charity and the feeding of the poor around the world.

7. The hunger that you suffered during the fast is nothing compared to the hunger of the soul who desprives himself of God's Word and Sacraments. You cannot experience the former for a few days without great suffering, but--in your sin--you can ignore the latter for extended periods of time and actually feel better about yourself and your situation. You are hard pressed to ever skip a meal, but skipping church or family devotion is no big deal at all. When you are starving for food it as though no feast is large enough for your eyes... and yet the spiritual feast which God offers to halt your spiritual starvation quickly becomes tiresome, boring, repetitive, and too much for your tastes.