Is faith funny? It depends on who’s looking.
Walk into a minyan of Jews praying in morning, if you’re not used to it, and it might be pretty hard not to laugh. You’ll see people bound up in leather – strips digging into their arms and dangling down their backs, with boxes sprouting like unicorn horns from their heads – and topped off with big woolen striped shawls with dangling bits of threads at the ends. It’s funny looking.
It’s also, of course, spiritually uplifting.
Most rituals look funny to the outside world. That’s probably even part of their function, because they separate the people who do them from the people who do not. The older and more specific the religious tradition, the more binding it is to insiders and the odder is looks to outsiders.
Judaism also of course has a long tradition of humor, much of it black. The horrors of much of Jewish history have made us adept at the laughing to keep from crying school of jokesmithing. More recently, immigrants’ attempts to fit in with the world in which they find themselves – fish out of water stuff – has made jokes from Jewishness. As we’ve become thoroughly assimilated, that kind of humor seems to be dying out. There are no young Jackie Masons.
And on an even more basic level, to laugh is to be human. Religion encompasses all of life, and laughter is part of it. Although the Bible would never be mistaken for a joke book, the name of one of our patriarchs, Isaac, means “he laughed,” and it refers to the laughter of his mother, Sarah, who first laughed bitterly when she was told that she would give birth for the first time when she was 90 years old, and who laughed with joy when she had the baby.
There is nothing human that is foreign to religion. Sometimes life is funny. Sometimes faith is funny, too.
St | Jun 15, 2011 4:24 PM