Humor Is Resistance

Malcolm Muggeridge, who knew his totalitarians (and the liberals who loved them) once said, “To laugh is to criticize . . . Humour, that is to say, is a kind of resistance movement, which is sometimes indulgently tolerated, sometimes barely tolerated, and sometimes not tolerated at all.” George Orwell, who also knew something about the subject, said, “Whatever is funny is subversive, every joke is ultimately a custard pie.” And Chesterton said that “absurdity is always a serious art.”

Muggeridge knew totalitarianism in both its forms — the jackbooted Stalinist form and also the suffocating and souless materialistic modernity of the West. And echoing Orwell again, such mindsets always result in “smelly little orthodoxies.” And smelly little orthodoxies are not just “mistaken,” they are also pretentious, self-absorbed, conceited, long-faced, megalomaniacal, and humorless.

But to speak as though such things are not just “wrong” but also risible is to raise a flag of genuine defiance. And a flag of defiance is related to something else, which in these days might be illegal to bring up — for I am speaking of true masculinity. There is a counterfeit masculinity that totalitarian regimes can and do muster up, and its chief manifestation is a thick-fingered brutality. In other settings, men who do not know how to be men can certainly be catty and shrill. But in contrast to this, Christian civilizations have the capacity to produce warriors who are cavaliers. This is not to pretend that sin is absent from Christian applications of all this (over the years, we have had our fair share of hypocrites, scoundrels and poltroons), but the differences between Christian and secular civilizations, comparing century to century, remains stark.

But we live in a day when Christian men have too readily (and in a wholesale fashion) accepted what the world says about discussion, debate, discourse, and the clash of faiths. And as a result, many Christians would rather be “nice” than right. But by “right,” I do not mean correct opinions coupled with a nasty attitude. I mean holding to the truth in a truthful way, advancing the claims of beauty in a lovely way, and holding up the good in a way that is genuinely good.

Femininity is creational glory. But effeminacy in men is a grotesque parody of this. Equally troubling is the attempt on the part of women to be masculine. A few days ago I put up a post that revealed my view that Scripture prohibits training women for combat (for those interested, I have a detailed discussion on this in Federal Husband). Apparently, from what I have heard, a local listserve went nuts for a time over this Calloused Insensitivity on my part and, once again, I was a Bad Person. This is because I am a Christian who believes that Scripture teaches that women were not created by God to be warriors. If I were a Muslim who believed something comparable and I made my wife wear a burka out to the mall, then I would be praised by these same people for contributing to the rich diversity of our small little town. And if I were a Christian again who pointed out this discrepancy, then I would once again be a Bad Person. Since I can’t win for losing, then I will content myself with a chuckle.

But this is not a rabbit trail. My point in bringing this up here is that it is almost impossible to describe what contemporary secularists are doing in debate without being funny. I am not sure I am capable of it. And so when I admit that I am licked, and just describe what is going down, a number of men who are weak sisters (“aaa! he did it again!”) will gather around me with concerned looks and ask if we are really advancing the cause of dialogue with this kind of thing. No, we are not, but we were not told to dialogue. “For we dialogue not with flesh and blood, but with principalities and powers . . . therefore put on the talking points of God, the dossier of accepted consensus, the post-it notes of concerns to bring up . . .” (Dephesians 6)

One of the most marked features of compromised Christian men in our age is an effeminate failure of masculinity, seen notably in a failure to engage in spiritual warfare like Christian men. There are many symptoms of this, but one marked feature of it is humorlessness. But it is not humorlessness arising from a lack of native wit; rather it is humorlessness coming from fear of having to go out and actually fight with the giants or dragons. A close corollary is the fear of having somebody on your side behave in such a manner as to provoke the giant. But David did not just fight with Goliath, he spoke to him first and his manner of speech was not in keeping with contemporary academic standards.

John Frame, in his recent review of McLaren’s A Generous Orthodoxy, insightfully hits this failure of McLaren to recognize the reality of the spiritual warfare we are in, and the responsibility of Christians to be actively engaged in that warfare.

So my contention is this. Our sense of cultural maturity and masculinity is so far gone that there is no way to recover it without controversy. In other words, any person doing exactly the right thing, the one thing needful, will be thought by many to be troubler of Israel.

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