I will tell you from the start – I love the Babylon Bee. It’s brilliant, biting wit is unmatched. While I’ve found a few of the posts a touch mean-spirited and a few have bothered me a little, but the Bee has given me more than a few chuckles and “oh my goodnesses.”
My question today is not whether the Bee is funny or whether it is “spot-on” in its analysis. The question is whether there is a place in the Christian social media world for satire.
Is There a Problem with “Christian” Satire?
I recently copied this Babylon Bee gem to my site and had an interesting response. One of my “sincere” Christian friends reposted it and I suspect it was to demonstrate that she was most certainly a “real Christian.” Another friend rebuked me, wondering how I could be duped into believing that a person could show the reality of their faith by sharing a post like this. Neither of them understood the satirical nature of the post.
A friend announced today on Facebook that if he ever reposts any more Babylon Bee stuff he is going to add a disclaimer that it is satire because of the problems that have come from it.
I’m guessing every one of you who has shared a Bee article has had someone respond not realizing it was satire, either getting offended or angry of something. Did you see the recent one about Obama dedicating the 18th hole of his golf round to the victims of Louisiana’s flooding? Many people used this as proof positive that the president is a no-good, dirty, rotten….well, you finish the sentence. The fact that this was satire either did not register or was irrelevant. Should we condemn the president’s behavior based on a fictional story?
How often have you been duped? Or perhaps read a real but bizarre story and looked around to wonder if it is not actually a Babylon Bee offering?
The world accepts satire as a normal thing, but is it an appropriate outlet for us as Christians? Please understand my motives. I’m not some old codger (well, I am) who hates rock music questioning whether drums and guitars are “of the Lord.” I love the Bee. It’s brilliant. I’d love to have created it and I’d love to contribute to it. I actually had an idea for a post back before the SBC, but I thought better of it in the interests of unity. I ask this question as a fan of the site. But we are not hedonists. The fact that I enjoy something doesn’t make it godly. If I don’t enjoy something it doesn’t make it wrong. It is right that we ask ourselves what kind of humor is appropriate for Christians in social media and whether the Body of Christ is being built up by this.
Are sarcasm, insult, and the kind of disdain that are the lifeblood of Babylon Bee inherently fleshly or can they be redeemed? Can these things build up the Body?
Does the confusion and misunderstanding that the Bee (and other Christian satire sites) cause negate whatever good they do? People often come away from the Bee believing false stories. We can blame it on their naivete and lack of internet sophistication, but does the chance of misunderstanding negate whatever benefit might come?
The (Attempted) Answers
I do not have a definitive answer – I don’t think this is one of those clear-cut, black and white, right and wrong, easy-to-judge issues. I can’t give you 12 clear guidelines to follow. There is a line at which humor becomes ungodly and destructive, I believe, but we must also believe that humor is a creation of God. Like fire, it is neither intrinsically good or bad. What I have here are more reflections.
1. Christians cannot simply mimic the worldly ethic.
Romans 14:9-10 makes it clear that we have a Lord to whom we will answer one day. Just because I enjoy this kind of humor does not justify it and just because you may not enjoy it does not condemn it. We must look at biblical principles and make a decision based on them, seek to exalt Christ, and recognize that this may be one of those disputable matters in which we may not all come to the same decision.
But as those living under the Lordship of Christ, we must look at things like this and not just say, “It makes me laugh,” therefore, it must be good. South Park made me laugh but it was hardly godly. We need redeemed and redemptive decision-making and discernment.
2. Full disclosure is probably best.
It might be best to do as my friend did today, and commit to making sure that no one is fooled on your FB page by a Babylon Bee article. Label it clearly. A lot of people just don’t have the savvy, sophistication, or discernment to distinguish real news and satire. How often do people share fake news stories planted by the faux-conservative news sites? We joke that if it’s on the internet it has to be true, but in spite of all evidence, a lot of people live their lives this way.
If you are going to share the Bee (or other such humor posts), it might be best to go the second, third, even fourth mile in making sure all your readers understand.
3. Sharing on social media is a form of teaching – it makes you responsible.
I know, people are idiots. I look at that picture above and think, how could anyone take that seriously? But did you know that the word gullible is written in faded letters at the top of this page? You looked, didn’t you? When you share on Facebook, you are teaching, evangelizing, exhorting, rebuking – whatever the case may be. It is a form of teaching and it seems that at some level, James 3:1 kicks in and you bring to yourself the responsibility to take extra care that you do not deceive those you share with.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen something and been about to share it and thought, no. Can’t do it. This person or that might misunderstand.
4. Remember, a lost world is listening.
The vast majority of my social media friends are fellow conservative Christians. But I have some non-believers, some atheists, some people from other denominations and other perspectives out there. I remember a few years ago I heard a great satirical joke about Lent – which has never mattered a lick to me. “I gave up meaningless religious rituals for Lent.” I promptly posted it on Facebook, and an old friend of mine, a Christian from Europe with whom I went to high school in Taiwan 150 years ago, logged on to explain to me how meaningful Lent was to her. She is a genuine believer, though on many issues she stands on my left. I gave her offense just by being flippant about something that was precious to her.
Now, if I had written a serious post about why Lent is not a genuine Christian practice, that would be one thing, but a sarcastic, insulting statement was hardly a Christlike thing, I now think.
5. Make sure it’s fair and true!
I’ve been the subject of some satirical ridicule myself, which I felt was grossly unfair. I’m guessing that if Joel Osteen ever reads any of the Babylon Bee posts about him, he thinks they are unfair. Again, I’m not sure where the line is here, or even if there is a clear line, but we must always make sure that our satire rings of truth and is fair in its presentation. The secret to satire is that it COULD be true. How many times has someone asked you to repost something, hinting that if you love Jesus, you will share it? The post I mentioned above is funny because people really do things just like that. It calls attention to something that really happens. There was an article about how Obama was cracking down on global warming as a result of recent terror attacks. Silly? Of course, but there have been actually administration suggestions that global warming is a root cause of Middle Eastern terrorism. There is a grain of truth.
6. Satire should be clearly satire and not just a false news story.
The story about Obama golfing came close to violating this because it was the kind of story many people, in their hatred of Obama, would accept as true. While I’ve said we should label our satire, there should be no need to label satire because it is so clearly satire. Most of the Bee stories are funny, poke a funny bone of truth, but are so clearly not true that they are easily seen (by most) as satire. I think this is important.
7. If you laugh at them, laugh at you.
The best satire is when you laugh at you, not at them. The head honcho of the Bee is, I believe, a Calvinist, but some of his best posts have teased Team Geneva. And I appreciate that I tend to see those being shared most by my Calvinist friends. “Yep, that was me a while back.” “I’ve known guys like that. We all have, right?”
There was a satire site many centuries ago (in blogging years) that I found entertaining, but all their fun was poked at one group of people. I made a comment indicating that I found one of their posts humorous and received a “love note” from one of the people who had been the subject of the satire on that site questioning the validity of my walk with God because I laughed when someone made fun of brothers in Christ.
He may have had a point, but just before I got my email rebuke from him, I’d witnessed a comment exchange between him and two or three of his buddies in which they were harshly ridiculing some brothers in Christ who were on the other side of that day’s blog war. For him, it was fine for him to join with his friends to ridicule the other side, but it was not okay for me to enjoy a well-written satire that made fun of him. There’s a term for that, I think. It starts with “hypo” and ends with “crisy.” You can figure out the rest.
We need to be just as willing to laugh at our own as to make fun of them.
8. Satire ought to be mostly good natured ribbing, not brutal skewering.
Again, I’m setting up a boundary that is hard to define, but it’s an important one, I think. Good satire has a velvet claw. It scratches gently but does not rip deep wounds. If a satire is too mean, too dark, too pointed, too hurtful, best just to leave it be.
9. Satire is a diversion, not a tool of discipleship.
Enjoy it if you do, but when we preach and teach, very little satire ought to be present. Earnest proclamation is the norm for discipling God’s people, for teaching the word of God. When satire, when polemics, when words of attack become the norm, you’ve likely strayed off the straight and narrow.
10. I really had a tenth thing, but I forgot it.
I’m hoping I’ll remember, in which case I’ll replace this placeholder. If not, 10 seems like a much better number than 9 anyway.
I’m really still thinking through this. These are some random thoughts. I’d love to hear what you think, although if I get a “well, it’s funny so it has to be okay” answer, I’ll probably invoke the Lutheran Insulter on you.
What say you?