Bible Study Whether Mocking Humor / Satire Toward Friends is Truly Funny or Instead Improper
The Bible on Mockery by Men
What does God think about when you mock (make another appear ridiculous)? Whether done one-on-one or in front of others, this is what God says of mocking someone else:
The Lord mocks the mockers, but is gracious to the humble (Proverbs 3:34).
The Bible has many examples of men wrongly using mockery. It is always criticized as wrong when any comment is made on its propriety. (Many times it is just present in the text without evaluation).
Thus, people of God have been mocked by onlookers. For example the disciples were mocked on the day of Pentecost. "Others mocking said,'They are full of new wine'" Acts 2:13
Jesus was mocked by the soldiers, Pharisees and other onlookers before He was crucified.
There is one incident where the punishment of mocking a man of God was immediate. This incident can be found in 2 Kings 2:23. Elisha was going to Bethel after he received the double portion of the spirit from Elijah. Youths came up to him and mocked him saying "Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!" They heard about Elijah, the way he went up. They were very sarcastic about that incident and did not hesitate to express their sarcasm. Moments later, two bears came out of the wood and mauled them. The lesson for us is 'do not mock.'
Many people use ridicule without knowing it is improper mockery. Now I am not here to rebuke your use of mockery. I am just here to make you aware what is mockery, and whether you are doing it. (Or if you suffer from it, how to cope.) For the Bible tells me not to try to rebuke a mocker. As it says in Proverbs 9:8-9:
Do not rebuke mockers or they will hate you;
rebuke the wise and they will love you.
James Spiegel in an article on "Mock Humor" in Christianity Today gives this evaluation of mocking humor:
Avoid mocking persons because to mock a fellow human being indirectly insults God, since we all bear God's image. Moreover, mockery is painful to the person mocked. It's a form of contempt and is wrong, no matter how many laughs one might elicit.
A Christian website begins a topic:
Dear ones, Have you too noticed how prevalent the untrue, crass, and depreciating put downs rear their ugly heads in Christian circles? Have you too noticed that these put downs are dressed up to demonically masquerade as “humor?” ("Raising Children")
A Christian counseling website describes this kind of verbal abuse:
Sometimes verbal abuse is disguised as jokes. Although his comments may masquerade as humor, they cut the partner to the quick. The verbal jabs may be delivered crassly or with great skill, but they all have the same effect of diminishing the partner and throwing her off balance. ("Verbal Abuse.")
The Epistle to the Hebrews says that the reason that we are to come together is not to criticize, but to “exhort” (encourage) one another (Hebrews 10:25). Paul has an edifying remark on this score:
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29).
Then is ridicule, mockery or satire of others about possible faults / different viewpoints -- putdown humor - appropriate? or ungodly? The one dishing it out thinks if the recepient does not find it funny that the problem is with the recipient. And if it hurts their feelings, then the ridiculer thinks the recipient is socially maladjusted and should just accept it. The recipient is "thin skinned" (more mockery and ridicule.) The ridiculer never thinks that such behavior is juvenile, mean-spirited or improper. They believe the problem is all the recipient's perception -- not accepting it as a 'joke.'
Initially, aside from the question of Biblical propriety, the ridiculer should consider that others will not wish to associate or be friends with them. And if we are trying to reach non-believers and use such humor, we cannot believe this will 'gain friends and influence people' for Christ. It repels them from us. But the ridiculer knows that. So the issue here is whether the ridiculer / mocker / putdown artist should refrain from doing so for moral reasons among other Christians even when there is no concern about leading them to Christ.
First, let's consider how the world looks at what we are talking about:
This points to the role of ridicule in maintaining order. The sociologist Erving Goffman asked why people follow the everyday, micro-codes of behaviour. His answer was that they do so because of the fear of social embarrassment (Goffman, 1967). However, he did not then ask why embarrassment might be feared. A simple answer would be that embarrassment is funny to others. If we break social codes, then we fear that others might laugh at our infringements, mocking our inappropriate behaviour. Thus, fear of mockery may be the key means for maintaining social order. Humour, far from being principally rebellious, also fulfils a deeply conservative function (for more details of this argument, see Billig, 2001a).
"Freud & the Language of Humor," Pscychologist 2002 at 454.
One Christian counseling website calls putdown artists / ridiculers toxic people, and describes them as follows:
All of us have at one time or another been involved with, worked with, or been related to toxic people. Those are the people, who when you are with them, never fail to make you feel bad about yourself, or say or do something that is critical of you. You could be in the best mood, and have the best of intentions and they will cut you down, make some sarcastic remark, give you a dirty look, or accuse you of something that you never did or said. They have a way of ruining your day, your life, and your good moods. And if you dare to challenge their perceptions of you or something that they say you did, they immediately blame you and make everything your fault. The bottom line is, after you have spent some time with them, you feel lousy. You feel emotionally drained, and you feel sick. Sometimes even physically sick.
This is why we call such people TOXIC: The dictionary defines toxic as "poisonous." These people are actually POISONOUS to you. Let's take it a step further. The dictionary defines POISON as "a substance that can seriously injure an organism or destroy life." Wow! So toxic people can end your very life because they are that poisonous to you.
Toxic people are dangerous to you. They can be annoying, obnoxious, irritating and depressing. They can dampen your spirits. They can ruin your reputation. They can get you fired from your job. They can destroy your relationships with spouses, lovers, relatives and friends. They can erode your self esteem. They can cause you to go into deep depression. They can cause you to get sick which can take the form of anxiety, panic attacks, and make your life miserable.
They divide those who use humor -- the toxic person -- into three categories:
The Putdown Artist: The Putdown Artist is constantly making others the butt of jokes in an attempt to deflect attention away from their own shortcomings. These jokes are usually very cruel and abusive. They are not funny, they just are meant to inflict pain on the person being joked about. They will do this in front of others.
The Bully: The Bully thrives on dominating and humiliating those they perceive as weaker than them. They can be very dangerous if their bullying involves physical attacks.
The Master Manipulator: The Master Manipulator uses cunning, trickery and deception to control victims. Like the instigator they will purposely go after any weakness that you have, make fun of it, and then become super charged when you fall for their trickery. They actually will start a fight, and then make it look like you started the fight or argument and then pass that on to everyone else. You come out looking like the bad guy.
The verbal abuser tries to deflect any self-evaluation by insisting the recipient is overly sensitive which is now a direct dig at the recipient. The abuser hurls this as a follow-up to cause doubt and frustration in the recipient to make them think it is all in their head:
A victim is often the target of ... sarcasm.... The abuser's reaction to these actions is frequently cloaked in a "What's wrong with you?" attitude. She is accused of "making a mountain out of a molehill." Over time [the recipient] loses her balance and equilibrium and begins to wonder if she is the one who is crazy. ("Verbal Abuse.")
In fact, this discounting of the feelings of the recipient is just more verbal abuse, but this time not cloaked in humor:
A third category of verbal abuse is discounting. This is like taking a one hundred-dollar item and reducing its price to one cent. Discounting denies the reality and experience of the partner and is extremely destructive. It can be a most insidious form of verbal abuse because it denies and distorts the partner's actual perception of the abuse. ("Verbal Abuse.")
The issue comes up among Christians whether to use putdowns in debates -- whether with Christians or not. One author comments:
When the majority criticizes us, we may find that we need to put down, even make fun of the key leaders of the majority. Can you believe how silly and foolish xxxxx person is because he believes_______. ("Wise Counsel.")
There is a video about there should not be "name calling" and "putdowns" among Christians. ("Higher Praise Tube").
Is the problem with the recipient's reaction instead, that is having feelings of being embarrassed or humiliated or uncomfortable and not wishing to share company with the ridiculer?
In some respects such verbal abuse under the guise of humor is a form of persecution. We are told to put up with it, and it may indeed toughen us for persecution that God's enemies may inflict.
1 Peter 4:12 - Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you.
One Christian woman talked about a husband who constantly mocked everyone around him, including her, and she decided to patiently endure it:
I have a husband like this... Every time he mocks me I just thought I will get used to it....Deep inside it hurts...but it's his nature being sarcastic with everyone around him....I sometimes regret of marrying him...and its realy hard to respect him. But it's me who is a Christian so it's right to turn my other cheek and ignore his flaws(being sarcastic)...be tolerant...and pray.
So maybe that is the answer -- it is not the persecutor or ridiculer who must change, but the recipient should learn to grin and bear it?
The Christian counseling website above that defined toxic people recommends instead that Christians simply dissasociate from such people, citing Jesus' verse on 'cast the dust off your shoes':
What did Jesus say about such people? He told the disciples to go into a town and preach the gospel and give that town their "peace." If the town accepted the disciples, then well and good, but if they did not receive what they had to say Jesus told the disciples to "dust off your shoes and leave that town" He also said, "do not cast your pearls before swine." He told them to go where they would be heard, loved and accepted without having to jump through hoops to get people to listen to them.
The same thing goes for the toxic people in your life. You are "you" and your real friends, do not treat you badly. You can be yourself around them, say and do the same things you want to do without being in fear of their criticism and put downs, and manipulative set ups, etc. This is because they are not TOXIC PEOPLE to you.
The bottom line is this: You cannot afford to associate with people who are trying to destroy your very life. Without using a weapon, they are systematically destroying your sense of happiness and well being, and your joy and your peace.
If the toxic people in your life are members of your own family then God tells you to leave that family. I am talking about the adult toxic people in your life, not toxic children who you cannot leave until they are at least 18. If your young children are toxic to you then you need to get them professional help before they turn into one of the above described toxic personalities.
How should the one who is accused of being a toxic humorist evaluate their own behavior? Whether the response is weird of the listener to dissaociate? Or should the humorist conclude their humor is inappopriate?
First, the ridiculer must realize there may be a fine line between a putdown that is intended humorously or a putdown that is subtly meant to send a message under the guise of humor. And the recipient may not be able to tell the difference. And in the end, either way, such humor is inappropriate.
So let's start with the assumption you are making poisonous putdowns that hurt but you, the ridiculer, believe it should be understood as a jest. 'Your overweight condition makes me sick!" -- joking! "You never come into work on time" (even if the recipient works late everday) -- "joking!"
If you are the one accused of using such humor as a verbal abuser, how do you self-evaluate, especially if you are a follower of Christ?
The Bible's Instructions
Verbal abuse is assault with angry words even if couched as humor. Even if you believe it is truly funny, and not mean-spirited at all. Why?
Because such jokes are not funny, and thus humor is just a pretense for an attack -- even if you really did intend it as humor. 'You are so fat I could scream' is humorously spoken, but the words are simply not funny. Any adult knows such high-school juvenile humor is a bad attempt at humor. Hence, anything that goes along with it can only be construed by a RATIONAL person as an angry mean-spirited putdown, even if the speaker truly does not intend the words to be heard that way. Thus, your belief as the ridiculer that you can answer 'I was just joking' does not justify the put-down. It is never funny to point out and exaggerate a flaw, pecadillo, viewpoint, etc. by mockery. It is properly understood and construed as maliscious statements even if they are not. That's because the speaker either is too juvenile to realize it is not funny and hence it is improper, or the speaker is an adult and should know that such humor is not funny and thus can properly be interpreted as designed to stir up anger. Either way, they are mean, evil and provacatory words.
Proverbs 29:22 says, "An angry man stirs up strife, and a hot-tempered man abounds in transgression."
Indeed, in an adult, such humor is a guise, whether conscious or not, to voice a subtle complaint with another's behavior or appearance. In a juvenile, it may be just a poor taste in humor. But in an adult, it is a means of addressing an issue without discussing it, just putting down another to get them to change / manipulate them to a behavior you, the ridiculer, prefer. Even the ridiculer may not be conscious that this is what they are doing, thinking it is just silly humor, but everyone knows that on another level an adult is using such inappropriate humor to convey a point / message.
Hence, even if the adult ridiculer is not aware that they have an anger issue, whether small or great, they need to see they are coping with it by inappropriate humor.
So where there was peace, the angry word spoken in the guise of humor stirs up strife. Rather than being angry and expressing anger via humor, the ridiculer should explain in love 'I think you could lose some weight for your health. Is there anything I can do to help?' 'I think you should come in earlier to work. What are the issues keeping you from coming in earlier?'
But the ridiculer who is stubborn responds 'I don't really care about the weight. I just want to tease and have fun.' But dear ridiculer, that is good to hear yourself say. Because then you can realize that you alone are enjoying the joke -- it is selfish in scope. The recipient does not find it funny, as you know. Hence, you are making fun of people for your own sake -- a selfish humor that only is hurtful to others, and not truly funny.
So either you are an angry person stirring up strife or you are a totally selfish person in your humor. Either way, it is not godly. It is verbal abuse.
Put on the mind of Christ, which was to serve, and you can never think of using verbal abuse in the guise of humor again: for Jesus taught whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be the slave of all. (Mark 10:42-44.)
The Problem Again With Paul In Giving A Single Unified Consistent Teaching
Paul employed mockery in a very unholy way -- mocking people who wished to follow God's commands to Israel to be circumcised in Leviticus 12:1-3. As a result, Paulinists defend mockery as an admirable debating tactic because Paul used it. However, it is sinful when done by humans. Here is how one Paulinist in God and Humor depicts Paul favorably for using mockery in this unholy example:
Another example of such mockery is found in Paul's writings. Paul is known to be an excellent debater. He knew that one of the techniques employed in debating is to mock the opponent. In the fifth chapter of Galatians he employs this technique when he tries to show the mistake of some men who advocated circumcision. He first explains that circumcision avails nothing. Then he goes ahead to take a direct hit at the people who advocated that theory. A hit literally under the belt.
"I wish those agitators would go so far as to castrate themselves!"Gal 5:12
Clearly, Paul does not think much about the "Salvation by Surgery" theory.
Otherwise, the article agrees that mockery is negatively portrayed by the Bible when men commit it. I actually borrowed the opening paragraphs of this article from this "God and Humor" article. So even a Paulinist tells us doctrines from the Bible which they then have to twist to approve because Paul did it. Another example of the tragedy of including Paul in the NT. But I digress. The point is: learn what is mockery, and don't do it! It is not funny, and it hurts feelings. You cause anger, which leads to sin by another. So you are partly responsible for their sin and fall. Ask yourself whether you are putting a stumblingblock before another.