pastafarians, benny hinn, charlatans and jesters :: it’s ok to laugh, right?

July 22, 2011

“We’re not going down! Hold the line!”

Tears are running down my face now.  My sides hurt. Make it stop!

“Brace yourself! It’s coooommmminnggg!”

I’m sucking air. I haven’t laughed like this forever.  It feels good.  It’s therapy.

“I couldn’t help it man. I went down. The dude in front of me weighed, like, 250.  I didn’t wanna do it.  I’m so ashamed…”

My cousin is in storytelling mode.  He’s recounting the time he and his brother-in-law went to a Benny Hinn event.  Live. For them it was more like a trip to the circus than a trip to church.  Benny was in rare form.  Waving his arms and knocking down the crowd in waves of the, um, Spirit.  They were determined to remain standing as the crowds of devotees around them were “slain in the Spirit” or “blown away by the wind of the Spirit” or “succumbed to the onslaught of hot air coming in waves from the platform” or whathaveyou.  It was all going so well, too, until the six foot four linebacker directly in front of them surrendered to the bologna and went down. On top of them. Alas, try as they might to literally stand their ground on behalf of rational believers the world over, it was to no avail.  They were slain in the Spirit.  Forcibly.

See, that there is funny.

My question du jour is this… When it comes to all things religious, does having a sense of humor diminish our reverence in some way?  In other words, if we laugh at the charlatans and jesters, instead of responding with somber judgement, are we making light of the faith we claim – or worse… are we treating the reputation of Jesus and His church with irreverence?  It’s a serious question.

When charlatans and jesters dabble in the arena of religion, and if said charlatans and jesters are truly funny…is it OK to laugh? Or is it playing with fire?

Today is one of those days when I don’t necessarily have a hard answer.  I’m curious to see what you think about all of this.  I’m trying to find that nebulous middle ground… in the place where freedom and license mingle.  I’m open to correction, or at least to refining, because you guys might have a perspective I haven’t thought of yet.

Two people have prompted this post. First of all, Benny Hinn, the TV “evangelist” from the dark side.  Second, Niko Alm, the Austrian “Pastafarian” who recently won the right to take his driver’s license photo wearing a pasta strainer on his head as a religious head covering.  We’ll get back to Niko and his dual-purpose head gear in short order.  But first…

Benny Hinn. It is appropriate to write this post today immediately after writing about my distaste for snark in the Church, because it allows me an important clarification.  I stand by my conviction that sharp, pointed, sarcastic characterization of other people is almost always ugly and unnecessary.  Nine times out of ten, I think Christians should err on the side of kindness.  And yet, I don’t feel any contradiction in calling out wolves among the sheep… if they really are wolves.  I’m not talking about character assassination – and often that happens between brothers who disagree on some point of doctrine or methodology.  But this is something else, I believe.  There is a time to call out the phonies who use the name of Jesus for personal gain.  There is a time to call a fool a fool.

Benny Hinn is no brother in the Lord.  Benny Hinn is a dangerous charlatan who has HARMED the cause of the Gospel of Jesus, using His name to bilk people of their money, providing staged “healings” and ridiculous false “Holy Spirit power” to literally knock people over… for what reason I don’t know.  So I have no problem calling him out.  I do think he may actually wield some spiritual power… just not God’s power.

With that in mind, please enjoy the following.  This makes me laugh every time…

Good times. Now, a great friend of mind posted this video clip on Facebook earlier this year and the response was… surprising.  Really surprising, to be honest.  He was raked over the coals for “mockery” and an unkind spirit toward Benny Hinn.  The comment thread was LONG and pointed.  My response… “That is funny.  It’s OK to laugh at funny.  Benny Hinn is a baffoon, and he does not speak for Jesus or His Bride.  I have no problem laughing at that.”

I’m curious.  Does that put a bad taste in your mouth? I’m not judging the laughers or the non-laughers among us.  But I’m curious.  Are there some of you who feel the same as those who criticized my friend? Is this kind of humor below the holy standard of the children of the King?

And that brings me to our Austrian atheist friend, Niko. The Pastafarian.

For those of you who are unaware of the growing Pastafarian movement, here’s the 411… Although the church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (a.k.a. “Pastafarianism”) claims to have existed underground for hundreds of years, it really came to the forefront with the publication of this letter to the Kansas School Board by one Bobby Henderson in 1995.  In response to their inclusion of Intelligent Design theory into the public schools as an alternative to Darwinian theory, Bobby proposed inclusion of the Pastafarian theory of creation, involving the Noodley Appendage of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and of course, propagation of the inverse relationship between the number of Pirates and global warming.

Brilliant.

Of course, it’s full blown mockery of the one true God.  So when Niko Alm, a devoted follower of FSM (that’s code for “Flying Spaghetti Monster”) was victorious in the Austrian court system and won the right to sport kitchenware on his cranium for his driver’s license photo, I felt a twinge of inner conflict.

But, truth be told, I laughed.  Out loud.  I lol’ed. ‘Cause that right there is funny.

So here I am, a voice to the Church for freedom and joy.  I really believe that in the eyes of the world, it doesn’t do the message of the Gospel any good when His followers refuse to acknowledge the funny amidst the irreverent.  Funny is funny.

Or am I off base here?  Part of me wonders, literally, what would Jesus do?  Forgive the cliche… but I honestly wonder.  Would Jesus laugh at Benny Hinn using the force?  Would He see the humor in the straight face of Niko the strainer-adorned Pastafarian?

There was a time Jesus wept for the lost souls of Jerusalem.  I’ve honestly wondered how, knowing with perfect clarity the eternal fate of those around Him who chose not to believe – not to follow… How could Jesus have walked among them without weeping all the time?

And yet, he didn’t.  He mourned the consequences of sin at the grave of his friend Lazarus.  He got frustrated with the stubborn hearts of the people he taught.  He grieved.  But he also sang hymns and shared jokes with his disciples and he laughed.

God is the author of humor.  He wired us to recognize it – to respond to it.  He created us to laugh. In fact, I’m walking proof of His sense of humor.  My foibles are epic-making, and He’s still trying to use my life.  So I look to Him as a Father I can trust to be good and who will respond to me in love.

And I fear Him as a Father who is not to be taken lightly.  He is a Father to be revered.  To be loved and adored, yes.  But respected and revered as the Holy One.

I walk in balance here.  Joy and freedom, yes.  And reverence.  They are not mutually exclusive. But they do live in tension sometimes.

The truth is, seeing anyone choose to align themselves with the Flying Spaghetti Monster, hoping to be “touched by his Noodley Apendage” is two things at the same time… tragic… and funny.  They are clever in their irreverence.  They do not hurl venomous insults at the Church.  Instead they subvert Christianity (and all organized religion, I suppose) with parody.  But it’s funny. I’m torn.

Benny Hinn – especially Benny Hinn with a light saber – is two things… tragic… and funny.  He is a wolf, not a brother, as far as I can tell.  And the staggering cost of his perverse “ministry” is hard to calculate.  But watching him flail around like a clown and shoot people with lightning bolts… I find it hard not to laugh.

God will be the judge of Benny.  God will be the judge of Niko.  One day every knee will bow and acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  Both the sinners and the forgiven sinners.  Benny and Niko and yours truly all need Jesus.  I’ve prayed for the three of us.  Unless my life situation somehow puts me direct contact with either of these two men, I don’t see how my laughing at their antics has one iota of impact on their eternity.

But for the sake of the name of Jesus, should I be laughing at all?

Today, for the sake of transparency, I’ll own it.  I rever the Lord of Heaven, and I am passionate about His reputation.  But I’ve been redeemed for freedom, and He knows my heart.  And doggoneit… I feel free to laugh.

Tell me what you think.


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Psalm 24:7 & Luke 10:42 >> Like David, and Mary, I'm in pursuit of my one thing. I'm the Pastor at St. Olaf Lutheran Church in Montgomery, IL. Pastor, teacher, writer, communicator, designer, and drummer. I definitely got the better deal in my marriage to Amy. And I couldn't be any more proud of my five amazing boys. Deeply grateful.

12 responses to pastafarians, benny hinn, charlatans and jesters :: it’s ok to laugh, right?

  1. Laugh, and then pray for their humbling and salvation. I think you’ve done all three. I think you’re “good.”

  2. I think there is biblical precedent for mocking those who make a mockery of religion. Just look at what Elijah did to the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18. Verse 27 says, “And at noon Elijah mocked them saying, ‘Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.'” I’m fairly certain that comment would have generated some chuckles from the crowds.

    The Bible also talks about how false gods are no gods at all. There is no power involved with that sort of nonsense.

    As far as witness is concerned, I think it’s an excellent opportunity to point out foolishness, laugh with the rest of the skeptical world, and then to turn the tables and point to Jesus as real truth. That is powerful.

    • Hey brother. I agree that in both the Old Testament and New Testament, there was Biblical precedent for open mockery of the “false teachers” and “false gods.” And I like your approach here…

      “Laugh along with the rest of the skeptical world… and then point to Jesus…”

      I hope I can strike that balance. To me, I guess I feel the freedom to laugh at what is funny in this arena. We can;t take ourselves so seriously that we think eternity hangs in the balance based on our reaction to the foolish things of the world.

      Pastafarians need Jesus too. *chuckling under my breath… and recognizing the brokenness of the world at the same time…*

  3. Paul Johnston July 22, 2011 at 4:14 pm

    Josh, my brother, I am sometimes faced with the same dilemma. Sometimes I feel like laughing at inappropriate times. I am torn also between the fact that God gave me a sense of humor, redemption from sin, and joy in my heart. With this comes the ability to enjoy life to its fullest as a forgiven Christian, the ability to smile or even laugh. Yet, we are also admonished to be sober and vigilant and to avoid foolishness. I feel bad at the numerous times silly thoughts creep into my mind sometimes even in church, but that is just me. I can’t think of a single time that Jesus laughed at the hypocrites of his day pretending to be religious leaders. God the Father given all His love and mercy is shown to have at times a bit of a dark sense of humor. Psalms 2:2-5 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD, and against his anointed, saying, (3) Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us. (4) He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision. (5) Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure. How foolish the rebels of this world must appear from a heavenly vantage point. They are laughably pathetic shaking their fists in the face of Almighty God rejecting His love, mercy, and forgiveness with the notion they can destroy Him and his followers. God is not a jolly big Santa Claus. He does definitely has a naughty and nice list. All of us were at one time on the naughty list. Only when we accept the righteousness of Jesus by faith are we wrapped in His righteousness and appear nice. There is an end to God’s patience and when those pretend to serve Him for personal gain without a servant’s heart come to the end of their path; they will eventually reap their reward. Jesus as a reflection of the Father had little patience with this sort. I suspect that we really shouldn’t laugh at them. We should pray for them instead. This is my answer when I reflect upon the Word of God. In truth I may just laugh not because it is the right thing to do, but because it is the way I am wired to react in this flesh. Thankfully, the Lord is long suffering with his children.

    • Thanks Paul for sharing your wisdom here. I’m mulling it over. I think you may be right that some of us are “wired” to laugh more easily at things like this, while others are more inclined to respond with sobriety. I’m not sure that either response is “more holy.” But I’m not convinced that sober reflection wouldn’t be a better choice, either.

      Maybe both/and in this case?

      Maybe it is possible to acknowledge the humor of a strainer-wearing FSM devotee making his “faith” public on his DL photo, while also recognizing the seriousness of His spiritual condition. I think we almost have to live that way… interacting with culture (IN the world) in relationship-building “normalcy,” while looking for opportunities to point to Jesus all the while (not OF the world). I think I may fall on both sides of this coin.

      In any case, thanks much again Paul. You’ve given me more biblical and thoughtful direction here. My wheels are still turning. God bless.

  4. Absolutely. Fun. Fun. Funny!

    The reason for humor is to appreciate the humility humanity juxtaposed against the gravity of our need for God. After all, all clowns are sad beneath the mask. The greatest humor reveals absurdity. Here, it is completely true in exposing such absurdity and I thank you for the laugh!

    • Excellent. Thanks for the insight Rich. You are correct. And I am laughing, too. 🙂 I just read through the initial letter written to the Kansas School Board by Bobby Henderson that started this whole Pastafarian business to my two boys (13 and 10).

      http://www.venganza.org/about/open-letter/

      We had some hearty laughs, and then we shared a sober moment realizing that all of this is to point out the supposed absurdity in the One true God Almighty. We laughed. Then we reflected. Then we talked about it. I think this is healthy.

      We especially appreciated the drawing included at the bottom of his letter. But I’m not sure if the midget is drawn to scale…

  5. You do know that “Talk like a pirate day” is part of the FSM movement, correct? That, right there, is also funny.

    This is a really interesting concept to think about, and yes, I admit, I laughed very hard at the Benny Hinn video, especially at the “Emperor Palpatine” ending. 🙂

    • NO WAY!! Seriously?

      Then we honestly do have something to legitimately thank the Pastafarians for. Score one for organized religion. 🙂

  6. Open up a concordance and see just how many references there are to “joy” in the most holy, reverent writings in this universe!

    I’m not sure if this fits into your thoughts, but maybe it will help. In light of laughter, humor, and all that is in this world may it come down to the question

    Who?

    rather than

    How?

    I don’t necessarily mock my Father the way Pastafarians and Ben do mocking, but I do it still. You wrote a distinct sentence that stuck out to me … pointing out the “Who?” rather than the “How?” … “Both the sinners and the forgiven sinners.”

    See, I’m a forgiven sinner and that right there is an overflowing fondu fountain of joy. I’ve got chocolate in between my toes as I reach for another helping of fondu. Life with Christ is only by His grace and at times I remember this and my only response is to laugh.

    Considering “Who?” reminds me that we are all in the same spot – stained with sin, with the opportunity to be washed clean, a joyful place to be – while if I start thinking “How?” someone is making a mockery of my Father, I try to play Dad’s roll of Judge, which puts me in the place of Mr. Mocker. It’s a vicious circle of ridiculousness that makes me laugh because He’s watching it all unfold, waiting for me to remember the joy of His salvation.

    Ramble ramble ramble … I’ll stop so you can start writing again. Good stuff dude.

    • Tim! This was awesome! I’ve been out of the country and out of technology range for a week, so I’m just getting to these comments now, but this was a great addition to the discussion. My favorite sentence:

      “I’m a forgiven sinner and that right there is an overflowing fondu fountain of joy.”

      Chocolate fondue, no less. What a great visual. I’m a great proponent of bringing MORE JOY to the church. Even Jesus death on the cross was in light of the “joy set before him.” Keeping our eyes trained on our Saviour and His beauty makes some of the antics of the charlatans and jesters seem all the more silly and all the less relevant.

      Great stuff brother. Thanks much for contributing here. God bless!