National Catholic Register

Arts & Entertainment

Wired for Merriment

What’s So Funny About Faith, Hope and Catholic Blogging?

BY ERIC SCHESKE

January 14-20, 2007 Issue | Posted 1/10/07 at 10:00 AM

 

“The only end of writing is to enable the reader better to enjoy life.”

That’s Samuel Johnson, writing in the 18th century. After I read those words a few months ago, I enthusiastically adopted them as the motto of my blog. 

Humor is the blogosphere’s strong suit among literary forms. Unconstrained by conventional thinking and publishing, the blogger can unleash whatever he finds funny. And if he finds it funny, there’s a good chance someone else does, too.

The inclination toward humor makes the blogosphere a spiritually slippery place, especially for Catholics. Profaning the holy, disparaging another person, wandering into vulgar waters: Those are just a few of the things the humorous Catholic blogger must guard against. Meanwhile, non-religious bloggers merely have to avoid bad puns, old jokes and inanity.

There’s plenty of fun to be had in the Catholic blogosphere, but I’d say most members of St. Blog’s Parish tend toward a generally serious disposition.

I don’t think it was coincidence or bad luck that, when I asked my blog audience to send me links to funny blogs, I didn’t receive a single reply.

Chuckles Aplenty

It’s not easy to be funny, at least in the sense of being a genuine wit. In fact, I think it’s some of the hardest writing a person can do.

G.K. Chesterton, writing for the decidedly unfunny Encyclopedia Britannica in 1929, said wit is “the human intellect exerting its full strength.” It’s the type of heavy lifting that a person doesn’t want to do too often, for fear of giving his brain a hernia. It’s less work to be stern or, at least, earnest.

When I do find humor in the Catholic blogosphere, much of it is what might be called “puerile.” I realize that’s harsh, but pictures of toddlers with chocolate on their faces and middle-agers in silly costumes are about as laugh-inducing to me as off-color greeting cards and silly animal videos. I simply don’t find such things funny. If a blogger posts a supposedly hilarious picture, I almost always resent the 1.4 seconds I spent looking at it — unless it’s cleverly doctored (a specialty of The Curt Jester at splendoroftruth.com/curt- jester).

Perhaps one of the most glaring omissions in the Catholic blogosphere is the dearth of bon mots related to what we’ll euphemistically call the whimsical side of the theology of the body. That target is avoided for obvious reasons, but it’s unfortunate. Human reproduction is a serious thing, and serious things are ripe for the ribbing. 

In the words of rapier-witted Mark Shea, this subject “is funnier than accounting because [it’s] more serious than accounting” (markshea.blogspot.com).

As I make these sorts of jokes on my blog frequently, I take comfort knowing that St. Thomas More, at least in his pre-dungeon days, enjoyed a little gentle ribaldry. The suggestive joke is enjoyably challenging. It’s not easy to turn one in a tasteful and non-sinful way. But, when pulled off successfully, it’s an instant chuckle-getter.

The danger, of course, is tripping over the genre and landing squarely in Howard Stern territory. In St. Blog’s, that’s a sure way to get your site written off as a waste of cyberspace.

Wit Lit

Speaking of which, humorous blogging isn’t always appropriate. Someone once said a bore is someone who finds humor in nothing and a buffoon is someone who finds humor in everything. You can find buffoonish bloggers who riff on 9/11 and other human sufferings, but they’re rare and — to my knowledge — non-existent in the Catholic blogosphere.

I try not to be too hard on bores or buffoons. Humor is more varied than tastes in food. In the words of essayist Joseph Epstein, the “first condition of humor is its un-universality.” Humor varies from person to person. If you doubt this, take a survey of adults on the question: “Did you find Napoleon Dynamite funny?” If your experience is like mine, you’ll find respectable persons at each end of the humor spectrum on that one.

I don’t think blogging counts as literature, if “literature” means writing that both shows excellent form and deals with the permanent things. Search all you want, but I don’t think you’re going to find the lettered humor of a Chaucer, Swift, Rabelais or Cervantes in the blogosphere. You can, however, find some funny folks and an assortment of material. Jokes. Rib-tickling commentary. Amusing anecdotes. Comical autobiography. Entertaining musings.

If you’re looking for humor, I recommend: Cacciaguida (cacciaguida.blogspot.com), E-Pression (e-pression.blogspot.com), The Summa Mamas (summamamas.stblogs.org), The Rat (therat.blogspot.com), Seize the Day (seizethedei.blogspot.com), Dyspeptic Mutterings (dprice.blogspot.com), and The Lair of the Catholic Cavemen (catholic-caveman.blogspot.com).

Meanwhile, no one commentating in any medium today takes down PC groupthink and moral preening with more style and verve than Father Richard John Neuhaus, editor in chief of First Things. His pithiest ripostes run in the print edition’s “Public Square” section, but he blogs some trenchant tellings at firstthings.com, too. When he nails it, you don’t so much guffaw as grin like the proverbial canary-savoring cat.

Homines Risibiles

You want to be damned? Be humorless.

As earlier noted, human reproduction can be funny. But its wicked step-cousin, pornography, is humorless. Politicians aren’t funny. (Laughable, yes; funny, no). The same with radical feminists. Communists have been woefully devoid of humor, as are the student activists who have plagued American campuses for 40 years.

You know what else is humorless? Animals. Laughter is one of those things that separate us from the rest of the animal kingdom.

Aristotle said we are homines risibiles (beings who laugh). It’s no wonder that the poet John Donne once wrote that a person shows himself “a Man because he can laugh, a wise Man that he knows at what to laugh, and a valiant Man that he dares to laugh.” High praise for laughter, yes, but Hilaire Belloc took it one step further, saying, “laughers have a gross cousinship with the Most High.”

If you can appreciate those thoughts, you probably have a decent sense of humor. Give yourself a treat. Check out the bloggers listed above and enjoy a good Catholic laugh.

Eric Scheske blogs at

The Daily Eudemon (ericscheske.com/blog).