faith is a joke*

Stop right there! Please don’t start lobbing rocks (literal or metaphorical) just yet. Please read on and then decide whether what I have written has any merit. The title of this bloggage is a bit mischievous. It is open to misunderstanding, yes. But it was designed to get your attention, and it did, didn’t it? It’s my little joke.

What I mean is that some people declare that there is a problem with (Christian) faith because it is unprovable. You can’t distil God in a laboratory. You can’t prove him by mathematics. And that causes problems for people who like empirical proof. You can’t prove it, so it must be wrong.

So why is Christian faith a joke? Well, perhaps if I was being honest I should have made the bloggage title a simile: Christian faith is like a joke.

You see a joke is funny because it is. There is something within it that we find inherently amusing. It may be the element of surprise, dissonance with the norm, a clever word-play and so on.

You can analyse a joke. You can dissect it and see how it is constructed: the set up, the punch line and so on. You can decide what genre of joke it belongs to. You can count the number of letters or words. You can look through history to see whether or when it has been told before. You can analyse the level of laughter it causes. But you can’t prove that a joke will be funny. It may have all the right elements but still not be funny. And sometimes a joke will be funny because it breaks all the rules, which is why computer-generated jokes probably won’t work as well as those generated by comedians.

But when you do analyse a joke it loses some of its joke-ness. You can still appreciate it aesthetically, even be impressed by its clever construction, but it will never be as funny. And if you spend your time analysing jokes you miss the point of them. They are meant to make us laugh, to look at ourselves and the world from a different perspective, they are meant to amuse, entertain and be funny. Treating them to scientific rigour is missing the point.

And that’s where the similarity with faith comes. Yes you can analyse what we believe. You can consider the psychology or philosophy behind faith. You can look at faith in human history. You can do all sorts of tests on it. But if you do you are missing the point. Faith, like a joke, is to be engaged with personally not analysed in a lab.

If you ask someone why a particular joke makes them laugh they may not be able to explain why in a manner that satisfies investigative rigour… it just does.  It resonates with them. If you ask a Christian believer why they believe they may not be able to explain why in a manner that satisfies investigative rigour… they just do. It resonates with them. Like a joke, faith is more than the sum of its parts, it is about meaning in the same way that a joke is about laughter or music and art is about transcendence*.

So please can we step aside from the petty and pointless ‘science vs religion’ debates and arguments that are selling so many books? They are about point-scoring not truth-discovering and often seem to work on the basis of inaccurate summaries and caricatures rather than engagement with real people.

Please can we stop being disrespectful to people who do not believe in God, or to those who do?

Please can we stop feeling intellectually superior or spiritually smug about others?

Please let’s not stop discussing these things.

And please let’s not stop analysing and exploring the components of faith (or jokes). However, please let’s use the appropriate tools for the job – not using the scalpel of science when what is needed is the nutcracker of faith; not using the sledgehammer of faith when what is needed is the spanner of science.

Please can we simply be allowed to talk about what we believe and be as passionate and persuasive as we like but recognise that the other person / people may be equally passionate and persuasive about what they believe. This is not an argument for relativism or pluralism, but for respect.

My faith makes sense to me. I find that it stands up to the scrutiny of my conscience and my intellect. My experience of Jesus is foundational to my life. My faith in Jesus motivates me to want to tell others about him because I believe that my life is better with him and I believe that there is a life beyond this world that is open to all who choose it and I want others to have that too. I will be as persuasive and passionate about that as I can. But I won’t force someone else to believe it, I won’t stop being friends with someone who does not share it, I will not condemn someone who cannot accept it, I will respect those who don’t understand it or say it has not proof behind it. Even though I disagree with them.

Faith is like a joke because it has that intangible something that adds something to our life and takes us into the transcendent: something that dies if you dissect it.

Funny that!

Be blessed, be a blessing.

(This bloggage was written on 19th October but posted the following week while I am on retreat. The timing may seem to be cowardice, but it was mainly because it came to me while I was at home and I wanted to write it down before I forgot it and then thought I would send it into the world wide web while I am away on retreat so that those who actually enjoy my blog (you know who you both are) don’t feel too bereft in my absence).

*If you find the simile too disrespectful, I think the same process and simile works just as well for music or even art.

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