Monday, February 3, 2014

The Opposite of Funny

Mr. McCabe [an atheist writer who had criticized Chesterton, not for his views, but for his style] think that I am not serious but only funny, because Mr. McCabe thinks that funny is the opposite of serious. Funny is the opposite of not funny, and of nothing else.

The question of whether a man expresses himself in a grotesque or laughable phraseology, or in a stately and restrained phraseology, is not a question of motive or of moral state, it is a question of instinctive language and self-expression.

Whether a man chooses to tell the truth in long sentences or short jokes is a problem analogous to whether he chooses to tell the truth in French or German…

The two qualities of fun and seriousness have nothing whatever to do with each other, they are no more comparable than black and triangular. Mr. Bernard Shaw is funny and sincere. Mr. George Robey is funny and not sincere. McCabe is sincerer and not funny. The average cabinet minister is not funny and not sincere…

The thing that is fundamentally and really frivolous is not a careless joke. The thing which is fundamentally and really frivolous is a careless solemnity. If Mr. McCabe really wishes to know what sort of guarantee of reality and solidity is afforded by the mere act of what is called talking seriously, let him spend a happy Sunday in going the round of the pulpits. Or better still, let him drop in at the House of Commons or the House of Lords. Even Mr. McCabe would admit that these men are solemn—more solemn than I am. And even Mr. McCabe, I think, would admit that these men are frivolous—more frivolous than I am…

It is solemnity that is stopping the way in every department of the modern effort… Every rich man who wishes to stop the mouths of the poor talks about ‘momentousness’. Every cabinet minister who has not got an answer suddenly develops a ‘judgment’. Every sweater who uses vile methods recommends ‘serious methods’… In the modern world, solemnity is the direct enemy of sincerity.
GK Chesterton, Heretics

Reflection – Well, things haven’t changed too much in a century, have they? It would be interesting to do a modern updating of who is funny, who is sincere in the modern scene. GKC is careful to choose people he doesn’t especially agree with in his examples. I would say, for example, that John Stewart is funny and sincere, any number of comic actors (which was what George Robey was - I have to confess I’m a bit unfamiliar with who’s out there right now) would be funny and not sincere, Planned Parenthood is not funny and sincere, and yes, most members of congress or parliament or any high elected office are neither funny nor sincere. Some things just don’t change that much.

Obfuscation, the use of big words, long meandering phrases, furrowed brows, evasive answers and the heavy reliance on talking points and slogans—these are the hallmarks of the solemn gasbag, the insincere person who always presents himself or herself as a serious engaged individual, tackling the problems of our time.

Right now, I find the solemnly insincere word of the day to be ‘hatred’. Any effort to have a serious conversation about human sexuality and its meaning, and whether or not there is a meaning, and whether or not the meaning of human sexuality has anything whatsoever to do with the meaning of marriage as a civil institution—all of this has been rendered impossible to have by the invocation of the sacred word ‘hatred’.

Now I know that there are people who read my blog who disagree quite strongly with me on the question of same-sex marriage. Bless you! I’m so glad you’re willing to come and read the ramblings of this retrograde priest from the frozen Canadian wilds!

But this particular matter is not about whether I’m right or wrong (right, of course, but that’s for another day…). It’s about whether or not a conversation is even allowed to happen. More and more, the use of the magic word ‘hate’ shuts any conversation down, and indeed since ‘hatred’, whatever that even means, is more and more viewed as a criminal matter, the word is used to not so subtly threaten people like me who will not shut up about the subject with being ‘shut up’ in a more radical and sinister sense of the phrase.

It is the same with abortion, where any effort to have a serious conversation about the beginning of human life and when exactly it should be legally protected is shut down by the magic phrase ‘War on women! War on women!’ It is all very solemn – who wants to be a hateful misogynist, after all? And it is completely and utterly insincere, since the purpose is not to have a serious conversation, but to bully, intimidate, threaten, and so end any possibility of conversation.

Not too much has changed in the past century, except that maybe it’s gotten a little harder to be funny about some of these things, since the stakes have gotten a bit high and the human costs have gotten a bit devastating. But then, as now, solemnity is used to block sincerity, and this situation is indeed the opposite of funny, and it will not do.


  1. Catholics in general do not understand the Christian teaching on marriage and the family and the changed definition of marriage brought on by the sanctioning of same-sex-marriage. Same-sex-marriage is just the present point of an anti-Christian attack designed to reduce the voice of faith as a moral presence in our communities. Presently, we do have an opportunity to have a conversation about our faith with ourselves. Are we using this time in our churches to talk to each other and become what we say we believe? Will we be ready to stand up for our God given beliefs or will we capitulate when activists stand outside the church door to bully, intimidate, and threaten as we go to Mass calling us hateful names. Secularism and Christianity are like funny and serious it would seem.

    1. Patricio - sorry to have been slow on my response to comments. Life is verrrrry busy in my little corner of the world these days! I agree so much with you about the seriousness of the attack and the deep need for Christian education and conversation, not so much about the 'controversies' but about the deep truths of love, marriage, sex, and how they are intrinsically connected to the mystery of God, Jesus, Church. People just don't know, and it is my experience that, when things are presented to them, a la 'Theology of the Body', there is at least an openness to hear it. So... we continue to try.

  2. Having a conversation with myself I make reference to the article in first things by Bishop Conley in the February 4 issue of First Things entitled A POP ROCK MOMENT. In our own efforts as faith filled Catholics to be bruised and persecuted will be a joyful hurt.

    1. That's a great article! One of the best I've read lately.

  3. I'm of course not ever going to have an abortion. I make safe sex a very high priority. I feel like abortion should be available to women and girls who decide that is what they want. I don't hate anybody over the issue.

    Who hates you, father? Tell us.

    1. Well, perhaps, I am understanding this a bit differently. This passage brought my focus not so much on the funny or sincere word of the day- but on the process which creates this distinction.
      What really makes our words or experience holy?
      Perhaps, it is truly receiving the words of the other- truly listening- receiving the person, considering his perspective his idea.
      It is possible to hear each other, even disagree, without condemnation.
      A lot has been said in the last years about the importance of correcting each other- it seems to me that before we can decide whether something is "funny or serious"- we have to truly hear it. We have to really hear each other, receive each other- we are each more than our ideas and persuasions- we each are the beloved of God.

    2. I agree with you totally, Catherine.
      And Moe, recently a pro-life woman with a Down's Syndrome baby who dared to critique the President's SOTU address had some pro-choice person on Twitter write "I would like to rip her uterus out of her body and eat it in front of her, just to see the look on her face." Ummmmmmm.... that sounds kinda like hate to me, especially when the person refused to apologize or back down in the slightest when her hateful screed was actually criticized. It's not about 'hating me' - I really don't care if people hate me, you know! It's about using the word 'hate' to intimidate, silence, and shut down debate, ultimately with a view to criminalizing the free expression of some opinions, as has already happened in the UK and increasingly in Europe.
      Anyhow, I'm glad you don't hate anyone - good for you! I don't hate anyone, either. My pro-life advocacy is entirely and absolutely because I love women and I know that abortion is not a good thing for them, ever.
      God bless you.

    3. Father Denis- bless you.
      Please forgive me, but I have to say this...there have been actions taken by catholic communities and catholic bishops which I have a great deal of difficulty interpreting as anything less than hateful...and actions that I see as in no way supporting women and children. Perhaps, it was not the intent of the action- but hatefulness is a perception- and it is all about how our actions are received- have we truly moved closer to openness and love...and life...
      Most of the time when people respond as you hateful is because they have been deeply hurt.
      I do not think we will make any progress here until we truly listen- not just to ourselves- but to the other as well.
      Consider this: in the last few weeks am unwed pregnant teacher was fired from Butte Central High School. The reason publically reported was she violated the church's teaching on marriage. (This happens to gay people in catholic institutions all the time once they commit to a life partner)
      Anyway, the question is what does this bring to your mind an heart? A exams of concern or support for this mother and unborn child? Do you see that as merciful? Or do you see it as hateful? Or is there some place in between these extremes where we can meet each other?
      Does this remind you of Pope Francis who has baptized the children of single parents and even cold called one who chose not to have an abortion?
      I suspect that this particular incident will have recourse in the American legal system ( mercifully) .
      But, my point is these things are all tremendously complicated. We all have to do a better job of loving each other.
      Bless you.

    4. Catherine - well, I think the school situation is a very unfortunate one. I hesitate to express much of an opinion, because even though I read up on it a bit, I don't think I have all the facts. Best not to weigh in without all the facts.
      I do think it could have been handled differently. The woman is in violation of her contract, and there is a good here at stake of the teachers at a Catholic school agreeing to live out Catholic moral principles (i.e. no sex outside of marriage) that is also important, and which this woman knew about when she signed the contract, and which she violated.
      That being said, there is a more merciful path possible than what the school board did. I found a blog post by a pretty smart and good deacon that proposed a better way through it:
      But, as in all things, we certainly do need to do a better job loving one another, and there is no question that some of the anger at least that comes against the Church does come from real hurt.
      Not all of it, though, and what often gets ignored or dismissed (or perhaps taken for granted, as it is expected) is the tremendous amount of charitable work, love, mercy, real practical help that the Church does, in fact, offer to all people in all sorts of painful and difficult situations. It doesn't make headlines, but it goes on, day in and day out, in virtually every diocese and virtually every parish. It doesn't cancel out the (at times) not so great things that happen, but it sure does put them in context, don't you think?

  4. My pro life views are strong but I realize that I must not use force or otherwise coerce others to conform. Your beliefs are opposite.

    1. To make comments about being against abortion because of a knowledge that abortion is not ever good for women or that abortion means killing a small, weak human being is not "using force or coercing others to conform."

      It is stating a point of view, which is more or less what you yourself are doing, by making your own points or at least disagreeing with the points of others.

      Hopefully the conscience of one who has honestly considered the arguments against abortion will speak up with force against it, but that can hardly be called coercion either.

      THIS is force:


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