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The Pope’s Little Miracle of Laughter

The Pope’s Little Miracle of Laughter

The world is going to hell in a handbasket. Bird flu. Ukraine. Climate change. Dallas Mavericks. Kamala Harris. Boston Celtics. Gaza. Extreme heat. Mortgage defaults.

I recently resolved to turn my little corner of the world around by spreading good cheer. Every day I’m sending friends on WhatsApp a great joke. Today’s is: Why did the lady order a light globe? She wanted a light lunch. A real thigh-slapper, that one, which will brighten anyone’s day, don’t you think?

Anyhow, what I am doing in my humble way, Pope Francis did more comprehensively a few days ago when he invited 107 professional comedians to the Vatican. They were mostly Italians, but also included American stars like Stephen Colbert, Whoopie Goldberg, Jim Gaffigan, and Conan O’Brien.

grumpy critic of the Pope pointed out that Colbert has mocked the Eucharist and O’Brien has described all priests as molesters.

What can I say? I agree that they ought to have their mouths washed out with soap. But I’d rather live in a society with bad jokes than no jokes.

Anyhow, the Pope gave the assembled jokers a good talking to. Their comic gift, he said, was a small miracle:

… you manage to make people smile even while dealing with problems and events, large and small. You denounce abuses of power; you give voice to forgotten situations; you highlight abuses; you point out inappropriate behaviour. You do this without spreading alarm or terror, anxiety or fear, as other types of communication tend to do; you rouse people to think critically by making them laugh and smile.

The world is divided up into three types of societies.

There are societies where laughter is encouraged. In the US and elsewhere we can read and share The Onion and the Babylon Bee. (Here’s the Bee’s take on Colbert and the Pope.)

There are societies where laughter is hidden. Where is The Ginseng, the North Korean counterpart to The Onion? I’m sure that North Koreans laugh – but not in public. Confidential sources tell me that Xi Jinping is a karaoke rockstar, but there are currently no plans for a concert in Tiananmen Square.

And there are societies where nobody laughs. I’m thinking of the New York Times. I get the feeling that its employees have a choice between righteous indignation and po-faced disdain. In fact, wokeness there and everywhere enforces a dour Puritanical grimness. Its police walk their beats ready to cancel anyone who makes an Irish joke, a black joke, a trans joke, a Jewish joke, an Asian joke, a Greta joke. Where is the hilarity, the belly laughs, the chortling in the corridors of the Gray Lady?

I’m sure that’s one reason why Trump is leading Biden in the polls. Trump’s mockery is mean and unfair. But he can be very funny. And Joe?

As G.K. Chesterton said – an expert on humour if ever there was one – “It is much easier to write a good Times leading article than a good joke in Punch. For solemnity flows out of men naturally; but laughter is a leap. It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light. Satan fell by the force of gravity.”

Laughter is a hallmark of democracy. In a society where everyone is fundamentally equal, we can laugh at each other.

But the Pope made an even more daring assertion – that laughter is fundamentally Christian. To quote GKC again, “Joy, which was the small publicity of the pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian”. Can you imagine the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran Ali Khamenei organising a conference of comedians? Probably not. Islam takes itself too seriously.

But as the Pope told the comedians: “According to the Bible, at the beginning of the world, while everything was being created, divine wisdom practiced your form of art for the benefit of none other than God himself, the first spectator of history.”

This article was originally published on Mercator under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0).

Image credit: “Pope Francis South Korea 2014” by Korean Culture and Information Service (Jeon Han) on Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 2.0.

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