In This Episode: After This is True stories on religion, it’s fairly typical for a reader or two to complain. This time the complaint was, ‘Why should I have to develop a sense of humor’ (about his religion)? This episode is my response to that question; it of course comes down to …a matter of Uncommon Sense.
- To help support Uncommon Sense, see the Patron’s Page, or the form in the sidebar.
- Mike’s tagline on the story discussed is a twist on Ecclesiastes 3.
- If you’re unsure what the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is, there’s info here. Rev. Straw also mentioned the podcast Pulpit Fiction. It is still running as of March 2020.
- Lutherans: Deanna noted the Missouri Synod is the more liberal offshoot, and the ELCA (the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America), the more conservative, is the larger of the two, representing 1.4 percent of the U.S. population.
- Since she brought it up, the Get Out of Hell Free card site is here, and the place to order some if you want to chill out (or help others to) about stuff like this is here.
- Would I (as the reader challenged) appreciate a cartoon about Mohammed? Sure — “not just because I’m a thinking person,” I said on that page, “but also because I make my living saying what I think needs to be said, even when I know some will be offended by it.”
- My figures for the percentages of Christians in Canada are from here, and in the U.S. from this very interesting study by Pew Research.
- Originally, the episode was co-hosted by my wife, Kit. She’s too busy to co-host now, and doing it alone makes the episodes much shorter because I can keep clearly focused, rather than banter.
Since this is a redo, comments start with those made on the original post — the dates are correct.
Welcome to Uncommon Sense, I’m Randy Cassingham.
If my voice sounds a little odd this week, it’s because I’m getting over …a coronavirus. No, not “the” COVID-19 coronavirus, but “a” coronavirus: that’s what the common cold is. So many are letting an unfamiliar term scare them. One of the great things about Uncommon Sense is that it helps people step back and not be afraid, but rather choose to open their minds and work to understand what’s actually going on. OK, so on with this week’s topic.
This is an updated reissue of an episode from the first series, since a lot of listeners not only weighed in on the subject in the comments, but in notes direct to me they said they wanted to be able to point others to the episode and/or the Show Page again, so would I please get it back online?!
OK! Here you go. It’s spun around a story from issue 1242 of the newsletter that brought some negative feedback, that was written by TRUE contributor Mike Straw. There is another detail, and you’ll understand the relevance of this in a moment: Mike’s wife is an ordained minister. Not someone with an online mail-order certificate, she earned her Master’s of Divinity from Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis, and was then ordained as clergy with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
I’ll read the story in its entirety. Mike titled it, “I like to Picture My Ice Cream in a Tuxedo T-Shirt”:
Andrew Richmond and partner Amin Todai named their Toronto, Ont., Canada, ice cream parlor chain after an employee tasted their ice cream, and repeatedly exclaimed “Sweet Jesus!” Thus: Sweet Jesus Ice Cream. “Our aim is not to offer commentary on anyone’s religion or belief systems [as] our own organization is made up of amazing people that represent a wide range of cultural and religious beliefs,” Richmond says. Rather, he continues, they wanted to celebrate “the popular phrase that people use as an expression of enjoyment, surprise or disbelief.” Some conservative Christians disagree. “Sweet Jesus is all about trashing Christianity and mocking the saving work of our Lord Jesus Christ,” a petition hosted on the conservative advocacy group CitizenGO’s website claims. The petition accuses the parlor of “hate speech,” and demands that their name be changed to “eliminate mockery toward our Lord Jesus.”
Mike’s tagline on the story, which generated the complaints, is “There is a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to defend your faith — and a time to have a sense of humor.” If you don’t already know, that’s a twist on Ecclesiastes 3; I’ll link to the verse on the Show Page.
I’ll read you two of the letters, though without naming the writers since my point isn’t really to call out any one person specifically, but rather to help illustrate what the point is here. The first letter was from a reader in Michigan, who writes:
I don’t normally get bothered by things like this. But the ice cream place called “Sweet Jesus,” why should I as a reasonable Catholic have to develop a sense of humor over a violation of the second commandment? Would you tell a Muslim to get a sense of humor over a Mohammad cartoon you found funny?
First, absolutely: I think everyone should develop a sense of humor, especially regarding the things they feel strongly about, since every topic known to humanity should absolutely be able to stand up to humor, especially humor this gentle. And in fact, I have done exactly what that reader suggests, within his tenure as a subscriber: for instance, after the terrorist attacks on the Charlie Hebdo magazine staff. I’ll link to that on the Show Page too.
So: why should you have to develop such a sense of humor? Because you live in the world. Everyone, Christian, atheist, or — as the reader suggests, Muslim — has a choice whether or not to be offended.
For humanity to grow, what everyone really needs to learn is, you don’t get to dictate whether someone else respects the second commandment, or anything else you hold dear. You get to dictate whether you respect your beliefs, and how you respond to the world — and that’s all. So the choice is, the overwhelming majority in this country can get their knickers bunched up every time they hear a minority opinion, or realize that because you can’t dictate what others say, or think, maybe you should endeavor to take a brief moment to see another point of view once in awhile so you can understand the world better.
You get to choose whether to go through life in a huff, or to practice your own faith’s dictates and choose to forgive. Or to put it another way, you can choose to “turn the other cheek to be struck on the other one also,” or maybe even choose to “judge not, lest thee be judged” — to quote from my own cultural learnings in this realm.
And in fact, this is exactly what TRUE’s mission is: to provoke thought, with “provoke” in bold type. You laugh at other people’s foibles illustrated in the stories — and the reader quoted here has been a Premium subscriber since 2014, and presumably read the free edition for some time before that — and now he’s upset that someone is gently chuckling at what he perceives to be his point of view.
My take from reading his letter is, he’s disdainful of the reaction of Muslims to, for example, someone else laughing at a cartoon of Mohammed, implying that’s an overreaction. Yet after seeing that, and realizing that, he then complains about a really gentle even if sideways nod to calling Jesus “sweet” and doesn’t see the irony behind that?
I of course asked Mike to comment, since after all he’s the one who wrote the story. He replies by email:
I’ve always felt that if your faith can’t stand up to scrutiny and criticism, there may be something wrong with your faith (not necessarily your belief, but the strength of your faith). If something is the truth, then the closer you look at it, the more it should be evident.
I believe the same thing applies to humor. We should be able to laugh at ourselves and our follies. In this story, there was no disrespect shown towards Christians. Instead, many Christians showed a lot of disrespect to the store owners. The Second Commandment (Catholic Edition) may be “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” But the second Great Commandment is “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Publicly shaming people who aren’t of the same faith as you is a reflection on your faith, not the person you’re attacking.
That’s pretty insightful. I think that partly has to do with him being a TRUE contributor, but it also partly has to do with him being married to a minister. I’m also going to let her weigh in. And actually, the Reverend Deanna GW Straw weighed in even before Mike did, because when Mike submitted the story after writing it, he included a note to say that, “The Rev. Deanna Straw loved this story.” So I asked Mike if she’d like to comment on the complaint letter in context with the story she had already enjoyed. Well… she did want to. Her emailed comments were rather lengthy, so I’ve condensed them here. She writes:
I’m glad we have some Get Out of Hell Free cards laying around, because if I believed in a conventional “hell” I’d need them!
We would often joke at seminary that we were going to hell, but that we would be in good company, because we were all heretics. St. Louis is a very Catholic area. Once a year we would have what was called a “Day of Theological Conversation” where we would have other schools come and talk about scripture, and politics, and how they fit into our systems of faith. Eden was affiliated with the United Church of Christ in partnership with my denomination, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Eden was very liberal. We would also have Missouri Synod Lutherans (very conservative, believing that women should not be ministers for example), ELCA Lutherans (the “liberal” Lutherans who believe that women could be ministers), and the Aquinas School of Theology, which was Catholic. We had a certain way of making sure each other had their voices heard, although we didn’t always agree.
I started a softball team at seminary, and you should’ve heard the jokes about God, Jesus and scripture used in that situation!
It’s OK to have a sense of humor about your religion. It doesn’t make it any less significant or special.
When I was running services, after 40 days of Lent including Holy Week, which usually meant we had multiple services remembering Palm Sunday, the Last Supper, Crucifixion and lastly Easter and the empty tomb. It’s an intense time of study and reflection. The Sunday after Easter, to help us focus on the gifts that God through Christ gives us — humor — we would have Holy Humor Sunday.
We’d tell jokes. We’d make Easter bonnets, we’d run the service backwards, we’d sing Christmas hymns, have contests over who could create out of crafts the Last Supper scene or do it in person. We’d wear fun shirts, and have funny pictures in the bulletins. My point being, it’s OK to laugh and have fun and it is needed.
Although I am not offended by Sweet Jesus ice cream, it’s OK if some people are — don’t shop there, but don’t spew hate. The Great Commandment tells us to “Love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul AND mind.” And the second is like it, “Love your neighbor as your self.” [Matthew 22:34-40]
I take this to mean a couple of things. All commandments fall under the Great Commandment. If you’re not out doing good, that is breaking that commandment. If you’re spewing hate, that is also breaking the Great Commandment. And really, Jesus and God are WAY more interested in doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with God [Micah 6:8]. So if Sweet Jesus offends you, I’d ask that an individual reflect on really why that bothers them. In seminary, an answer like, “Because my minister said, or the bible said,” would never fly. It had to be deeper than that.
I’m not saying that Sweet Jesus is for all people. I just saying it’s OK to have some humor about what is holy. There’s a picture you can Google of the Laughing Jesus. The artist made a picture of Jesus where he’s on a fishing boat laughing. He was just being a dude. And I’d like to think that Jesus was more than a Christmas and Easter Jesus, but also a man who made a difference because he understood humanity. And humanity has to laugh.
I’d also refer you to Pulpit Fiction, a podcast done by two people I went to seminary with that uses pop culture and theology together. Their humor is in there too, and it’s thoughtful — most of the time.
I’ll link to the podcast she mentioned in the Show Notes.
Rev. Straw starts right off with the Get Out of Hell Free cards, and that’s exactly what they are all about: take a chill pill, you don’t have to be so serious about not only other people, but even more importantly, your own feelings. Especially your own feelings. That’s why readers buy packs of them: to give to others having a bad day to remind them to let go and remember that what’s bothering them is temporary, and a matter of choice.
Seriously, think about it: most of the ice cream parlor’s customers are certainly Christians themselves, since we’re talking about Toronto here. Wikipedia notes that 67.3 percent of Canadians are Christians, with most of them being — yes — Roman Catholic, just like Roman Catholic is by far the largest Christian denomination in the United States.
The second-largest religion in Canada, by the way, is Islam, and they are a very tiny minority by comparison at just 3.2 percent.
That leaves an awfully big chunk of people, so if you wonder, those having no religion in Canada is around 24 percent of the population; a quarter. If Christians think they’re persecuted, they might want to ask what percentage of their elected officials are atheists. Not many can get elected even though the percentages in the U.S. are roughly similar, though in the U.S. the second-largest religion is Jewish. And by the way: 19 percent of self-identified American Jews do not believe God exists.
So theoretically, to be properly representative, about 20-30 percent of U.S. politicians would be those who “have no religion,” but do you know what the actual number is in the United States Congress? In January 2019, the Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life group reported that the 535 members of the 116th Congress “is, overall, slightly more religiously diverse than the prior Congress.” But, they concluded, “the religious makeup of the new, 116th Congress is very different from that of the United States population.”
Here’s how: they found just over 88 percent of Congress is Christian, 6.4 percent are Jewish, 0.6 percent (3) are Muslim, the same number are Hindu, 0.4 percent (2) are Buddhist, 0.4 percent Unitarian Universalist, only 1 has claimed to be unaffiliated — one! — and 3.4 percent didn’t answer. In contrast, they note, 71 percent of the American adult population is Christian, 2 percent is Jewish, and 23 percent are unaffiliated. The rest are scattered among various faiths, with Islamic, by the way, at only 1 percent.
If you’d like to see all the numbers, I’ll link to my source on the Show Page. It’s a fascinating study.
Yet despite all this, we hear again and again how Christians are “persecuted” in the United States. The numbers prove how wrong they are: clearly, it’s proven that the non-Christians are persecuted …by the Christians, and we see that in the news constantly.
Which brings me to the second reader letter on Mike’s story, and interestingly he’s from Michigan too. He writes:
Some folks have a strong faith, not much bothers them. Others are very weak in their faith and thus everything bothers them. Clearly the complainers are among the latter.
To be clear, he is referring to the people within the story who are complaining, not other readers, since when he wrote he didn’t know there were any complaints from readers. But this is how the rest of the world sees such complainers: as insecure in their faith. They can be shaken to the core — and again, we’re speaking about the people in the story who are complaining with such strong words — by the name of an ice cream parlor? Then save the calories and don’t go there! That is how those with Uncommon Sense do it. Whining and going public with how insecure you are in your faith isn’t the way to do it. It’s as simple as that.
If you were offended by the story, or otherwise wish to comment, comments are open on the Show Page at thisistrue.com/podcast62. Seriously, I really would like to hear your rational point of view on this: that’s how I learn about other people’s reactions, and others reading the comments can too.
The bottom line is that the complaining reader who didn’t think I would tell a Muslim to get a sense of humor in a similar circumstance, is wrong. I would, and I have. And he should accept the exact same thing himself, because I’ll bet he agreed with that story! To do anything else is hypocritical. Think about it. The readers, religious or not, who embrace Uncommon Sense… already have.
I’m Randy Cassingham … and I’ll talk at you later.
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