In This Episode: Another story based on religion, another complaint from a reader asking “Why should I have to develop a sense of humor?” In this week’s podcast, my response to that question.
- Mike’s tagline on the story discussed (“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.”) is a twist on Ecclesiastes 3: “There is… a time to weep and a time to laugh….”
- Rev. Straw told me the parentheses in “Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)” are important. If you’re unsure what that church is, there’s info here. She also mentioned the podcast Pulpit Fiction.
- And 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 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 here.
- Kit was slightly off on the name of the “Peak Flown From Afar” — it’s a rare (for China) limestone structure clearly distinct from the sandstone around it. According to legend, an Indian monk named Huili was there 1,600 years ago and was very surprised to see something so different from everything else in the area. He decided the peak had flown over from India since such formations are common there.
- I wasn’t sure about the percentage of atheists in the U.S. and guessed off the top of my head. The Pew Religious Landscape survey reported that as of 2014, 22.8 percent of the U.S. population is religiously unaffiliated, atheists made up 3.1 percent and agnostics made up 4 percent of the U.S. population. The 2014 General Social Survey reported that 21 percent of Americans had no religion with 3 percent being atheist and 5 percent being agnostic (Wikipedia).
- Are there any atheists in Congress? According to the Huffington Post, as of 2017, no: not one, and only one “identifies as religiously unaffiliated.”
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Randy: Welcome to Uncommon Sense, the Podcast companion to the ThisIsTrue.com newsletter with the mission to promote more thinking in the world. I’m Randy Cassingham.
Kit: I’m Kit Cassingham.
Randy: This week we’re discussing a story from issue 1242 of the newsletter, which will be included on the Show Page at thisistrue.com/podcast35
I had some negative feedback on that story written by TRUE contributor Mike Straw. There is another detail, and you’ll see the relevance of this in a moment: His wife is an ordained minister, and not just someone with an online mail-order certificate. She has a Master’s of Divinity degree from Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis, and is ordained clergy with 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 the 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.”
I’ll read you two of the letters, though without naming the writers since my point isn’t to embarrass or call out anyone, 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?
I’m going to let Kit weigh in on this first.
Kit: Oh, and I’m probably the wrong person to be talking about this, because my spiritual beliefs are pretty different from most people’s. I think people should have a sense of humor about the things that are important to them in life.
Randy: And we both had a usual Christian upbringing, so….
Kit: I was raised Presbyterian, and I’m not “religious.” I was in a liberal church; we talked about a wide variety of things. I had an epiphany in, like, 8th grade. And when I’d tell adults what that was, they’d go “Pfft — that’s stupid, that can’t happen.”
Randy: And that was what?
Kit: My epiphany is that all religions have the same message.
Randy: The same goal.
Kit: The same goal, the same ideals, which is to be better people. Kind, good, honest.
Randy: Help each other.
Kit: And the adults would say, “Well what is that?” And my answer to them was, “To be more like God.” And they’d say “No, that can’t be.” and I said “There’s just a different word for God in all the different religions.” I also was raised to bow to my seniors, to adults in my life — the teachers, the ministers. And that was the first time that I never backed down from my belief. I knew then that I was right….
Randy: And you still haven’t backed down from that.
Kit: That’s right. So here, a couple years later, I firmly believe that is true. So, to make fun of religions — I mean, clearly I already have a different perspective — why would you be offended when you have confidence, and knowledge, as I did as an 8th grader, in your belief systems? So I’m not the right person to talk to about this!
Randy: But I still think that your point of view is interesting even though that it’s not—
Kit: It’s not mainstream.
Randy: …a minister giving their opinion on this.
Kit: Well it’s not mainstream at all.
Randy: Right, but I still think it’s interesting to see that there are other points of view. So here’s my reaction to that letter.
Kit: Ooh I haven’t heard this before! I’m looking forward to it.
Randy: All right! So first, absolutely: I think everyone should develop a sense of humor over 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. So why should you have do so? Because you live in the world. Everyone, Christian, atheist, or — as the reader suggests, a 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 your knickers bunched up every time you hear a minority opinion, or you can 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 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, 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 here has been a Premium subscriber since 2014, and presumably reading the free edition 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 nod to calling Jesus “sweet” and doesn’t see the irony here?
Kit: Well, he’s taking “Sweet Jesus” as a swear word, and I have to say if I were to use that phrase, it would be more in horror reaction to something like…
Randy: A car wreck or something.
Kit: Or something atrocious that somebody was saying or doing, or “I can’t believe you said that.” I mean, if I’m going to use that phrase, it’s not going to be “Wow! This is really the best!” It’s just not the way my brain works.
Randy: Yeah. So let’s get to Mike’s comments about the story: after all, he wrote it. We tried to work out having him on the show, but it was just too short notice for him to make it, so he emails:
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.
Kit: Well put.
Randy: I think it’s very insightful.
Randy: And I think that has to do with him being married to a minister. So I’m going to let her weigh in.
Kit: (gasps) Oh good! I always love what she has to say.
Randy: The Reverend Deanna GW Straw, and amusingly she weighed in even before Mike did, because when Mike sent the story, he noted to me that, “The Rev. Deanna Straw loved this story,” so I asked Mike if she’d like to comment on the letter in context with the story she had already enjoyed. Well she did want to, and I’ve condensed her comments. She wrote:
Thank you for asking me to comment on this story. Of course, 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!
Kit: (laughs) Good ol’ Deanna.
Randy: She continues,
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 believed that women could be ministers), and 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!
Kit: I wish I could have.
Randy: And then she comments on Mike’s tagline specifically:
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 one the gifts that God through Christ gives us — humor — we would have Holy Humor Sunday.
Randy: (continuing to quote)
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 that in the Show Notes.
Kit: I love Deanna’s response. And the part— I’ve not seen this cartoon or picture of laughing Jesus in the fishing boat, which is of course very appropriate for Jesus, but it reminds me that Buddhists have got a broad sense of what’s OK in reference to Buddha. In Hangzhou, China, there is an area called “The Mountain that Flew from Afar”. The stone there is different than surrounding stone. It’s like it’s from India, it’s like totally different, one’s sandstone and one’s granite — I don’t remember that detail. But, the Chinese decided to keep that piece of land there, and in their understanding of the world and the universe, they carved like a thousand Buddhas, all over this area, and there’s a monastery and all kinds of stuff. But there are laughing Buddhas, meditating Buddhas, sleeping Buddhas — all kinds of Buddhas. The laughing Jesus and the laughing Buddha were probably fishing together, and maybe Buddha had just fallen overboard or something! So it’s good to have humor.
Randy: I think so: that’s why I’m in this business.
Randy: And I’ll say that Deanna noted she told me about her education because “people will say I’m not a real minister because of my gender. But with my credentials I am held to the governing body of my denomination and their set of rules, ethics and standards. Anyone can get ordained online, but I went to school for it.” I think that’s a fair statement.
So the second letter that I wanted to read is from a reader who also happens to be in Michigan. He writes,
On the “Sweet Jesus” article: 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.
Now I’ll point out he is referring to the people within the story who are complaining, not other readers, since he didn’t know there were any complaints from readers. So 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!
Kit: Indeed. And to continue my thoughts on this, I believe when you have the power of conviction — I said you were grounded before — but it is the power of conviction. When you have faith in what you believe, then people can’t ruffle your feathers by using terms that are….
Randy: You might be disappointed and think, “Well, they’re going to hell!”
Kit: I think if you have the power of your conviction, you don’t judge people like that.
Randy: Good point.
Kit: I think you just look at that and think, “Huh. That’s now how I would have reacted.” Which is my reaction! It’s like, “That’s not how I would have named my ice cream parlor.”
Randy: Right, and that’s what the Get Out of Hell Free cards are all about: you know, take a chill pill, you don’t have to be so serious about not only other people, but even more importantly, your own feelings.
Kit: Especially your own feelings.
Kit: Take responsibility for how you feel and think, and let the rest of the world do its own thing — because it will.
Randy: Yes it certainly will.
Kit: Don’t let it pull your chains.
Randy: So there’s another point I want to make: most of the ice cream parlor’s customers are very likely 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.
Kit: Wait wait: so you’re saying that Islam’s second, and it’s only 3 percent?
Randy: 3.2, yeah.
Kit: Oh Sweet Jesus!
Randy: (laughs) Well, here’s the elephant in the room. That leaves an awfully big chunk of people, so if you wonder, those having no religion in Canada is 23.9 percent of the population. 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, though interestingly, 19 percent of self-identified American Jews do not believe God exists.
Kit: I find it interesting that atheism has become a religion.
Randy: Well they’re not saying that. They say, and to be very specific, “those having no religion.” So that’s not necessarily atheist: I used that as an example.
Kit: So I feel like I have no religion. But I’m not an atheist. So I’d fit into….
Randy: Yeah, so agnostics, and others….
Kit: Yeah, I just don’t have a religion. Good point, so we rely on some interesting measuring sticks on how to judge people, whether they’re good to govern us, or lead us in church.
Randy: But you know if we have a “representative” government, you would think there’d be… I don’t know what the percentage of atheists is in the United States, but something like 10 or 12 percent. Do you think 10 or 12 percent of our elected officials are atheist? I doubt it!
Kit: I’d like to think so. Maybe there’s more!
Randy: And of course— No. There’s like one or two that have acknowledged it.
Kit: Well, but how many are silent?
Randy: Yeah, a lot, I’m sure. But I’m not saying that that’s something unusual, because half the population, maybe 51 percent, is female, too, and that’s not the case in government.
Kit: Well, you can’t hide that fact. You can hide your religion.
Randy: Right. I actually one more short letter, from a reader in Pennsylvania, who clearly has a sense of humor:
I had a thought on the ice cream shop. If he starts serving Mexican ice cream he can keep the name by pronouncing it differently.
Randy: So if you were offended by the story, or otherwise wish to comment, let us know on the Show Page, at thisistrue.com/podcast35 — I would really like to hear your point of view on this: that’s how I learn about other people’s reactions.
Kit: I wanna hear too.
Randy: I’ll let you know what the URL is.
Kit: Thank you.
Randy: (whispering) thisistrue.com/podcast35
Randy: I’m Randy Cassingham.
Kit: I’m Kit Cassingham.
Randy: And we’ll talk at you later.