Monday, February 23, 2015

Scattered Ramblings on Sarcasm (With a Detour About Hell)

These past days have been the sort of days in which crap from my past enters my mind.  I was remembering an incident this morning.  I was an undergraduate in college over a decade ago, and I said something sarcastic to one of my dorm-mates, an atheist.  He replied: “That sounds pretty sarcastic.  Jesus, I think, would have a different approach!”

I don’t think I had any snappy comeback then.  Since that time, I have thought of what I should have said: “Yeah, well, it would take Jesus to live with you!”  Remember that Family Guy episode in which Stewie went back in time to give Brian a snappy comeback?  Maybe a more appropriate comparison would be the time that George in Seinfeld wanted to use his “jerk-store” comeback, and it fell flat when he had an opportunity to do so!

I don’t entirely remember why I was being sarcastic in that incident.  My dorm-mate may have been baiting me about something.  I don’t know.  He often liked to put people on the spot.

Would Jesus have even had a different approach?  Well, Jesus did use his share of sarcasm, especially against his Pharisee critics.  Of course, some people take this thought a little too far.  I remember hearing Ann Coulter speak, and she appealed to the example of Christ to justify her own sarcasm.  I don’t think that being like Jesus means never criticizing anything or anyone.  When it amounts, though, to dehumanizing the other “side” and making them out to be the enemy, well, I would say something is wrong there, from a Christian perspective.  Kindness and love are supposed to fit into the Christian life somewhere, right?  I don’t see much kindness towards liberals in Ann Coulter’s columns.  “Yeah, well, liberals aren’t kind either.”  Do two wrongs make a right, for either side?
How could I have handled that situation with my dorm-mate?  I did handle it honestly, as a human being.  Not perfectly, but honestly.

Do I regret any sarcasm on my part as I look back?  Yeah, I would say so.  Not that conversation with my dorm-mate, but I would say so.  That season in my life when I was rebelling against evangelicalism and right-wing conservatism, I could be very sarcastic, mocking other people’s positions, using the reductio ad-absurdum in caricaturing people’s views.  I could have handled that a bit better, I think.  I should at least try to respect what people say, rather than treating what they say as stupid.

This morning, though, I did somewhat venture into the realm of sarcasm.  Someone posted a meme of C.S. Lewis’ statement that hell begins as a grumble, which the grumbler himself may even criticize, and eventually he gets to the point where he cannot turn it off.  A commenter responded to that meme by saying that it shows God does not send people to hell, but people send themselves to hell, which answers the question of how a loving God can send people to hell.  I replied: “God can’t overcome people’s grumbling moods when they have a hard time turning them off?”  Sounds a bit sarcastic.  Not abusive or trollish, but sarcastic. I’ve just had a long aversion to that whole line of “People send themselves to hell.”

I’m not sure if my point will be understood—-I don’t exactly provide much context, and the commenter may wonder what exactly I’m addressing.  Well, among other things, I’m questioning his idea that we have perfect free will and that God is not responsible, at least in C.S. Lewis’ scenario, for people going to hell.  If we are grumbling and can’t turn it off, our free-will is limited!  How can I be blamed if I am grumbling and can’t turn it off?  How can people in hell be blamed for that?  Can’t God turn off their grumble?  “Yeah, but God respects people’s free will.”  What free will, in that case?  “Well, our characters are cumulative, and we should remember that deciding wrong today will make deciding right tomorrow much more difficult, and that is our fault, not God’s.”  Joshua Ryan Butler did not use those words, but he made that sort of point in his book, The Skeletons in God’s Closet.   My response to that would be: “Is not God supposed to be the God of new beginnings?”
I could have written a complex treatise that readers would probably skip.  Instead I wrote a pithy comment that readers may skip because I didn’t provide much context!

Anyway, those are some ramblings.  I know sarcastic comments can get lots of likes.  They can also be dismissed by those who want a higher level of discussion!

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