Taking oneself too seriously is “a big danger for religious people,” Jesuit priest and author James Martin said in an interview with RNS’ Religion Bound. Martin explores the connection of faith and humor in his latest book, “Between Heaven and Mirth,” which Religion Bound recently reviewed.
He was surprised to find while working on the book that there is a lack of literature on the topic, scholarly or popular. Martin certainly picked up the baton and sprinted with it, providing readers with a plentiful—and fun—primer on the topic.
“We simply don’t get some of the jokes” of the Bible, Martin explained, because we are out of sync with first-century Palestine. For example, several of Jesus’ parables were likely meant to catch listeners’ attention through humor, followed by the moral lesson that modern Christians head directly toward. A plank in one’s eye offers, yes, a valuable reminder to be hesitant to judge another before examining one’s own sin, but back in the day such a quip would qualify as knee-slapping humor.
Martin cracked several jokes during his interview with Religion Bound, and chuckled as he recalled various skits from "Saturday Night Live’’ and a favorite Margaret Cho sketch.
Kristen Wiig is among his favorite humorists on screen, along with Lewis Black (“always makes me laugh even though I don’t agree with him”) and Alec Baldwin. He’s been watching reruns of "Frasier’’ lately, and thought “The Hangover” and “Bridesmaids” were both very funny.
Sister Helen Prejean, author of “Dead Man Walking” and one for whom Martin has great respect, tells both Cajun jokes and nun jokes. “She’s amazing, and funny,” he said. He describes Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, as “my kind of archbishop for holy humor today.”
Martin considers conversation the quickest road to humor for him, and said of eating out with friends, “That’s usually when I laugh the most.”
Martin makes sure to spend as much time as possible around people who make him laugh, particularly those who have a “sense of the absurd,” as he puts it.
On a recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land, he traveled with one of his funniest friends, who would say of modern restaurants where they dined, “Jesus ate here.”
Certainly a man of serious thought and devoted faith, as his latest book will attest, Martin reminds us that “we take religion too seriously sometimes.” —Bailey Brewer