Monday, April 4, 2011

Howls of Derisive Laughter

I recently saw a video of a speech Christian musician Rich Mullins gave in 1986 to a Christian youth organization in which he said he’d given up watching Monty Python movies. “This was a hard one for me,” he explained. “Because I love Monty Python movies, and I had to stop watching them, because I realized that they laugh at life and they scoff at life.”

Here was a guy who dove into living, who railed against Christians who try to construct neat little lives insulated and isolated from the rest of the world. Give up Monty Python? That harmless comedy troupe? Why not talk about giving up smoking, drugs, Tarot cards?

Maybe because laughing and scoffing at life—cynicism, to put it in a word—devalues life in a way that Tarot cards and a host of other no-no’s can’t. Cynicism refuses to treat God and life as good and precious. It views human beings as self-serving hypocrites. It’s too clever to fall for the “lie” that there is a God in heaven and meaning to life.

The cynic avoids natural sentiment because it makes him vulnerable. The Christian risks playing the fool. The cynic sees in Mother Teresa’s struggles with faith a “gotcha” moment—score one for atheism. The Christian sees a woman who persevered in serving God despite her doubts—the very definition of faith.

What makes cynicism so dangerous is that it’s too easy to be cynical in our culture. Beyond easy: you’re rewarded for it. Cynicism is a mark of intelligence, of a willingness to face the world as it is. It’s funny. It’s the robust, grown-up way to look at things.

But cynicism is none of those things. It’s gutless. It dislikes and distrusts beauty. It elevates ugliness simply because it is ugliness. It stands apart from the “unwashed masses,” commenting from on high. It’s passivity, not action. It’s the lousy abstract painting that any monkey with a brush can paint (and then call art).

It’s easy to mock life, to let loose with—as the Pythons say in one of their more famous sketches—“howls of derisive laughter.” All you have to do is cave into the culture. Let your thoughts fall into and roll down that old bowling-alley gutter. It takes effort to keep the ball out of that gutter and treat life as precious.

And I think that’s where giving up Monty Python comes in. We’re told to keep our minds on what is true, noble, just, and lovely (Phil. 4:8), and while that doesn’t mean we should spend our lives skipping through meadows and sipping drops of dew from flower petals, it does mean, I think, that we shouldn’t deliberately fill our minds with things that crowd out the true and noble.

The strange thing is, when I gave up Monty Python—among many other things, since I had such a taste for snarky humor—I found I developed a different perspective on life. I was no longer “feeding the beast,” so to speak, and a world of real, warm humor opened up to me. And Monty Python? They’re just not that funny anymore.



Anonymous said...

It would take me 30 minutes or more to clearly put into words why I like this so much!

Cynthia Bruner said...

In hindsight this is so true. When things like favorite TV shows first started leaving a bad taste in my mouth, I would have thought this was extreme. The truth is, I don't miss all the nasty "noise" in my life. Snark is cheap and easy, and it doesn't contribute to the things in my life that really matter. Thanks for a great post!

Karin Kaufman said...

Thank you, Anonymous. I so appreciate your comment!

Karin Kaufman said...

Cynthia, just a few years ago I would have considered this an extreme reaction too. Funny how things change. In a way I didn't have to "give up" anything, least of all Monty Python. I just found other, better ways to spend my time.

Post a Comment