Thinking Out Loud Podcast

Are We Living in a Post-Humor Moment?

Mar 14, 2019

One of the byproducts of outrage culture is an increasing anxiety about humor. It’s one of the reasons celebrities are more and more reluctant to host awards shows, and it’s also why many of us are treading much more carefully when a joke comes to mind. Though being more thoughtful about our words and actions is certainly commendable, it’s hard to deny that there’s a stifling and even paranoid dimension to this cultural atmosphere. Join Nathan and Cameron as they traipse into this dangerous territory, and discuss our tense relationship with humor.

Don't miss another episode, subscribe to the podcast on: iTunes or Google Play Music.

Follow the Thinking Out Loud hosts on Twitter:

Cameron McAllister - @CamMcAllister7
Nathan Rittenhouse - @N_Rittenhouse1


Want to listen to this later?


Transcript



Please Note: Thinking Out Loud is produced to be heard, not read. We strongly encourage you to listen to the audio. Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.

Nathan Rittenhouse: Hello, and welcome to Thinking Out Loud. Thinking Out Loud is a podcast where we think out loud about current events and Christian hope. I'm your cohost Nathan Rittenhouse.

Cameron McAllister: And I'm your cohost Cameron McAllister.

Nathan Rittenhouse: Cameron, the feedback that we've gotten, or that I've personally gotten about our podcast goes in two categories. People who know both of us say "Nathan, you need to tell more stories and Nathan you need to get Cameron to laugh more." This is where you're supposed to chuckle.

Cameron McAllister: I'm was going to say, am I supposed to laugh right there?

Nathan Rittenhouse: Because I think people who know us both think of us as people that tell a lot of funny stories, we love laughing together. You're always right on the cutting edge of some witticism, and we really do enjoy laughing together. So there's that element of our personalities, but then also a broader ... In the last three weeks, I've been asked multiple questions about or heard RZIM speakers being asked questions about humor, about the use of humor, about memes, about what we can laugh at, that type of ... Shock of all shocks, now laughter is a contentious, contested, debated idea in our culture. And so I'm wondering if you've seen similar things about the whole role of humor in communication? Where are we at from your perspective as far as the use of humor and laughter in that which is hilarious in our daily lives?

Cameron McAllister: Yeah. Oh boy, nobody likes the killjoy who dissects jokes and says hey, let's look at the mechanics of this and see what it says about us. But that's what we're going to do. I think there's a lot of really interesting features about this growing concern with humor. For me on a pop culture level, one of the first real big manifestations of it was maybe the Netflix special by the Australian comedian Hannah Gadsby, it's called Nanette. And interestingly enough ironically-

Nathan Rittenhouse: This is a year or two ago right?

Cameron McAllister: I think it was last year.

Nathan Rittenhouse: Okay.

Cameron McAllister: Last year, yeah. On Nanette, Hannah Gadsby, spoiler alert, takes that opportunity to announce her departure from the world of comedy. She says she could no longer do it. And she basically lays out some pretty interesting lines of thinking. It is, by the way, a very thoughtful, special, and in spite of that announcement, it ends up being quite funny at times, but at other times it's very moving and very sad. And she talks about how much of the humor that she was using as a comedian was really built on a foundation of trauma. There's another buzzword, we can talk about that a little bit more. And that it was preventing her from really dealing with it in a mature manner. Dealing with the trauma, dealing with her past, dealing with what had happened to her. And she also had in mind some of the revelations that have come out about recent celebrated comedians. Some typical examples would be Bill Cosby, another would be Louis C.K. The whole special serves as little bit of an indictment of humor. And so that was what sort of began the wheels turning for me seriously.

But then as I've been on the rode, like you Nathan, as I've been in university settings, I've noticed a real cooling on humor. You could make a joke, or you could ... Unless you're being fairly self deprecating, people really are not very comfortable laughing. You'll find that jokes often fall flat. There's just this growing air of seriousness. There's this growing anxiety I would say. There's a kind of fear surrounding it as well. And so that has ... I think that's quite interesting. I think that actually says a lot about where we are here in our moment.

Nathan Rittenhouse: So let's back up a second there, then, and say why that might be true. One of the things is, I think, in the type of talks that we're giving, people don't expect us to say funny stuff, and then when we slip it in there, the moment has passed before they realize it was okay to actually laugh at that. So I think a lot of people who aren't familiar with Christians just see them as ridiculously serious, and we're not. Speaking for the two of us at least. So there's that. But then, I mean what we laugh at does say a lot about who we are. And so I think we're now fairly guarded by perceptions of offense. Has humor actually been used to communicate in helpful ways in the past? Does it help us gloss over things? We kind of chuckle at things that sort of fit into our own little echo chambers. So why the seriousness? Why can't we laugh at things that are funny?

Cameron McAllister: Well I mean humor is inherently transgressive in a sense that it usually goes after points of tension, it goes after subjects that are considered taboo, and you can't take yourself too seriously. And I think we're in a time and a place where everybody is taking themselves very, very seriously indeed. I can elaborate on that a little bit. I don't know if I want to use the word as highfalutin as theory here. But kind of a theory would be that our age is so ideological at this point, and it's so politicized, at this point, as well, and it's so secular. I'll try to tease out each of these. I would love to hear your thoughts on them Nathan as well. That, when you're in a time where, basically, ideological commitment runs very high, you can think about that in political terms, then one of the most egregious offenses, of course, is disloyalty, or not taking the cause seriously. And that's swiftly punished.

And so jokes often ... Jokes are, by their nature, irreverent and they step on toes. That's how they communicate what they communicate. And they mock human conventions often. And there's a metaphysical component to humor as well. We can talk about that a little bit more, but our age is, in practice, quite secular in the sense that most people have their eyes firmly fixed on the human horizon, human aspirations and, largely speaking, most people often think that the way you get stuff done, we've talked about this before, is through political action. And truth often takes a backseat there. I think you bring in some post truth assumptions there in the sense that yeah, the truth is out there. I suppose we maybe have access to it, but what really matters is getting your way and seeing that realized. And so in that kind of environment, where your prizing political action, and there's so much at stake there because you want your way to realized so, therefore, you want to be fiercely loyal, and you want to be very, very committed to one side. This is why there's so much polarization. This is why you can think about Ocasio-Cortez's remarks. She had some pretty disparaging remarks recently about moderates. And essentially she was saying moderates are kind of the "meh" of politics. They're, basically, people with no backbone or no principle.

And see, that's a very, very clear indication of a lot of ... She's basically just I think putting into words what a lot of people across the political spectrum think. But, interestingly enough, the reason ... And I know this is sort of getting into view from 30,000 feet territory a little bit-

Nathan Rittenhouse: Oh yeah, it's hilarious.

Cameron McAllister: Yeah, and it's really funny by the way. But think about Peter Berger the famed sociologist and a mentor and friend to our colleague, Os Guinness, in his book A Rumor of Angels, when he talks about the idea of signals of transcendence. Signals of transcendence for Peter Berger are just prototypical human gestures. What the heck does that mean? Well he just means, basic things that we all do in our day to day lives, or day to day conversations that point beyond this world. That seem to indicate some transcendent reality. They don't seem to fit into this world. One of the poignant examples he gives very common is, a child has a nightmare, child comes into your room, wants to be consoled, comforted. Usually the parent tells their child some variation of the phrase, everything's going to be okay. And that points to some higher cosmic order, as Peter Berger says. Now I know most parents late at night don't think about it in these terms, but, if, for instance, naturalism is true, and there's no higher power, this world is all that there is, then these words of consolation are actually a lie. Everything's going to wind down, everybody's going to die, and there is, in the end, nothing. And so it amounts to a lie. But if there is some higher cosmic order, everything's going to be okay actually carries deep metaphysical significance.

Well in a similar way, Peter Berger says humor operates in this manner. Because if we can laugh at the human predicament ... And Peter Berger believes the human predicament and that humor, itself, usually emerges in the kind of incongruity or the discrepancy between us and the universe. So basically Peter Berger says, human beings don't fit in around here. We don't fit in in the world. We don't fit in the way a tiger fits in in its natural environment. Tigers go about their business, their red in tooth and claw business and they're relatively unselfconscious about it. But human beings moon and navel gaze and wonder about their purpose in life and their identity. And we just don't fit in. And so humor is a way of acknowledging that discrepancy between ourselves and the universe in a way that actually kind of points beyond where we are in this universe. And he points out that yeah, this seems to be a signal of transcendence, but it seems to me that if we're in an era that is so imminent, so focused on the here and now and what you can get done, that humor in a sense really conflicts with that.

It gets in the way. It's a distraction. It's offensive, and it's annoying. And, let's be clear, there is some humor that is absolutely, egregiously, needlessly offensive and despicable of course. But, on a broader level, I can see humor conflicting a little bit with the imminent frame, secular narrative, whatever you want to call it. I don't know Nathan, I'm rambling.

Nathan Rittenhouse: So let me take your thought and run in the exact opposite direction with if for a minute and try that on too. Not in a contradiction to it, but just the fullness of the concept here.

Cameron McAllister: I was getting really offended.

Nathan Rittenhouse: Yeah. That makes me laugh. So you're talking about laughter being a signal of how we don't fit in, basically, and a signifier of the transcendent. I also think that there's a sense in which the things for me that are really funny are signals of rootedness. And what I mean by that is that most of the things that I find to be really funny are hyper-contextualized to that moment that I'm actually in with the people that I'm actually with. So, that's not saying that there aren't funny movies, funny comedians, that sort of thing. But like the funny stuff that happens in life that's like, laughing blue milk out your nose kind of funny, those all happen connected to a spot where everybody in the conversation is so aware of the context that the humor is so contextualized to the events and the events leading up to it, that make it really, really funny. And I think we have a sense that humor is connected to a certain context by the fact ... Have you ever watched a comedian, and they said something and everybody laughed, but since you were watching on YouTube or something, you thought man, that really wasn't that funny, except for the fact that a comedian said it in a room full of laughing people?

Cameron McAllister: Yep.

Nathan Rittenhouse: I mean it's not actually funny. It's just that we're in the context where we think we're just supposed to laugh. So I wondered too-

Cameron McAllister: Yep. There's a kind of mob mindset that comes in there.

Nathan Rittenhouse: Yeah, a little bit of that. But I wonder if some of our inability to laugh is also a reflection of our inability to be fully present anywhere at any given time?

Cameron McAllister: Oh wow, that's an interesting thought. Yeah, because we're so distracted and our attention is always so divided. In that sense?

Nathan Rittenhouse: Mm-hmm.

Cameron McAllister: Yeah.

Nathan Rittenhouse: I think you get this from the little kid. “Hey daddy look at me, look at me, look at me!” That the call for, I'm going to do something funny to pull you back in to the present. And so is it possible that we live in a ultra serious time, also, A, because we aren't connected enough to the context around us to see the hilarity of it. And B, because what we do now is all public domain for future use and so what we say and do and laugh at now will be referred to out of the context in which it was funny 10 years from now.

Cameron McAllister: Yeah.

Nathan Rittenhouse: So we're hyper-guarded about laughing at anything that actually maybe is funny, because that can be used against us or to show that there's some flaw in our character at some later date. Maybe those are reasons that we're cautious.

Cameron McAllister: Well yeah there's a number of complex ideas that you've got going on in there. On the one hand, humor is rootedness. That's something that's going to sound ... It sounds foreign, I think, to a lot of folks these days initially. But it doesn't if we press into it. Just think about the inside jokes of close friendships. Think about the inside jokes of your family. Yeah, that are part of the family legacy, maybe if you got a certain uncle and there's a certain story that has now become family legend and you sort of repeat it around the dinner table and at different family gatherings. This becomes a kind of ritual. So yeah, we can all relate to that. Is that becoming more rare? I think, for sure, yeah. On the one hand we are more distracted and that inhibits us. But yeah, the other feature that you pointed out, the fact that we constantly, we're thinking of everything in terms of public domain. Everything is always under surveillance. I think the most practical example we can give here is the way people just keep airing all of the foibles of their children on the internet.

On the one hand, it seems kind of harmless. Hey, look at what my son did today. Whether it's a picture of the child in some compromising position, or some silly thing that they said, but, on the other hand you think, okay but this is now on the internet permanently. What will the child think in adolescent years, in adult years? Then that, also, in the back of our minds, subconsciously, we know that everything, so much of what we're doing is being filmed. And it's being put out there to the public. And yeah, is there something incriminating? Remember this is a theme that's come up on Thinking Out Loud before where we talked about the penchant that everybody has now, for digging up a person's past. Finding the yearbook photos. Finding those old tweets. The whole Tucker Carlson controversy that's raging right now. This Fox New host over remarks that he made, I believe it was 10 years ago, that have been unearthed and now are being re-aired. That's kind of a big sort of billboard-sized example of this kind of habit. So I think yeah, again that points back to I think what I was saying earlier about this growing anxiety and fear surrounding humor.

Because one thing that we can say about humor I think is that it's not safe. Because again, it's not just that it runs the risk of being crude, but it's irreverent. And often it messes with human conventions and it messes with prevailing power structures. Let me give you just one example here. This is a joke that my dad shared with us once to show us the way that some of the sort of transcendent ways in which humor can operate. This is really a fascinating joke. It's funny in a grim kind of way. So in the joke, this joke takes place in soviet Russia. In soviet Russia, a soldier is marching down the street. And he comes across an old man, who is hunched over a Hebrew text. And he says "Old man, what are you reading?" And he says "I am learning to read Hebrew." And he says "Why are you learning to read Hebrew? Why are you learning to speak Hebrew?" And he says "Because when I go to heaven, I want to speak the language." And the soldier grins and says "Ah, and what if you go to hell?" He says "Oh it's okay, I already speak Russian."

Nathan Rittenhouse: There you go.

Cameron McAllister: Now see, that's funny in a grim kind of way. It's also a signal of transcendence. As Peter Berger would say, because this old man ... Now who's the person who's more to be pitied here? Who's the person who's basically in a worse position? From an earthly standpoint, it's the man on the street, and the man who's more powerful is the man in uniform. But in a deeper sense, in a spiritual sense, this man hunched over his Hebrew learning it, is able to laugh at this seemingly impenetrable power structure, and recognize its finitude, recognize that in the grand scheme of things, it's but dust. And so in this sense, humor is really ... It's actually the guy learning Hebrew who's in touch with reality in a deeper sense, and who has the better head on his shoulders.

Nathan Rittenhouse: Yeah, okay but ... So that joke might have been funny 50 years ago. I mean, there's an element of it that's funny now, except that none of us listen to a joke thinking about, oh that points to who has their head squarely on their shoulders, and signals to the transcendent. Everybody who hears that is going to say, that's demeaning to a political regime.

Cameron McAllister: Yeah.

Nathan Rittenhouse: So, I'm not saying that it's not ... It perfectly makes the point that we're trying to make here, of what is the direction that we're leaning when somebody starts a joke?

Cameron McAllister: Yeah, and of course when you hear a joke very, very precious few of us are going to think aha, a signal of transcendence. When we're watching Jim Gaffigan, we're thinking look at all these signals of transcendence. But, on the other hand, I think if we take a step back, we can see how ... And that joke just provides a very kind of shrewd example as you said. But we can see how humor takes a step back to show us the basic discrepancy between human beings and the universe, but also human aspirations. Because I think that's why a lot of people these days, especially those who are a little bit more concerned with just immediate action and, basically, see politics as a means of salvation. This is why humor would be a huge threat. Because humor always takes a sardonic look at human aspirations. And thinks that, in the end, human beings consistently prove themselves to be their own worst enemies. And so, in that sense, humor really runs the risk of disrupting all of these sort of babble projects, if you will. And so, I think, most people when they're watching a standup special are not thinking in these terms. But I think when we just take a step back, we actually can see that wow, there's some notable tensions that emerge basically in the world of humor, and they do run up against our cultural moment in really interesting ways.

Nathan Rittenhouse: Mm-hmm. There's another thing, while you're talking about jokes in response to jokes. My earliest memory of somebody being offended by a joke, I think, spooling back to third grade here. Where one of my friends said to a group of us ... And again, this is third grade humor here. So, he said, "What is the biggest pencil in the world?" And we didn't know. And then he says "Pennsylvania." Ha, ha, ha. Except for this one girl who's like, "I am offended and insulted by that. I have family that lives in Pennsylvania, and I don't think they would think that was funny." And then she points at me and says, "Nathan, I know that you have family that lives in Pennsylvania, and aren't you offended by this joke?" I was like, "No. I'm not." I thought that was pretty funny in third grade. And so that's the other element there of, that I'm wrestling with is, what sets the stage for whether or now we can laugh at ourselves, or if it needs to be a moral ... Maybe goes back to your idea about everything being embedded in ideals. And that might be a bit much to impose on third grade minds, but-

Cameron McAllister: Well you just uttered the key word, the "O" word that I think a lot of listeners are probably wondering about, whether we'd get to. And that's offense. Because we're in an age of offense, if ever there was an age of offense. And nothing seems to signal the impending approach of, oh, here we go with post again, post humor age, quite like offense. But there is an increasing ... It's not only an increasing seriousness that characterizes our cultural moment, speaking in broad terms, but it's also this growing moralistic tone. And again, I mentioned this, I believe on the last podcast, but I'm more and more convinced that Alan Jacobs is right in saying that, one of the recurring weaknesses of our time is this infatuation with self righteousness. That has come to the floor in kind of unique way. Because if you think the tradition of pharisaic legalism, that Jesus attacked with such vehemence is kind of over or antiquated, nothing will dispel that quite like just taking a little tour of Twitter lately, where everybody seems to be virtue-signaling every five seconds and showing, basically illustrating the opposite of Jesus's one parable where the two men, the one says thank you that I'm not like other men, and the one who say have mercy on me, a sinner. Everybody seems to be often uttering some variation of the phrase, thank you that I'm not like this retched person.

Because after all, look at what he or she said. Look at what they did. Just look at this tweet, let me quote it. And on and on we go. And again, so, in this sense, going back to that anxiety feature, humor often gets used as ammunition against you and it's just that so often if offense becomes a really, really powerful way for you to express yourself ... And I think that's really what its become in many ways. I think offense is one of the ways you're sort of seen as participating in serious public debate, in serious political conversations, and the issue that we've talked before about the relentless drive to sound off on it. But that drive is not just to sound off, that drive is to draw also moral judgements. And they better be the correct moral judgements, and by correct I mean the moral judgements that fall in line with cultural orthodoxy. And so, if humor steps on toes, if humor appears now suddenly insensitive, or out of bounds, and the rules do change fairly quickly, then yeah, often, that's used as ... You're made an example of. That's used as an occasion for disparagement and so on.

And I know that there's all sorts of different complicating factors. And again, we don't tie this up a neat bow on top or anything like that. These podcasts are meant to get you thinking along these lines and to help frame the issues from a Christian standpoint. So just putting that out there as a little footnote there.

Nathan Rittenhouse: So the thing that, as far as like memes go, for example, I think the reason they're funny is because a picture's worth a thousand words. And then you insert a phrase, connect it with something else, and so you're multiplying the impact of a lot of ideas in a short space. So that's really fun. The thoughtful way that that question has been posed to me, then, in light of this is, is it possible that we use humor to move past an issue too quickly?

Cameron McAllister: I think we do actually often. And here's where I ... Again, I sound like the sort of killjoy here at this point. But yeah, if, for instance, let's take pop culture for instance. And I am curious Nathan, whether you're aware of this. Are you aware of the R Kelly interview?

Nathan Rittenhouse: I've seen headlines referencing it, but I haven't read it or watched it.

Cameron McAllister: Right. So it was quite the spectacle. R Kelly, the R&B singer who is now under very serious accusation from multiple women for sexual assault and has been longstanding controversy surrounding him for a while. It's looking increasingly like he's going to be indicted. He's been out on bail. And he sat down for an interview and he gets up and he's basically weeping loudly. It just was quite the spectacle. And, immediately, of course, these become internet memes, and, immediately, it's trivialized. And, as much of a spectacle as it is, and of course you can talk about the way these spectacles are marketed as such. They're set up like that. Many reporters and journalists seem to bank on these kinds of onscreen meltdowns. Because of course it leads to huge sharing, the stuff goes viral, and that's a whole separate issue.

But, what I'm focusing on here, is the way humor here is being used in a kind of very juvenile and unhelpful manner. In a manner that kind of underscores Hannah Gadsby's point. Because what we're doing, in effect, is trivializing an extremely serious case that's involving the sexual assault of multiple women. It's actually not a laughing matter, and, even though the behavior on screen was absolutely outlandish, the way we just instantly turn it into a joke, or a punchline, it reminds me a lot of Neil Postman's of course now sort of immortal phrase, amusing ourselves to death. So I think we can make a distinction and say there is such a thing as constructive humor, and then there's destructive humor. And it seems to me that, by and large, a lot of the meme culture often trivializes subjects that are of profound moral significance. And I do think that is dangerous.

Nathan Rittenhouse: So maybe we should make a distinction here between amusement and humor, in the sense that to use the actual amuse to not think literally the amusing. We're not thinking there's a sense in which we're just shutting off our brains to be entertained. Versus, what I would see as genuine humor being really thoughtful construction and insight into ideas that maybe even teach something in the middle of them, but also do it in a way that gives us a sort of gleeful emotional response to a deep truth or deep idea. And that would be the opposite of amusement if you can do humor well in that way.

Cameron McAllister: Absolutely. And there are, I think, multiple examples of that. Why don't we give one? I'll give one specific one. What about the comic Calvin and Hobbes?

Nathan Rittenhouse: There you go.

Cameron McAllister: I mean a lot of us would say that there's something very special about Calvin and Hobbes, because it is laugh out loud funny, but it's also consistently thoughtful and quite soulful at times. Or what about the Peanuts, there's another one. I'm just giving relatively trivial pop culture examples. But you can go down the list. In literature, humor has been used in very profound ways. I mean Oscar Wilde uses humor amazingly, irony, often, to underscore some points of great moral significance. P.G. Wodehouse, who's famous for his butler, Jeeves, that's another good one. So there are examples of humor being used, not only constructively, but in a very clever manner, and in a very ... That is also, dare I say it, man there's no more killjoy term than edifying. There is such a thing as edifying humor. And Calvin and Hobbes definitely can be irreverent. I know, growing up, some parents ... Well my parents, don't let me read Calvin and Hobbes, because he's so rebellious and disrespectful. I'm not trying to ... It sounds like I'm ... I guess I am kind of making fun of a little bit there, but again, there's a lot of really beautiful thought in Calvin and Hobbes as well, and it actually can be quite moving. So, yes, you can have all the edginess, I think, of the sharp edges of humor, and still have it be edifying.

Nathan Rittenhouse: So heres a really weird ... This has no prophetic or spiritual whatever, it's just a thought that went through my mind as I was waking up yesterday morning. And so I'm not attaching any significance to this at all, rather than the fact that it just made me think. But, sometimes, as I'm coming awake in the morning as the alarm clock's going off, I have these thoughts that go through my mind. And yesterday the thought that-

Cameron McAllister: Mine is that I want to go back to sleep.

Nathan Rittenhouse: Yeah. As I was walking to my alarm clock was, somebody asking me a question in my mind, at the return of Christ, how will you recognize him? And in my sort of dream state, I responded, I'll recognize him by his smile. Which obviously, there's a whole lot of other stuff that we know about the return of Christ. But it set me off on thinking about this whole idea of Jesus and humor, and hilarity, and enjoyment and pleasure, being something that we don't see written out in the gospels necessarily. But I think from our lived experience, if you traveled around with the same set of guys for a couple of years, there would have to be some times of deep hilarity, and laughter, and humor. And there might be more of that woven into some of the parables and interactions than we're willing to see at this time. But what do you think about Jesus and humor, as we bring this to a close?

Cameron McAllister: Yeah, so Jesus and humor. What about John 1, starting at verse 43? Let me just read it real quickly. "The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, 'Follow me.' Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathaniel and said to him, 'We have found him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.' Nathaniel said to him, 'Can anything good come out of Nazareth?' Philip said to him, 'Come and see.' Jesus saw Nathaniel coming toward him, and said of him, 'Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit.'" Now it's pretty hard for me, and maybe I'm reading this through 21st century W,estern eyes, but it is pretty hard for me to see Jesus saying that to Nathaniel without a smile on his face. And it's always struck me that there's ... And I need to do a little bit further digging, and in fact, I've got it marked out in my bible to do some more digging on this passage. But it's always struck me, that there's some humor here. And some good natured teasing going on here. And I just have always thought it's a very beautiful, very human moment with Jesus.

On the one hand you have this hugely portentous claim, essentially, We have met him of whom Moses wrote and the prophets and the Messiah, and then can anything good come out of Nazareth? Well, okay, come and see big man. And then Jesus, behold, and Israelite in whom there is no deceit. So I think you can ... There's ample evidence within scripture for some of these moments for sure. But I've always loved this particular moment.

Nathan Rittenhouse: Mm-hmm. And to not nullify all of the references to joy and satisfaction and even deeper forms of kind of emotional pleasure that are talked about extensively throughout the gospel. So it's all right there.

Cameron McAllister: I think for me an abiding lesson, as a Christian, in this cultural moment has been ... And I know you and I talk about this sometimes Nathan, in fact, I think we just were, is to just learn the blessed feeling. And this is part of humility. I think this is part of self forgetfulness, to not take yourself too seriously. It is a wonderfully liberating, actually, spiritual exercise to do that. Now that doesn't mean you're lazy, you trivialize important subjects or you shirk your responsibilities. You don't do the homework that you need to do. But it means you relax. First of all, as a Christian, you're assured that you are fully loved, you have all the affirmation and love that you need from your Heavenly Father, and you can rest secure in that. And also, you can look at your own foibles and you can recognize that yeah, you're a human, you're finite, you make mistakes, and you can laugh at them without them completely defining you. It's possible to laugh at mistakes in an unhealthy way, in the sense that you trivialize them, and try to just laugh them away. But it's also possible to laugh at them and to recognize, yes, these are real mistakes, but also to recognize that, in the end, all things are not in your hand.

And so you can actually ... Christians, of all people, are those who can afford to not take themselves too seriously. And that's the kind of freedom that's pretty rare right now. People are really looking for that.

Nathan Rittenhouse: I messed something up the other day and kind of looked up at my wife like, oh no. And she looks at me and she goes, "Oh no, you're human." And so there is a sense of that that you're calling this as a reminder to of being honest about where we are and seeing that as a funny thing. That's not to say that we have to be mocking or sacrilegious, but there's enough that is genuinely beautiful about the complexity of our world. There's plenty to laugh at. And I think that should be one of the signs, a fruit of the Spirit, so to speak, that joy would be something that would flow from abiding in and with Christ.

Cameron McAllister: Yeah. And one interesting ... We can close on this note. One interesting comment that came from a colleague and friend of ours Michael Suderman, you guys were at the University of Virginia. You were doing a mission there, a university mission where you were all speaking multiple times. You were speaking in front of groups, and then you were having smaller conversations, which are often the more intense ones, one on one, with students. And Michael had some interesting observations. He noted the much more serious atmosphere, but he also said, "If you could be really explicitly self-deprecating at the beginning of a talk, to where it was like you were almost giving permission to the audience to laugh at you, then they would begin to loosen up, then they would begin to be comfortable." And I thought there was a lot of wisdom in that observation. And I took it also as a little bit of an exhortation. And I think it's a good one. It's a good word. I'm not saying cut yourself down and have really, really poor self-esteem. There's some good therapeutic language for you. But don't take yourself too seriously. Those who are self-deprecating, often, are people who actually have a really holistic sense of confidence and sense of themselves. But also a sense of their own limitations. And that can be a wonderful liberating thing.

And it can, I think indeed be a fruit of the Spirit. In the sense that it's an act of humility. It's an act of gentleness. If it's done in a healthy way, it's the opposite of pride. So I think-

Nathan Rittenhouse: So, what I guess you're saying is, I wish I was better at self-deprecation.

Cameron McAllister: Yeah. I want to get better at self-deprecation. So I should ... And you know who can help you with that? Your close friends, your spouse, your family members. And, sometimes, it's a little bit painful at first, but what they can do, is they can help you to become better acquainted with your limitations. And don't we all need that? So hey, we hope that this conversation here on humor has not been without humor. We hope that it's not been totally joyless. We hope that its actually been helpful to you, as well. And, of course, there's much more that can be said, but we hope we get the wheels turning, and get some thinking going.

But, speaking of thinking, you have been listening to Thinking Out Loud. A podcast where we think out loud about current events and Christian hope.

Every article, podcast, and video on this website is made possible by the kindness of our supporters.

If you'd like to support our mission of sharing a thoughtful Christianity to the world, you can donate through our site.

Get our free , every other week, straight to your inbox.

Your podcast has started playing below. Feel free to continue browsing the site without interrupting your podcast!