Saintly Thoughts

On Impious Laughter

I remember the story of St. Paul visiting the Agora at Athens and speaking to the men gathered there.  He tells them of the gospel, and when he speaks of Jesus rising from the dead what do the men gathered there do?  They laugh.  I wonder sometimes if our age is analogous to that of the Greeks at the height of their decline into decadence.  The Greeks had been a proud people, but by the time of the first century, they too had fallen under the imperial yoke of Rome.  They were an important cultural symbol of that mighty Empire, but they were impotent and in chains.  As such, they were barren, and their days of philosophic grandeur lay behind them.  What could they do but laugh?  They had no power to do anything else.  Ours too is an age that laughs (and I along with it).  Comedy is big business, and so many of our young men (myself included) while away their nights listening to the fowl speech of comics bemoaning our baseness and depravity, and laughing.  The more that the comic shows us our crudeness--whether in our politics, our relationships, our economics, our bathroom habits, or our sex life--the more we laugh.  And what else can we do?  For the comic has truly shone a sliver of light upon the baseness and ridiculousness of our condition.  If we did not laugh at his or her jokes, surely we would have to cry, for we have much to cry about.  Laughter is a good thing and we as humans could not live without it.  And yes, we are crude and base and must laugh at ourselves.  I do not begrudge even the filthiest of puns and jokes as befitting a place in the human experience here below.  For while the true aim of human existence may be to sacramentalize this life (by this I mean to infuse existence with meaning) surely we must laugh at our feeble efforts to remind us how this hard thing can only be accomplished by the most abject humility.  But if all we do is laugh, what then?  What does our laughing accomplish?  At some point, just as too much food ceases to nourish the soul and becomes a burden to the body, might not our overabundance of laughter bloat  our sensibilities, causing us to laugh and make merry at that which is truly sacred?  I would sometimes while away my days in laughter; may I while away my days in prayer and contemplation as readily.  If every laugh (by nature) counteracts a tear, just imagine the tears creation will be forced to spill for our laughter.