Utne Blogs > Mind and Body

Note to Atheists: Be More Funny

 by Bennett Gordon


Tags: Spirituality, atheism, religious fundamentalism, enlightenment, Hitchens, the Philosopher's Magazine,

Christopher Hitchens HumorReligious fundamentalists and modern atheists have something in common: Neither one can take a joke. Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and the other heirs to the enlightenment are not funny, Giles Fraser writes for the Philosopher’s Magazine, “And that’s as sure a sign as any that the Enlightenment is as creatively dead as the proverbial parrot.”

“Whenever laughter is absent,” Fraser writes, “the heavy drumbeat of political control is never very far behind.” Humor is the most effective way to speak truth to power (see: Steven Colbert), and without humor, political views become too serious, too certain. Laughter promotes understanding, and Fraser writes, “whereas understanding leads to peace, certainty leads to conflict and violence.”

Some people laugh at the dry humor of Christopher Hitchens, but his “vitriolic attacks upon Islam as something backward and ignorant” make Fraser anxious. Though Fraser doesn’t mention them, Hitchens’ recent attacks on women’s humor are decidedly not funny. And most of the other new atheists don’t even try to find humor in their attacks on religion and their defense of science. “Without laughter,” Fraser writes, “all this is smug and dangerous.

Image by Jutta, licensed under Creative Commons.

Sources: The Philosopher’s Magazine 

super jesus
5/25/2009 8:21:28 PM

Note to Utne: Be More Funny First of all skulldug nailed it. Second, if you're going to snobbishly look down your clown nose at someone for not being funny enough you had better come bearing cream pies or risk looking quite whiny and humorless yourself. Evangelically yours in a completely heterosexual way, Super J. http://thesuperjesus.wordpress.com


rick raab-faber
5/25/2009 3:46:15 PM

Having been on both sides of this fence (and now currently in the agnostic camp), I have to say that everyone needs to lighten up. Of course atheist think fellow atheist speakers are funny when they bash Christians. And the Christians have many in their number who are ROTFL funny -- IF you're a Christian. The point is not worry about defending your own "denomintation's" funnyness. It's about being willing to laugh at yourself. btw, I know that most Christian humorists enjoy poking fun at their faith. When was the last time Bill Maher told an atheist joke?


bgordon
5/25/2009 1:18:18 PM

I think that Dawkins and Hitchens can be fairly witty too, at times. And I have laughed at Bill Maher before. But that humor is often based on making fun of other people while showing an inability to laugh at themselves. I find that quite off putting.


alison brooks
5/25/2009 1:06:43 PM

Superficial, pointless article. And by the way, it's "funnier", not "more funny". I am cringing. Totally agree with skulldug.


jay williams
5/25/2009 11:12:25 AM

After reading the original article in TPM, I'm not sure that UTNE did a good job of abstracting it. The author is a Vicar of a religion that prides itself on not taking things too seriously. I find Dawkins, Hichons, Maher, Jim Jefferies and others to be witty and charming. While atheists laigh at the blindness of the religious, the believers attempt to force their views on the behavior of others. That's a big difference.


jay williams
5/25/2009 11:10:02 AM

After reading the original article in TPM, I'm not sure that UTNE did a good job of abstracting it. The author is a Vicar of a religion that prides itself on not taking things too seriously. I find Dawkins, Hichons, Maher, Jim Jefferies and others to be witty and charming. While atheists laigh at the blindness of the religious, the believers attempt to force their views on the behavior of others. That's a big difference.


russell martin
5/25/2009 10:35:05 AM

This stupid article lacks substance and the point it is making is "fundamentally" untrue. I expect more from Utne Reader.


skulldug
5/21/2009 11:38:16 PM

Mr. Gordon wrote: "Religious fundamentalists and modern atheists have something in common: Neither one can take a joke." I guess this article must be another "joke" that this atheist can't "take." We atheists comprise a large section of the population and display the full range of human virtues and vices. Many prominent humorists are atheists; e.g., Bill Maher of "Real Time." In fact, we are overrepresented in the field (it's not just those wicked scientists). Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, however, are not humorists, but public intellectuals. Should they dance a jig? Make farting sounds with their armpits? Or is Mr. Fraser's point to suggest that we atheists in general need to be more entertaining to hold the short attention spans of the "god-fearing"? But since atheists are the number one growing "denomination" in the U.S., perhaps our tactics aren't so "creatively dead"...