I have found that the funniest comedy is subversive comedy. What I mean is that the best comedy takes the taboo, the holy, and the unquestioned and drags it right out into the open, warts and all, for everyone to see. Makes it not quite so high and mighty. And you see this in politics, from political satirists like Stephen Colbert to court jesters in times past. If you have the skill to make people laugh, you might just get them to rexamine ideas and beliefs that they would otherwise protect with an unpenatrable wall of offense.
Douglas Adams did this for me in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I was still a Christian when I first read Hitchhiker’s Guide, and I was listening to a very well-done audio book which enhanced the effect of the humor. It’s not like this is a good argument (in fact, it is totally absurd), but it did get me to laugh even if a bit akwardly at the fact that he was basically turning the “Design Argument for God” (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teleological_argument) on it’s head. How ridiculous to say that the unlikelihood that a creature could evolve by chance would prove that God doesn’t exist!
I didn’t become an atheist merely because of this sort of thing, but since it made me laugh by it’s absurdity it got me to lower my guard just a bit. It made the very thought (plausible or not) of God not existing just a bit less threatening to me.
BABEL FISH :
The Babel fish is small, yellow and leech-like, and probably the oddest thing in the Universe. It feeds on brainwave energy recieved not from its own carrier but from those around it, It absorbs all unconscious mental frequencies from this brainwave energy to nourish itself with. the practical upshot of this is that if you stick a Babel fish in your ear you can instantly understand anything said to you in any language.
Now it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anhthing so mind-bogglingly useful could have evolved purely by chance that some thinkers have chosen to see as a final and clinching proof of the non-existence of God. The argument goes like this : “I refuse to prove that I exist”, says God, “for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing.”
“But”, says Man, “the Babel fish is a dead giveaway isn’t it? it could not have evolved by chance. it proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don’t. QED.”
“Oh dear”, says God, “I hadn’t thought of that,” and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.
“Oh that was easy” says Man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white and gets himself killed on the next zebra crossing.
Meanwhile, the poor Babel fish, by effectively removing all barriers to communication between different races and cultures, has caused more and bloodier wars than anything else in the history of creation.
(Text borrowed from http://homepage.eircom.net/~odyssey/Quotes/Popular/SciFi/Douglas_Adams.html where you can find many more great Douglas Adams quotes.)
The subversive nature of comedy means, pretty much inevitably, that the best humor is going to offend someone who thinks that certain things ought to remain taboo, holy, and unquestioned. Naturally, not everyone is going to find the same things funny. In the worst of scenarios, where the freedom of speech is not recognised, it might even lead to terrorism, imprisionment, and/or a death sentence for the comedian. (I’m thinking of Dutch cartoons, though there are plenty of other examples.) After the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy movie came out, one of the critisisms I heard of it was that it is anti-religious. Faith does not like to be taken lightly. I have my own thoughts as to why that is, and you can probably guess what they are, but I will leave you to your own conclusions.
And with that said, I will conclude with a bit of atheistic satire that is targeted mainly at a particular audience: atheists, especially those who grew up in a charasmatic Christian religous environment. It is an atheist version of a “holly roller” revival service in which I was in the audience in Skepticon IV, which I mentioned this in my post on Skepticon from a few days ago.
WARNING: If you are of the type mentioned above who are offended when religion is mocked or satirized, please do yourself a favor and do not watch this video. Seriously.