Some time ago, I was asked this question:
In two words or less, how would you describe your sense of humor?
The first two words that came to my mind were – “Ironic Iconoclasm”.
Then I wondered, “What does that mean?”
This post is my effort to answer that question.
First, irony comes in various forms. I like how this on-line dictionary defines one aspect of irony –
a pretense of ignorance and of willingness to learn from another assumed in order to make the other’s false conceptions conspicuous by adroit questioning —called also Socratic irony.
I’ve learned this form of irony not so much from the classic Greek philosopher Socrates as from my self-proclaimed Kentuckian father Veston. When Dad wants to catch someone off-guard with a thought provoking question, he begins with –
Now, I only have a sixth-grade education, so you’ll have to help me understand this…
Dad is actually a high-school graduate who took some college courses and, in his career, received training to work his way up from a basic laborer to a top-wage-earning office worker.
A second aspect of irony is captured in the literary word “sardonic”, which is basically making fun of something (or someone). Admittedly, this is risky business for anyone (particularly for professing Christians). When used appropriately, you can effectively cast down idols (human and otherwise). When used carelessly, you can wind up de-humanizing someone and cause crass offense.
One other aspect of irony relevant in having a holy sense of humor is in noting the incongruity between what actually happens and what is expected to happen. This form of dramatic irony reveals the limits of human understanding and action. It is an answered prayer for the Psalmist who cries out –
… let the nations know that they are only human. (Psalm 9:20b)
As for iconoclasm, it is good to look a little at religious history. Iconoclasm includes many things – from aggressive physical force (i.e. cutting noses off statues, burning paintings), to more influential speech and writing that decries idol worshiping that comes in such forms as paying too great of homage to someone or something in the church. Iconoclasm may include sophisticated satire at modern culture, but it is hardly the hate-filled rhetoric one my find political partisans engaging in on Facebook or Twitter.
I write about two sacred subjects: faith and mental illness. These two aspects of life have more than taken their share of being laughed at. The last thing I want to do is heap mockery upon mockery on persons seeking to be healthy and holy.
At the same time, not taking oneself too seriously is an essential component of a healthy and holy perspective. As someone who has faith and a mental illness, I can speak as someone from the inside saying, “Come on guys, lighten up.”
At its best, ironic iconoclasm is a holy sense of humor. When not exercised with care (and prayer), however, it can be destructive to spiritual community and damaging to human lives. My hope is I can exercise this humor effectively in what I write (and say) and when I cross over the line, you will hold me accountable.