Like modern art, sarcasm and the opposition party, satire has its place in our society. All these have a role in questioning established ideas, in challenging the status quo.
Satire demands that we consider a different perspective. That we think for ourselves rather than succumb to didactic propaganda or quasi-dictatorial spin. At its best, it may promote independent thinking, even inquisitiveness. For that reason I like satire.
But I’m not a huge fan. I enjoy Have I Got News For You, but I’m more entertained by Paul Merton’s random humour than the acerbic political wit of Hislop and others.
Satire is useful in exposing the Government’s injustices and betrayals, but I’m offended when satire extends to downright mocking or insulting political or other leaders, or people of other faiths, or….anyone.
I believe in showing respect to all people – yes, even MPs and Prime Ministers! They’re people too. Really.
After starting to write this blog post, I came across John Bird’s piece in The Big Issue, titled “Satire should reform and inform… not rile”. Trust good old Mr Bird to beat me to it (to the same point I’m making), and of course to write an article 10 times better than I ever could. But still, my viewpoint veers off in a slightly different direction, writing as I do as a Christian, so here goes….
Before entering a journey of faith in Jesus, my speech was often facetious, laced with self-centred sarcasm. To be fair, some of that can be put down to youth, but a life turned around and inside-out changed my inner heart and conscience, and made me into someone who finds mockery distasteful, and who experiences a sensitivity to the feelings of those at the brunt of it.
Put more positively, it’s changed me into someone who sees every human being as a valuable entity, reflecting the divine. The book of Proverbs in the Bible says that whoever mocks the poor mocks their Maker, and you can take that further to mean mocking of anyone – it’s just that “the poor” are the ones who are most vulnerable to being mistreated.
I love free speech, and I honour those who died in France in defence of the freedom of the press. In democracies such as ours, we (normally) enjoy huge liberties.
For myself, the rise in internet dialogue on matters of faith, my own participation in debate of what some might see as religious ‘orthodoxy’, the opportunity to air and discuss questions which I and many others previously kept internalised, has been immensely helpful in developing my own faith into something more robust, honest and reliable – and hopefully into something that others without faith might look at and in some way relate to, and think “Maybe I could consider this faith after all”.
I think Jesus would have loved online discussion! The people of his time and culture loved to debate and Jesus was no exception. He’d often answer a question with a question, stimulating his followers to think and pray for themselves, to be curious, to search out understanding and intimacy with God.
Baptist minister Shaun Lambert, in his highly recommended book on Christian mindfulness, comments about the church that “We have too often been controlling. Too often we have told people what to think…. Sadly, in the eyes of the world, we have seemed to be inquisitor rather than inquisitive.”
(A Book of Sparks)
In contrast, Jesus would undoubtedly be a fan of free speech and of learning through questioning.
Being able to blog like this – or to produce a satirical magazine – is an amazing privilege, not to be taken lightly. Or as my son, in a recent conversation at home about the Charlie Ebdo killings, quoted from Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben in Spiderman: “With great power comes great responsibility”!
With free speech comes the responsibility to use it wisely, to uphold ethical values like respect, honour, kindness, fairness and justice. These principles can hardly be legislated or enforced (at least in a democracy), only promoted. Those who hold such values can inspire and motivate others to follow.
There will always be mockery, dishonour, disrespect. We cannot uphold the liberty of democracy and free speech without accepting the inevitability of negative ethics and at times their tragic consequences, as we’ve unfortunately seen in France.
As for me, well, I’ve felt the sting of those offended by my exercise of free speech. Thankfully, nothing as dramatic as the murders in Paris, but painful to myself and others close to me, all the same.
And I have learned some things along the way.
Again, I love what the Bible has to say – encouraging followers of Jesus to always ‘season’ our speech with grace, i.e. generosity of heart, no matter what, always aiming to build others up, not put them down.
I won’t tell anyone else what to say or think, but my aim is renewed from here on to use this opportunity for free speech to inspire you, dear reader, to love-filled faith and noble aspirations, to thoughts and actions and of course words motivated by respect and appreciation for all.