Wednesday, November 23, 2005

comedy and theology

I've always believed that you can learn a lot about something by a good question, even if the answer offered along with it isn't anything special. This applies very much to Judaism. I'm willing to deal with questions asked by anybody - that doesn't mean I have to accept their answers. And one of the best places to get good questions - and be entertained in the process - is from humor.

Jokes about the Bible or religion are great ways to focus on the apparent contradictions and difficulties that religious belief entails. The Simpsons does a great job of dealing with religion in a humorous way.

I happened to get a couple of very funny items this week that help show how humor can focus our questions on religion.

The first is this Sunday's "Pearls Before Swine" strip by Stephan Pastis. As the name of the strip implies, Pastis often hints at religious themes, but not in an offensive way like B.C.

This strip deals with the very important issue of how our name can survive, and the meaning of immortality. It's an issue I've thought of often, sort of developed my own theory, and recently read a great article about it here. But Pastis does it in a way that makes you think and laugh:

The second item was a quote I got in an email today. It's by the comedian Emo Philips, who I wasn't very familiar with. Turns out he's very funny. Here's his quote:

When I was a kid, I used to pray every night for a new bicycle. Then I realized that the Lord, in his wisdom, didn't work that way. So I just stole one and asked him to forgive me.

Besides being very funny - isn't that incredibly thought provoking? It brings up some very important issues about the nature of both tefila and teshuva.

I've discussed my thoughts about "asking God for a bicycle" a couple of times already. But I recently went to a very intersting shiur where the Rav had a pretty bold - but hard to deny - thesis: that there is no Teshuva before punishment in the Chumash. It appears in the Nevi'im, and certainly in the Oral Torah (and makes its way back into our view of the Torah via midrashim.) But in the punishments of Kayin, the flood, the Tower of Bavel, Sdom, Mitzrayim, the Golden Calf and more - the people getting punished never were given a warning and a chance to repent. Even the section of the Torah which deals with teshuva, in Parshat Nitzavim, only comes after the curses of Ki Tavo.

Of course that approach has changed over time, but that only makes the questions raised by Emo so much more fascinating.