Apr 23, 2014

Reclaiming Guilt - Part 1 - Drowning Guilt

Let''s talk about guilt.

I love humor. Through my grade school years, as my parents had cable (it was an on-again, off-again relationship, us and cable TV), I would gorge myself on Comedy Central. I read the newspaper funnies every Sunday. I regularly read dozens of online comics. I have gone back and enjoyed all of the classic comedic authors, actors, and stand-ups, from Mark Twain to G.K. Chesterton to Chaplin to Chappelle. I watched The Simpsons from its very first show.

I believe God created laughter, for He created man and all the parts needed for a good belly laugh and then afflicted him with joy and sorrow, the two ingredients for meaningful and gut-busting comedy. As Peter Kreeft notes, God must have a sense of humor for he created funny things with little purpose other than amusement, such as the platypus, and he created the funniest people to walk the face of the Earth.

And on the 8th day, God made lolcats!!

Humor is a tremendous gift to man for laughter is a universal language. I have seen physical humor transcend linguistic barriers in incredible ways, even to great effect in presenting the gospel. Children, especially, value humor and can be reached with deeper truths through the mechanism of humor. Pastors of all stripes should and often do employ humor to great effect as humor and the response of laughter engage audiences and create a unique connection between speaker and audience.
Laughter! What a gift! The very act brightens our mood and leavens all of life with happiness. Laughter relieves stress and even gives our abs a workout.

Laughter is the right response to an abundance of joy! Consider the psalmist:

When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then they said among the nations,
“The LORD has done great things for them.”
The LORD has done great things for us;
we are glad.
Psalm 126:1-3 ESV

I have a very serious problem with my love of humor, though, and I believe that most of you share this problem with me: my love of humor is almost limitless. I will love and laugh at a good joke without once considering its content. I enjoy comedians without reflection. Until I came under recent conviction, I would watch every single humorous TV show I could find, including some with incredibly blasphemous and evil intents.

In other words, I have soaked in every kind of humor I could without ever once taking seriously the warning of Saint Paul to “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.” (Eph 5:4). Name a comedian – I listened to him or her and laughed. Name the nastiest show – I watched it and laughed to it. Recall the dirtiest joke – I loved it and shared it and maybe even made it up!

My mother stopped me once when I was watching some filth or sharing some nasty joke and said, “Imagine if I made you some brownies. They would be good brownies. Chocolate frosting, chocolate chips, with a huge glass of milk. You eat practically the whole pan.”

I thought about brownies with a smile. I am a big guy. I love brownies.
Must eat this right now. 

“Now, what if I had some pictures that showed how I made the brownies: before I finished the mix and poured it into the pan to bake, I took some of the cat’s poop from his litter box and crumbled it into the mix. How would you feel? That is how you are acting. You are enjoying everything that you think is good without trying to get rid of the bad.”

Note to self: not food.

I was not fond of that illustration. It became one of my mother’s favorites through the next few years in high school. It is a visceral illustration and is not at all polite. Pastors who use it from the pulpit do so with much trepidation for fear of a bad response from their congregation. It grated me. I did not want to think of poop in the brownies, of all the ways that I was enjoying God’s good gift of humor without rejecting the evil that can corrupt every part of God’s creation.

I love the illustration, though, for its strong visual image, its simplicity, and even for its humor! It falls in line with the strong images used by God through the prophets to condemn the idolatry of the Israelites.  It reminds us of the corrosive and corrupting nature of sin.  More to the point, it has caused me, over time, to completely reconsider my all-you-can eat approach to humor.

One of my favorite shows used to be Family Guy, created by Seth McFarlane. You have to respect the talent and work ethic of McFarlane.

Talented AND handsome. 
Given the opportunity to present the pilot episode of his flagship show, he worked for months on meager money and no sleep to hand-draw the episode. He voices most of the characters on his shows. At a relatively young age (for a producer in Hollywood), he has three successful TV shows, one feature film, and two Emmys to his name. He is also a talented singer and songwriter, as any fan of the show can attest. Family Guy is often brilliant. It reintroduced the use of cutaways in comedy and frequently skewers modern cultural icons to great comedic effect.

Family Guy is also utter trash. To give just one example of the ongoing filth in this show (and there are literally thousands of examples I could give here), one of the main characters is a raging nymphomaniac with constantly escalating sexual perversions. Through Quagmire, Family Guy has referenced or visually implied drug use for rape, group sex, human sexual trafficking, animal rape, and many other unmentionable sexual perversions. He is the suburban American Marquis de Sade.

I get it - he's a satirical caricature. OK, but he is still disgusting.

As I said, I loved Family Guy. I know that many, if not most American males my age love the show and have watched it. I once compared myself the main character, Peter Griffin, to a trickle of laughter as I spoke before a youth group I had never before met. I looked a bit like him then, being larger than I am now and I used to wear glasses that somewhat approximate his. I was trying to share the gospel with that group, even! And I used a disgusting show as a cultural touchstone.  

Actual high school painting of me...
(OK maybe not, but not far off)

I look back on my love for that show and others like it as so many feces in my dessert. I gorged myself on filth and allowed these disgusting shows to corrupt my laughter. I bifurcated my conscience, creating two of me: the one me who went to Seminary and meditated on the things of God; and the other me who enjoyed every kind of trash as long as it was funny. I would speak one way to some friends who shared my like of these shows, and another way to my more righteous buddies.
All for a good laugh.

Why did I not stop and consider what I was watching? Why did I share the nasty jokes when I knew, on some level, that I was doing something bad?

The answer is simple and common: I drowned my guilt. I knew that the dirty jokes were wrong from multiples sources: scripture (see above reference to Ephesians); experience, as a I saw some of my friends and family wince at the nastiness of my jokes; and my conscience, which told me that I was seeing and sharing things that I ought not. I knew I was wrong, but I pushed off the voice inside me that was convicting me of my wrong-ness. I ignored my conscience. I felt guilt, but ignored it. After a while, I stopped feeling guilty entirely. Once I stopped feeling guilty, I pursued harder laughs from nastier sources, and the cycle of sin-guilt-drowning guilt continued.