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Friday, October 01, 2004

Sarcasm and the Christian

Several years ago I was reading a Christian magazine and found myself disturbed by the sarcastic tone of the writing. A letter to the editor questioning the propriety of such writing appeared a few issues later. The editor responded by defending the use of sarcasm.

A year or so later, I was again struck by what seemed to be mean-spirited sarcasm in the same magazine. This time I wrote to the editor myself. My letter was published, along with an editorial response. In my letter, I held that use of language which described a certain child molester as “vulture-like in appearance” was inappropriate but acknowledged that the molester’s actions were unspeakable. I went on to say that God had made the molester’s physique the way it was, for better or worse, and that God asks us to have mercy on sinners as He does, regardless of how perverse they are. While condemning their sin, He does not ridicule nor treat with contempt.

I defended my position by quoting John 14:7-30 (Jesus and the woman at the well) and Acts 9 (Saul’s conversion). (Another example is John 8:1-11 - Jesus and the adulterous woman.) Again I entreated the editor and contributing writers to “tell it like it is, but with an attitude of grace.”

The editor’s response: "We think there’s a good case to be made for the language used in [the article]. It’s true that God made man in His image, but it’s also true that man is fallen – that his image is now a very distorted version of God’s. When describing [the molester], we thought it was appropriate to describe (accurately if colorfully) his physical characteristics in a way that reflected his moral state. A vulture is a predator, and so was [the molester]. Sometimes, we simply need to focus on the outrage – as chapters and entire books of Scripture do."

No Scriptural examples were provided.

I’m aware of Matthew 3:7, in which John the Baptist calls the Pharisees and Sadducees a "brood of vipers," but John continues by challenging them to change their ways. He doesn’t berate them for being "vipers" nor condemn them to eternal viperhood.

Actually I agree with the editor that sarcasm can be useful for illustrating truth and irony. But there's a fine line between illuminative sarcasm and the hurtful, damaging kind.

There is something just plain ugly about it when it's used against someone. I’m not sure that dealing with ugliness in an ugly way really does anything to combat ugliness, know what I mean? Sarcasm also smacks of derision, contempt, and overall superiority – things which really have no place in the Christian manner of dealing with people.

Not that I am without blame myself. I am a noticer of irony by nature and pop out little quips all the time. I also confess to spewing sharp, bitter words when angry. But the good news is, I’m learning to control my tongue. :-) Proverbs 12:18: "There is one who speaks rashly like the thrust of a sword, But the tongue of the wise brings healing." Amen.


  • Good thoughts Bonnie.

    T-Bone Burnett (yes, T-Bone) wrote a song about 20 years ago called, The Murder Weapon. It's about the effects our words can have.

    By Blogger Rusty, at 9:47 AM  

  • Those are powerful lyrics, Rusty, thanks.

    By Blogger Bonnie, at 10:58 PM  

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