Catholic Culture Solidarity
Catholic Culture Solidarity

Friends and Enemies of Humor

By Fr. Jerry Pokorsky ( bio - articles - email ) | Sep 18, 2023

In high levels of government, an elderly man dresses like a woman. He looks like a comical character out of Vaudeville or a Monty Python skit, but he’s unashamed. We also have young men who wear women’s swimsuits and easily win female swimming competitions.

During the years of the Soviet empire and rigged Olympics, we laughed at comedian Yakov Smirnoff’s joke: “In Russia, if a male athlete loses, he becomes a female athlete.”

Today, nobody laughs. Why not?

Jesus says we should forgive one another seventy-seven times. But we need not lose our sense of irony and humor. Good humor helps us see the boundaries of healthy behavior and happily endure annoyances.

We can trace the death of humor that laughs at foolish behavior to the “new morality” of the 1960s. Back then, college kids scrawled the slogan everywhere, “If it feels good, do it.” Lots of things felt good, they did it, and the culture became hedonistic. The young rebels grew up and now run the country, and like schoolmarms instruct us: “Don’t be judgmental!” The catchphrase stigmatizes good humor.

(In his Inferno, Dante mentions Semiramis—the model for the Whore of Babylon—who reportedly decreed that whatever is pleasurable must be licit. The new morality is merely a rehash of ancient immorality.)

In the good old days, traditional Catholic moral theologians taught that God inscribes the first principle of morality on every human heart: “Do good and avoid evil.” A good person chooses morally good actions and rejects evil. Even a kid on the street runs from the police after shoplifting (at least back in the day).

When we choose evil, the evil choice defines us until we repent. Eventually, we reveal who we are by habitual choices—good or bad—we make throughout our lives. “You will know them by their fruits.” (Mt. 7:16) God delivered the Ten Commandments to keep us normal. Jesus links the Commandments to the love of the Trinity: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (Jn. 14:15)

God created us in His image and likeness. As we freely choose to live His truth and love and heal divisions among us, we enter into the inner life of the Blessed Trinity, culminating in the reception of Holy Communion. The Blessed Trinity is the source of loving human relations. After the Fall, the truth of the Trinity allows us to see contrasts with sin that can form the basis of humor.

Humor and irony distinguish good from evil, truth from error, normal from abnormal. Mark Twain’s humor is perennially appealing. “Familiarity breeds contempt—and children.” “When in doubt, tell the truth.” “Politicians and diapers must be changed often, and for the same reason.” We respond in love and affection when we hear words of truth. Lies are usually despicable—but crass lies are amusing. Ask any mother who questions a little boy with crumbs around his mouth if he raided the cookie jar.

The Ten Commandments fine-tune “do good and avoid evil.” The Commandments are natural, apply to all God’s children, and bring happiness. The unnatural precepts of “diversity, equity, and inclusion” replace the Commandments and fine-tune the new morality, “If it feels good, do it.” DEI prevents us from rejecting evil lifestyles, obscures authentic love, ruins human relationships, and places a phony mask of goodness on human vice.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the DEI workshops. We lost our sense of humor. Political correctness enforces compliance with DEI programs. Computer compliance modules extend across every modern institution. Workplace etiquette will not tolerate expressions of satire violating DEI. Rearrange the sequence: DIE is the handmaiden of the new morality and kills happiness and humor.

The new morality drives a wedge between faith and reason; religion and science are seen as incompatible. The same culture attacks the truths of our nature. When we smother truth within us, we kill humor. A totalitarian absence of humor is among the cultural hallmarks of the rift from truth. A politically correct culture no longer allows us to laugh at absurdities in public. But jokes continue, told in secret:

  • Why do KGB officers make such good taxi drivers? You get in the car and they already know your name and where you live!
  • What are the four deadly enemies of socialism? Spring, summer, autumn, winter!
  • “Do you have a hobby, Leonid Ilyich Lenin?” “Of course! I collect jokes about myself.” “Have you got many?” “Two and a half labor camps already!”

Start practicing. We’ll need the jokes in the years ahead. (Just kidding, Homeland Security!)

The restoration of “Do good and avoid evil” traditional morality—with the Ten Commandments as the handmaiden—reestablishes our respect for the truth of the Divine imprint on every person and restores humor. We laugh at absurd departures from the truth and behavior quirks with clever and benign jokes.

In the early years of marriage, the name of a husband or wife (in itself) brings a response of consoling love. A husband may refer to his wife of many years as his “bride”—a whimsical term of affection that protects the marriage bond. As difficulties intrude upon relationships, the marriage bond may require the help of good humor with not-so-subtle messages: “I haven’t spoken to my wife in years. I didn’t want to interrupt her.” “Marriage is a three-ring circus: engagement ring, wedding ring, and suffering.”

A modicum of formality and seriousness in families and organizations provides the ballast of respect and professionalism. But there is room to think of our daily routine as a situation comedy, recognizing mutual quirks with humor. We may playfully envision the doddering old man driving in the left lane as “grandpa.” The same technique helps us prevent mortal sin. Think of pornographic clickbait as “some mother’s baby, a sister, a child of God.”

We extinguish petty annoyances with face-to-face conversations, occasionally accompanied by benign and clever jokes. Jokes based on enduring truths accentuate normal behavior, help tame resentments, and assist a spirit of mutual forgiveness. We laugh at many absurdities to retain our sanity. Good humor is rooted in truth and maintains healthy social conventions.

If it feels good do it? Nope. Do good and avoid evil—and keep smiling.

Fr. Jerry Pokorsky is a priest of the Diocese of Arlington who has also served as a financial administrator in the Diocese of Lincoln. Trained in business and accounting, he also holds a Master of Divinity and a Master’s in moral theology. Father Pokorsky co-founded both CREDO and Adoremus, two organizations deeply engaged in authentic liturgical renewal. He writes regularly for a number of Catholic websites and magazines. See full bio.

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