Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

Tragi-comic news: When all we can do is laugh

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Feb 03, 2023

Today’s news illustrates the increasing trend toward stories which, did they not reveal such a degree of tragic human failure, would be absolutely hilarious. The news today must invariably cover stories of the “You will never believe this!” variety. But the stories are all too true. And insofar as a Christian social order continues to implode, the trend may be presumed to be inevitable.

Some stories reveal hidden depths which we too often tend to forget. For example, during this period when we all love to hate Russia for its brutal invasion of Ukraine, it is fascinating to see what Russian issue the bigwig ideologues in Europe have seized upon:

This kind of story also offers a corrective for our own tendency to see peoples and nations as all good or all bad. But we still wonder whether we should laugh or cry.

At the same time, of course, politics was mixing with religion in the United States. At the National Prayer Breakfast, our President wondered why we cannot get on the same page—reminiscent of Isaiah the prophet when he spoke on behalf of God: “Come now, and let us reason together” (Is 1:18).

Here is the relevant headline:

Read the quote in our editorial note on this story. It is apparently Biden’s way of getting the shell of religion into a conversation without its substance. Meanwhile, he has done more to undermine moral unity in the United States than any president in our entire history, waging constant war on the unborn in particular and on the natural law in general.

Surely we can recognize absurdity when we see or hear it. But it can get worse, not just among Catholic laity, but among Church leaders. Have you heard the joke about the elderly bishop?

I have long cautioned against public pronouncements by retired Churchman when they are advanced in years. It is usually a bad idea simply because aged minds do tend to deteriorate. In this case, the proposition is scientifically absurd and, oddly enough, the Church bases her teaching on the sinfulness of abortion partially on what natural science tells us about when a human life is present in the womb.

It was only in olden times that many people thought human life was not present until “quickening”, when the movement of the baby in the womb could be felt. Theologians sometimes assumed ensoulment occurred at that time. The deliberate ending of a pregnancy before quickening was still regarded as a grave sin—the willful frustration of God’s purposes in the formation of a human person—even if not exactly murder.

Now, of course, there is no reasonable doubt that a human person is biologically present from the moment of conception. Therefore, the deliberate taking of an innocent human life at any stage of development is murder. (And, no, the Italian bishop in question is not so old as to have learned his science in the Middle Ages.)

OK, then, have you heard the one about the Catholic school students who were ejected from a Smithsonian museum in Washington, DC because they were wearing pro-life ski hats? This is a story of absurd harassment by museum security at the Air and Space Museum on the day of the March for Life:

These students from the K-12 Catholic classical academy in Greenville, SC (in the Diocese of Charleston) were targeted and mocked by museum personnel. But at least the authorities at the Museum have stated that this was a violation of their own protocols and would not happen again.

Now the school is selling these instantly famous “Rosary Pro-Life” ski hats! (Scroll down on this page.)

And finally, there is this stupendous news report:

Apparently, when you’re clueless…you’re clueless.

But let us not be clueless. Let us understand. We are frequently confronted with what appears to us to be the unfathomable absurdity of human existence. Surely we can sometimes see the tragi-comic joke in this steady accumulation of human debt, if for no other reason than that we have an incomparably generous banker.

As St. Paul put it, we are no longer our own, for we “have been bought at a price” (1 Cor 6:20). Sometimes, even in the midst of our anger and our tears, that assurance brings a certain lightness. Sometimes, then, may we not make bold to laugh?

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: rtk24151 - Feb. 09, 2023 12:15 AM ET USA

    Agree, in the sense that the great Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh meant in observing that “tragedy is merely underdeveloped comedy.”

  • Posted by: rfr46 - Feb. 06, 2023 8:17 AM ET USA

    Yes, a clown show can indeed be funny, but unfortunately only briefly.

  • Posted by: Gramps - Feb. 03, 2023 8:36 PM ET USA

    Thanks, Dr. Mirus, for calling abortion "murder". By exact definition, it is First Degree Murder, which makes it a violation of the Fifth Commandment.