Humor is appropriate in apologetic dialogue and witness, but there are boundaries to it. I suggest these guidelines:
- No humor is acceptable that is at the personal expense of the other individual or individuals or is meant to discredit them. It is the world view that needs to be discredited and revised through new insight, not the person. If the person is deceptive, the strategy will probably show without help.
- Disarming humor to prove a point is acceptable, but one should be careful not to insult another.
- Off-color jokes have no place.
- Illustrative humor to explain your Chrisitan perspective is appropriate. (See Matthew 5: 27ff and 19: 24–examples of hyperbole)
- Telling jokes can be good if they are pertinent to the point that is being made. They should never serve as a distraction.
- One shouldn’t seek to show that the other is a fool. This will come to light by what the other person or persons say and do. They do not need your help. (Proverbs uses the word fool, for those who are fools. But, in the course of a dialogue one should refrain from its use, for it does not promote conversation).
- Humor should always serve to further defense of the faith and witness to Christ.
- Laugh with, never at another person. (Though it may be good at times to laugh at ourselves for our own foolishness).
- In the Warner Brother’s cartoon “Robin Hood Daffy,” Daffy Duck shows that he is an incompetent Robin Hood. Throughout, Porky Pig in the role of Friar Tuck laughs at Daffy. At one point, Daffy says, It is to laugh” with a sour, ironic humor. He obviously does not mean what he says. At the end Daffy becomes a friar like Tuck rather than pretending that he is an effective Robin Hood, “Defender of the Poor.” Was Porky’s laughter helpful (I don’t think he meant to be helpful). We should use humor to help others gain insight, not to get a good laugh. We would expect the same treatment. (I must admit, the cartoon made me laugh, but it’s only a cartoon).
- We should never be patronizing, showing in our words and actions that we feel superior to another. (Being contemptuous can backfire).
Always remember what the author of Proverbs says: “The wise lay up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool brings ruin near.” (Proverbs 10: 14 ESV)
Michael G. Tavella
August 20, 2019
Saint Bernard of Clairvaux