Long before Charlie Hebdo, we human have responded to the overblown ego, and all the threats thereby, with humor. Surely, even in the era of the Cro-Magnon, some overbearing he-man’s slight trip over a rock was lampooned by the scrawny guy with a sense of humor, who with an exaggerated trip and an equally exaggerated attempt at cover-up made the tribe laugh…and the thug hopefully humbled. Of course, even then, the he-man might have retaliated and, wham, no more scrawny guy. However, enough of these guys survived, and proved useful to the tribe, that their descendants: the court fools, the sacred clowns, and now the satirists, are still around to poke at hubris, and possibly deflate it a little.
I’ve been meaning to do a series on fools and clowns for a while. Hubris, whether in a tribe or in a nation, has been acknowledged as dangerous to health since the Golden Age of the Greeks, that inflated sense of pride that believes that one can do no wrong, that one has the right to override another’s will or abscond with another’s property, and that one’s actions should not bear the scrutiny of others. That there are gifts to humility, even as it’s painfully earned.
What the massacre this Wednesday leaves us with is questions, including as one correspondent on NPR put it, just how small is God, that she/he/it/they can’t take a little ribbing? That’s not just a Muslim thing, not even a religious thing…a Muslim comic conveyed a story of censorship here in the States, when the network told him to remove the mention of several corporations from his monologue because it might cost them a sponsor. There is not a Sacred Cow anywhere in the world that could not stand the paradoxical benefit of a humorous challenge.
And it’s our ability to stand up to the humorous challenges, and in the cases where our own ego may be getting the best of us, come down a peg or two, that prove both our strengths and the limits to them. God can take care of Herself. So can Muhammad and Jesus. Can we?