Why Religion Is a Laughing Matter

Satire and caricature are funny things.  The most effective satire makes us laugh – but then it also gives us something to chew on, to think about. 

Not all satire is humorous, however.  In the Middle Ages, caricatured figures were generally not intended to be funny, as for example in the Christian sculptural traditions that depicted Jews and heretics with deformed features.  That was essentially an early version of hate speech.  Satire runs on a spectrum from humor to bitterness to hatred, a range of meanings that can only be deciphered in their cultural context.  We learn to figure out what is funny (think of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert), what is trying to be funny but really in bad taste (The Interview), and what is downright mean (Nazi cartoons of Jews). 

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