I have long thought that, in the UK at least, Standup Comedians are the new preachers. They stand before an audience and, with the use of comedy, open the minds of their listeners to the ideas and theories that they talk about in their set. There is a plethora of TV and radio shows where these funny people make their audience laugh hysterically whilst sneaking in comments about society and morality.
It is entirely understandable that the Comics would use their platform to express ideas and thoughts that they believe to be of value. The specific ideas and thoughts that they express, however, cause me far more concern because, for the most part, I disagree with them.
The medium is dominated by ideas of liberal sexuality and jokes at the expense of, most often, the Christian faith. The surge in acceptance for what were once alternative lifestyles is, I believe, mostly down to the preaching of comedy. In areas of pornography, family, sexuality and faith in God, comedians ridicule the establishment and preach that anything goes because as human beings we can do what we want.
It has become the commonly accepted norm in Britain that if a person can stand up and make you laugh, then what they have to say must be true. Stephen Fry holds the position of all-knowing authority, and others too speak with authority that derives from laughter. Dara O’Brien speaks for science and against faith, Sandi Toksvig for feminism and against faith, Jeremy Hardy for anything as long as it is against faith, Russell Howard, John Lloyd, and the list can go on. It is not so much that they hold opinions and ideas that are liberal so much as that they see faith as a target for ridicule and as the root of opposition to their own views.
Please do not get me wrong, I am not against comedy. I love comedy and it has affected some really important changes in society. Racism, for example, would never have been opposed effectively without comedians who ridiculed attitudes of racism. What I have an issue with is, what gives these men and women the authority to speak into culture and society? Why is their ideology authoritative?
“By their fruit you will recognise them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit…” (Matt 7:17-18)
This is where things start to get uncomfortable.
I disagree fundamentally with many of the ideas that are presented on TV and radio by comedians, who are culturally leading society in a direction that is un-scriptural and un-godly. Yet, it is not enough for me to say that what they preach is wrong simply because I disagree with them. There comes a point where I have to justify why they are wrong and I am right.
At some point there has to be a line by which we can come to a judgment on the authority of a speaker. It cannot be preference, because I might be wrong or deluded or misguided. It cannot even be scripture because, whilst I hold it as the foundation of my own action and authority, many others would not agree with it at all.
As I think about it, I can think of nothing better than fruit. The visible evidence of people’s live is their fruit. The question that lies beneath any claim for authority is, “what fruit is visible in the lives of the people who tell us what to believe and think?
This is uncomfortable because it is true for all points of view. There are celebrities who speak about female equality whilst simultaneously proclaiming their passion for pornography, which is almost certainly exploiting the people that they are claiming to stand for. There are also those who preach the love of Jesus who act in the most unloving and unforgiving ways. In both cases, their fruit is not consistent with their words. Their authority is seriously undermined.
What sets Jesus apart is that he preached a gospel of freedom through submission to God the Father, and lived a life that was evidence to his words. More impressively, his preaching led millions of other people into lives of freedom through faith if the Father. The fruit of his life and teaching gives overwhelming authority to the very thing he taught.
A problem comes when human beings take the teachings of the Bible and use it to justify their own opinions rather than allowing them to shape their lives. It is no wonder that the established Christian Church has lost authority to speak into society when there are scandals of sexual abuse and investment in weapons and tobacco. The life of the Church in this case is not consistent with its teaching. No wonder the ridicule of comedians hits so hard.
The truths of Jesus in scripture, however, simply transform lives. They bring freedom and life and healing. They might not be wholly acceptable to our liberal society, but the power that they display in the transformation of society cannot be ridiculed. The gospel of Jesus is simply too powerful to be challenged by the opinions of an individual. It is the power of God and it saves.
As a disciple of Jesus, the message I preach must be true and seen to be true. I am not perfect, but the fruit of my life is evidence to the truth of my faith. If I am judged on perfection then I will always fall short. If a person looks at my life and sees no evidence of the power of Holy Spirit then there is a serious problem.
What gives a person authority to speak is not the persuasiveness of the argument, or the position they hold, or the size of their audience, or that they speak words that are agreed with… Authority resides in the fruit that they put forward. Do they bring life and freedom and transformation and light and love?
This is simply my cogitation, but what do you think?