Saturday, August 13, 2005


Since I'm about to hit FaithInSociety with some more "heavy stuff" (as one recent correspondent put it) on biblical interpretation, Bonhoeffer, post-metaphysics, apocalyptic terrorism and, er, Big Brother, I thought a relaxing smile might come in handy first. And where better to start than with Ship of Fools' lip-smackin' competition for the most off-colour religious joke?

In announcing the competition, the good Ship declared: "Ridiculing religious beliefs, criticising religious practices and offending religious people is surely a mission from God." Certainly much better than blowing people up or bombing their countries, I would have thought. But I'm not overwhelmingly confident that all of the Christian media will quite see it that way. Not if the Jerry Springer operatic fiasco is anything to go by.

There's serious point in all this, of course. It concerns, on the one hand, the division between religious offence and religious hatred; and on the other, the boundary between bad taste and bad faith. (I have written about the latter at greater length in a chapter called 'The cross, salvation and the politics of satire', in Consuming Passion.)

At the moment the jury is out at SoF, so you'll just have to weigh the merits of the 951 entries and wait with bated breath like the rest of us. Meanwhile, Steve Goddard, a Ship of Fools founder and commissioning editor, said he "wanted to get away from the stained glass Jesus who can't be laughed at or with ... The whole thing is a voyage of discovery for us. We are a conversation, not a campaign." He hopes the Christian church can learn from the Jewish tradition of humorous self-deprecation. Amen to that.

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