Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

God Mocks: A History of Religious Satire from the Hebrew Prophets to Stephen Colbert

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

God Mocks: A History of Religious Satire from the Hebrew Prophets to Stephen Colbert

Article excerpt

God Mocks: A History of Religious Satire from the Hebrew Prophets to Stephen Colbert. By Terry Lindvall. (New York: New York University Press. 2015. Pp. xi, 347. $35.00. ISBN 978-1-4798-8673-9)

Writers with an inclination to satire invariably encounter the challenge of where to draw the line between admissible and excessive expressions of mockery and derision. Terry Lindvall's ebullient and wide-ranging survey of the satiric tradition within Christian literary culture begins precisely by drawing lines. Conceding that the concept of a Christian satirist always approximates an oxymoron, he proposes a model for evaluating satirical texts in the form of two intersecting axes, the x axis running from ridicule to moral purpose and the y axis from rage to humor. This cruciform graphic appears once in each of his ten chapters, offering a useful visual measure of authors' didactic intent (or lack thereof) and what Lindvall terms the "affective nature of the discourse," that is, the emotions from which the satire originates and the responses it elicits (p. 8). Lindvall offers this "Quad of Satire," not as an empirical evaluation, but as a helpful graphic for mapping out the perennial tension between the genre's corrective and its destructive potential during various periods of Western history.

The historical scope of Lindvall's study is panoramic, beginning with brief chapters on the Hebrew and Roman antecedents to the satires of Christianity and concluding with an account of the recent migration of the literary tradition of religious satire into mass media-whether in the irreverence of Monty Python's Life of Brian or The Onion or in the "indirect satire" of the Sunday school-teaching, latenight TV host Stephen Colbert (p. 264). Lindvall's argument assumes two guiding lights for Christian satire, which at its best, he believes, "combines laughter and a vision of reform" (p. 7). This uncontroversial, modest pair of claims-that piety must be moderated with laughter and that ecclesial corruption deserves mockery- at times fails to allow for the application of more fine-grained theological or historical scrutiny. …

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