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Monday, July 19, 2010

Over their heads.

As a happy way to start my week I thought I would glance at what the wacky trolls over at Conservapedia were up to. And, even given my experience with Conservapedia, I was still surprised to run into this rather bizarre headline:

Or, in plain text:

Atheist hypocrisy, or file under "You-gotta-be-kiddin-me?" So they DO believe in God after least to the point where they think a hairdryer - yes, a hairdryer - can "de-baptize" someone. [emphasis original]

Now, I'll admit, my first reaction here was a bewildered, "...what?" but then I clicked their provided link and was at least somewhat enlightened:

American atheists lined up to be "de-baptized" in a ritual using a hair dryer, according to a report Friday on U.S. late-night news program "Nightline."

Leading atheist Edwin Kagin blasted his fellow non-believers with the hair dryer to symbolically dry up the holy water sprinkled on their heads in days past. The styling tool was emblazoned with a label reading "Reason and Truth."

Kagin believes parents are wrong to baptize their children before they are able to make their own choices, even slamming some religious education as "child abuse." He said the blast of hot air was a way for adults to undo what their parents had done. [emphasis added]

And this makes things somewhat clearer: the hair drying was at least a joke and at most a symbolic way for atheists, agnostics and free thinkers to assert their independence from whatever wacky religious tradition they may have been brought up in. Symbols are important to human beings even when we do not believe they have any particular mystic power (consider the debates over flag burning for example) and wanting some sort of "I'm an atheist now" ritual is hardly that difficult to understand. Indeed, the article itself goes so far as to point out that the whole thing is symbolism. It's not literal magic, but a symbolic gesture, and the atheists involved seem to get that, as does Fox News. And yet, when we check Conservapedia, suddenly it's atheist hypocrisy and evidence that we really do believe in god. Not to mention the scoffing at the notion that a hair dryer could undo what a dude in a dress with a bowl of water had done. Right. This isn't just a humor fail, but a basic reading comprehension fail. And what makes this all the more awesome is that, if you recall, Andrew Schlafly has some rather specific notions about humor. If you take a look at his essay on "Greatest Mysteries of World History"* you find this little entry:

Or, to quote:

Did genuine humor exist prior to Christianity?

As you might guess, this little "mystery" earned quite a bit of discussion on the talk page, which I will reproduce here in part just for your edification:

Or, in simple English:

Perhaps this entry could be clarified: is there a particular form of humor that the author had in mind? There are examples of jokes, riddles, puns, comic figurines/images, anthropoligical notes of humorous conversations, etc. from both pre-Christian times and from post-Christian 'first contacts' with cultures that had had no previous exposure to Christianity.--Brossa 09:37, 8 February 2009 (EST)

Brossa: Can you provide some? --AbnerY 21:51, 8 February 2009 (EST)

I'd like to see Brossa's alleged examples also.--Andy Schlafly 23:49, 8 February 2009 (EST)

How about Greek and Roman comedy? that way predated Christianity. Andy, what kind of claim are you making here? on what basis would you allege that humor does not predate Christianity? it seems pretty far-fetched. I'd like to see some evidence. --DaveClark

You misunderstand what a Greek "comedy" was. It was not a humorous performance as meant by the term today (after the onset of Christianity).--Andy Schlafly 08:32, 9 February 2009 (EST)

Yes. It was. The intention was to make people laugh. Otherwise, what on earth do you mean by "humor"? Also.. KimSell 09:02, 9 February 2009 (EST)

Aschlafly is right in saying that the term "comedy" did not mean exactly what it does today, but KimSell is right that the works of playwrights such as Aristophanes certainly included humorous elements such as wordplay, farce and grotesque exaggeration (often surprisingly coarse by our standards). I'd also cite the episode where the children mocked Elisha in 2 Kings 2:23-24 as an example, albeit fairly base, of pre-Christian humor.--CPalmer 09:10, 9 February 2009 (EST)

As a side-note, in the past there have been bitter disputes where people have taken the polar opposite position to Mr Schlafly, ie that all humor is un-Christian. This is touched on in Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose, which I recommend.--CPalmer 09:21, 9 February 2009 (EST)

The pre-Christian examples don't withstand scrutiny. Mockery or crude comments are not quality humor, and may not be humor at all.--Andy Schlafly 09:23, 9 February 2009 (EST)

I'll leave it to you to follow the remainder of the discussion if you so choose, but I think it clear that Schlafly is arguing precisely what it sounds like he's arguing: pre-Christian peoples did not have humor.** Whether humor existed before Christianity or not, I think we can all agree that the Conservapeons have apparently lost the knack.

* For those who are curious, entries 9, 12, 30 and 32 are f-ing awesome.

** Whatever it is that "humor" means for Schlafly, and he's not telling.

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