The Mark of Post-Christian Conservative Humor

…in addition to it not being funny, is that it enjoys cruelty.

Here, for instance, is a piece called “Punching Down: Behind the Babylon Bee’s Practice of Christian Mockery“. The Bee used to be funny, now and then, but is now simply dull GOP agitprop for Evangelical Trump adorers.

In August 2022, Seth Dillon, the CEO of the Babylon Bee, was the speaker at a young adult-oriented worship service at Cornerstone Chapel in Leesburg, Virginia, USA.  You can watch the video here (speech is minute 31 to 80, then an interview-style conversation after) or read about it in the Christian Post. There’s a lot I disagree with in this speech as a pastor, advocate for LGBTQ+ inclusion, and humor aficionado. 

But where I want to spend my time on today is his response to exactly what I tweeted against them for years: that Babylon Bee is punch-down frat humor, not real satire that punches up. They make fun of the marginalized in society in ways that don’t land the same as making fun of the powerful–and in particular, making jokes at transgender persons’ expense. 

Mr. Dillon spends several minutes of his speech characterizing and defending himself against this allegation of “punching down.” Quote:

The rule that is weirdest to me—that I reject wholeheartedly—is the idea that “comedians are not supposed to punch down.” They are saying “you are not supposed to joke about people who are beneath you, who have less power, less privilege than you. If you do that, you are punching down.” It’s a really weird situation to be in as a comedian or satirist, to be thinking to yourself, not “is this funny?” when you are writing a joke, but “am I making fun of somebody who sees themselves as being more marginalized and oppressed than me, and is going to be offended by that, are they going to think I’m punching down at them?” Quote at Minute 46

So that’s Dillon’s characterization. How does he respond to it? 

Imagine how condescending it is to think to yourself “I shouldn’t joke about those people, they are beneath me” (laughter) That really puts into perspective, doesn’t it? ”I’m better than them, they are down here and I’m up here.” If we are all created equally in God’s image, then shouldn’t we be able to joke about each other indiscriminately? Right? Isn’t that the way of treating each other equally?” Quote at minute 48

The dishonesty here is stunning, as is the falsity to the gospel.

Anatole France once skewered this phony pose of “evenhandedness” this way:

“The law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal loaves of bread”.

In Scripture, the justice of God is affirmed, not by treating all alike, but treating equals equally and unequals (in wealth and power) unequally. God shows justice by casting down the mighty in their arrogance and lifting up the lowly (cf. Luke 1:52). Those who are poor, oppressed, humiliated are defended, not lied to that “I treat you like garbage because I make no distinction between you and the powerful”, particularly when the Bee takes great care not to mock, but to defend the powerful.

This is known as the Preferential Option for the Poor and it undergirds, not just Catholic Social Doctrine, but the entire concept of satire as well. The idea of the Preferential Option for the Poor takes aim at exactly the Bee‘s false “equality.” It is, like everything in Catholic teaching, rooted in Scripture.

For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the terrible God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner therefore; for you were sojourners in the land
of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:17-19)

Note the paradox. God is “not partial.” But how is this impartiality expressed? In the fact that he “takes no bribe” from the rich and that he “executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner.” Through Isaiah, God commands us, “Cease to do evil,/learn to do good;/seek justice,/correct oppression;/defend the fatherless,/plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:16-17).

This is a portrait of God as seen by the weakest, the outcast, the lowest, the poorest, and the most wretched. He takes their part and prefers them because while the rich have battalions of lawyers and tons of guns and lots of money, the weak and the poor have no one to defend them. We are called to do the same, particularly in light of the fact that when God became man he took his place with the least of these and literally had no place to lay his head (see Matthew 8:20). When he went on trial for his life against the will of the powerful, he too had nobody to defend him. It is the same now: what we do to the poor, we do to him (see Matthew 25:31-46).

So, here’s the thing: just as you do not call it “respecting the equality dignity” of an injured man by challenging him to a “friendly” boxing match and then pummeling him into unconsciousness, so you do not target a population of people with an enormously high risk of suicide and make them special butt of your mockery–for Jesus. That is what Satan does: destroy and tear down.

Now the Bee is not alone in this grotesque and bullying form of “humor”. It is, in fact, the dominant (and these days, nearly the only) form of humor conservatives indulge.

It’s what made Rush Limbaugh a huge laff getter with his audience when he mocked homeless people.

It’s why Austin Ruse knew his audience would enjoy the cruelty of mocking a man’s murder by the police:

It is what has fueled this bit of best-selling CPAC cruelty for years:

And it’s what delighted the cruelty of the Cult with this shameful bit of bullying:

The Bee, like nearly all conservative “humor”, is no longer satire (which defends the weak from the strong) but is now merely a form of regime enforcement intended to keep the bullied in line, mock the vulnerable, and portray the powerful bully in such a way as to please his sense of self-pity and his sate his demand for reverence by toadies. It is propaganda for a false gospel that casts down the lowly and lifts up the mighty in their arrogance.


11 Responses

  1. Rush Limbaugh did not mock homeless people. He mocked phony homeless rights advocates who did nothing but use them during GOP administrations.

    1. No. He spoke with dripping contempt of compassion every time he used the word. His mockery was aimed at any person who helped the poor and homeless. The problem in the US is not too much love for the homeless. Stop making excuses for the cruelty of the MAGA cult.

  2. On the one hand, I agree that BABYLON BEE used to be (and very occasionally still is) funny, but they seem to have fallen into the “Republican first / Gospel second (or third or even fourth when necessary)” mindsight that is sadly all too typical of many Evangelical churches these days.

    On the other hand, is it ALWAYS wrong to “punch down” in humor? No. It definitely can be. But not always. See:

    The Mr Bean star also hit back at the suggestion that comedy should exclusively punch up at those in power and never down at those who are more defenceless.

    He explained: ‘I think you’ve got to be very, very careful about saying what you’re allowed to make jokes about. You’ve always got to kick up? Really?

    ‘What if there’s someone extremely smug, arrogant, aggressive, self-satisfied, who happens to be below in society? They’re not all in houses of parliament or in monarchies.

    ‘There are lots of extremely smug and self-satisfied people in what would be deemed lower down in society, who also deserve to be pulled up. In a proper free society, you should be allowed to make jokes about absolutely anything.’

    1. I don’t understand. Please elaborate.

      If Person A is being arrogant, smug, abusive, and wrong, then it is ALWAYS wrong for Person B to take them down a peg via humor if Person B is of higher social standing?

      I don’t understand that. Please explain.

      1. Context is everything. If you’re taking someone down a peg because they’re bring arrogant, smug, abusive and wrong, then its not really punching down, is it? Social standing has nothing to do with it. But if you’re going to use his wrongness as a justification to bring up and deride their social standing, then that is punching down.

  3. I’m no Trump supporter, I’m not even eligible to vote in the USA 🇺🇸. But we undermine our own credibility when we share that video without context. Even anti-Catholic (and now anti-Trump) blowhard Ann Coulter
    was able to tear this apart.

    After personally failing so badly these past two years on every aspect of the COVID IQ Test, I’m starting to look at things more critically.


    1. No. All Coulter did was say that Trump[ was a bully to everybody. In Normal World, when you mock the disabled and the disable community cries out in anguish at being mocked, you apologize. In Freak Show MAGA world, you attack (as the Cult did) the disabled for taking offense and claim victimhood. There was no excuse for what Trump did.

  4. Now, now, let’s be fair: The Bee also invented the cleverest form of satire in human history, “Take a regular news story and edit it so it takes place in a Chick-fil-A.” Absolute comedy gold every time.

  5. I’ve gone to comedy shows and I’ve seen comics just skewer everyone, including themselves. That I can respect. The Bee are simply not in that category – they are not only unintelligent and unfunny bullies, they are so transparently one sided, that they have no credibility whatsoever, and you know they are just a mouthpiece.

Leave a Reply

Follow Mark on Twitter and Facebook

Get updates by email