Thursday, April 7, 2011

Divine Comedy

A few days ago, I came to a very interesting conclusion. When I was getting ready for P.E. in the locker room, there was a really annoying seventh-grader making really annoying seventh-grade jokes. My peers were there with me, and they expressed to me their frustration with him. However, I was hesitant to join them in putting him down, for the following reasons:

  • I remembered being a seventh-grader and having seventh-grade humor. It seemed hilarious at the time, though I realize now that it was stupid. 
  • I realized that just as we considered him immature, there were older people who considered us immature and probably had a more "advanced" level of humor than we did. 
These things combined made me point out to my peers that all humor is ultimately relative: someone always has a more (and less) advanced style of humor than you do. When they heard this, a particularly clever member of the bunch responded (semi-jocularly): "Okay, then what is God's humor like?". This post is my attempt to answer that question.

I've heard people say that God must necessarily have no sense of humor. Not only is humor not "appropriate" for a celestial monarch, but humor depends on a lack of knowledge, and God knows everything. God would therefore know the punchline to every joke before it has been told. I disagree. In my opinion, God sometimes imposes limitations on himself, on purpose. For example, God could ensure Celestial glory for everyone, but he's not going to. If he did, there would be no point: it's the "getting-there" that's the most important. In exactly the same way, God limits his knowledge so that he, like us, can enjoy a good joke. 

That answers how God can have a sense of humor. But it still doesn't answer my friend's question: what type of jokes does he tell? I thought about it for a while and then came up with another question that I hoped would lead me to the answer: what makes some jokes funnier than others? I decided that it is how unexpected the punchline is. The worst jokes you can see coming. The best jokes are unexpected. They have their punchlines hidden deep below the surface so that when they finally emerge, it happens in a way that you could have never anticipated. Because of this, the best jokes are those whose punchlines are thoroughly obscured and seem to have no point, like meta-jokes, surreal humor or even Seinfeld.

Now, getting back to God, it is only a natural to say that, just as my humor is more advanced than that seventh-grader, God's humor is infinitely more advanced than mine. And if we accept my proposition in the previous paragraph as true, then it naturally follows that God's jokes have the most obscure punchlines of all. To me, this means that God's jokes are so well-crafted that the punchline must be virtually invisible, so that when we get it, it is the funniest thing we have ever heard. I pondered on this for a while, and then came to a startling conclusion: since God's humor must be so well-designed that the point of a joke has to be hidden to all, what better to fit the bill of the ultimate joke than the universe itself? To put it simply: we are a part of the funniest joke ever told

To me it makes perfect sense. God's joke is infinitely subtle. Though it may seem to have no point at times and may even become boring or long-winded, ultimately we realize that those failings were intentional, and actually serve to enhance its humor: the ultimate meta-joke. Its punchline is so well-preserved that until the joke is finished and the punchline is revealed (a.k.a. Christ's second coming to the Earth and its subsequent renewal), only a select few can predict its outcome. The Buddha was one of them. So was Laozi. In fact, that's what having a mystical experience is: seeing the outcome of a joke and realizing the punchline before it happens. This is why many people who have true spiritual experience are so light-hearted. They see the world for what it really is: hilarity, hidden by a sheathing of seriousness.

Some people may say that this is a morbid and even offensive way to look at the universe. How can something like the Holocaust be part of a giant joke? It necessarily trivializes everyone who suffers in the world. May I offer a counterpoint? I don't see viewing the universe as a comedy as trivializing at all. I merely see it as another way of saying that the suffering is for "but a small moment". If we endure it well, we shall see that there is a much greater and more wonderful reality behind all of it. And what better way to look at that wonderful reality than as humor? 

If it helps at all, the movie Life is Beautiful is a very powerful example of how something can be both filled with suffering and be humorous at the same time. It beautifully combines the two, showing that humor and happiness can exist side by side with pain and sorrow, and will in fact eventually triumph over it. I'm sure that there are many more examples, but I trust you get the point.

To reinforce my point, I will also argue from authority. Here are two quotes by two great authors/philosophers:

"God is a comedian playing to an audience too afraid to laugh."

"[The angels sounded] like the laughter of the universe"
-Dante Alighieri (The Divine Comedy) 

Now, I need to point out that this is only a lens through which to see the nature of God. I am not precisely defining God's reason for creating the world. I am just providing a new way to look at it. I do not mean to exclude other ways of looking at God. I just wanted to share with you a view that I enjoy.
And so I say goodbye for now, hoping that we all someday will get the joke!

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