question of the week (1)

I named this post as if I have a “question of the week” every week on aliens and strangers.  But we all know that’s not true.  All the same, though, this week there is a question.  Hence, your question of the week:

How do you feel about Christians using hyperbole and sarcasm — especially as they relate to humor?  More importantly, what does the Bible have to say about it?

This has come up recently, and I’m curious what others think on the issue.  I myself absolutely love hyperbole and sarcasm.  Hyperbole is my middle name, and I want to marry sarcasm.  I employ one or the other of these tools of rhetoric at least a billion times a day and I’d die if, as a Christian, I weren’t allowed to.

At the same time, though, I don’t think either of them are humorous.  Not one little bit.

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27 Comments

Filed under just thinking, writing

27 responses to “question of the week (1)

  1. randy morgan

    wow, brett…taking ourselves a bit seriously, aren’t we?

    i’m right with you–i live in the realm of sarcasm (although i don’t want to marry it) and, granted, it has gotten me in trouble at times. but i think the “rhetorical tools” you refer to add a great deal to to everyday discourse. i love your humor. hyperbole and sarcasm are significant components and, as far as i’m concerned, do not undermine your christianity in the slightest.

    while i can’t think of a specific passage where the bible speaks of using hyperbole and/or sarcasm, we see jesus using it (“if your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off”) and paul using it (“i do not think I am in the least inferior to those ‘super-apostles.’ i may indeed be untrained as a speaker, but i do have knowledge.”).

    let me ask you: do you really think there is no humor in sarcasm/hyperbole? because you use them and i think you are hilarious.

    • “live in the realm of sarcasm.” that’s well said.

      “i love your humor… you use [sarcasm/hyperbole] and i think you are hilarious.” i’m going to print these sentences off and hang them on my bathroom mirror, so i can read them every day. since i became a class clown in 3rd grade or so, these are the words i longed to hear. i will treasure them until i am old, randy.

  2. Hyperbole and sarcasm kiss each other in my big book. I would like to know though, what your wife thinks of your use? 🙂

    • i would let my wife answer this question, chrissy, but she doesn’t read the blog — something about “drivel and fluff…” maybe i’ll point her towards this one question, though.

      and i’m not sure if you realize it, but hyperbole and sarcasm are both male. so your kissing analogy is weirding me out just a little.

  3. I am fluent in both hyperbole and sarcasm, and find them quite effective if used in the right company and context. I am concerned, though, in that they don’t always translate well. It upsets me when people misinterpret my heart based on how they receive my use of either one. I’m trying to become more aware of this in my communication.

    • good point, larry. i’ve definitely used sarcasm in company that didn’t appreciate it. let me ask you this, larry, since you’re giving this some serious thought… what do you think about blogging? in essence, i’m creating my own context and company by what i write. how would i then use sarcasm responsibly?

      i think i’ve fallen in the use-it-if-it’s-you-and-attract-readers-who-appreciate-it camp. [by the way, anyone is welcome to take a crack at this question…]

      • That’s a great question, Brett. When I started blogging I felt the same way, and figured that those who didn’t like it could simply not subscribe. But then I had some people who are basically non-believers question the inconsistency between my professed faith and my use of tongue-in-cheek humor. To cast doubt or to reinforce a negative stereotype of Christians or Christianity in the eyes of a non-believer just crushes my soul.

        Yes, our blogs may be aimed at certain audiences, but they are open to all. And while I suppose there will always be a percentage of the population that will be offended by just about anything, I feel a certain responsibility to govern myself in a way that can only be seen as encouraging and positive.

        I’m thinking of Titus 2:7-8
        In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.

        Honestly, I appreciate and relate to most of the tongue-in-cheek humor you use. I feel a certain strange sort of kinship in that I tend to think along the same lines as you humor-wise. Because I feel that I know your heart, I would not be overly concerned about exchanging in some good-natured verbal jousts with you over coffee, the phone or via email.

        But in a public forum I think we have a greater responsibility to check what we say and how we say it. Just as I suspect a missionary would be careful how he acts within the culture he is serving to make sure that he does not misrepresent the body of Christ, I think we should do the same with our writing.

        I believe that it is possible to retain and showcase your sense of humor, wit and charm without the use of “questionable” and generally negative stuff like sarcasm. Although I did for a while consider the sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek style of humor to be part of my identity, it was really just a tool of expression. It really came down to what I wanted to express. I think we can be much more effective when we use our humor to build others up rather than say something that can be seen as tearing down, whether intended that way or not.

        • larry, you make some great points. i’m not committing to stop being sarcastic — or even to do it less. i am, however, going to commit to paying attention so that i at least know how often i’m being sarcastic, and in what situations.

  4. Ike

    Both words I had to look up in the dictionary. BTW….some time ago you had a post that I can’t find about missionaries stretching the fact that they are in harms way (maybe I’m wrong??). Anyway….I get newsletters from missionaries from our church who are serving in China. They always tell us to be careful what we “send” or “email”. I ask this because I have a dear sister in the Lord who is chinese and lives in Hong Kong. I email and send her many “Christian” books etc……..and I asked her if there is any danger. She told me absolutely not. This has nothing to do with your post… except, if you can answer the question if these missionaries are using hyperbole…..or is there a danger with the government for christians in China.

    • ike, that post is here:

      superheroes and martyrs: common missionary misconceptions

      the emails you send missionaries in MAINLAND china is indeed quite sensitive. it’s a very good possibility that those missionaries could be kicked out of the country if you send them bibles in the mail or emails with information about the evangelism they’re doing, etc. it is not dangerous in the sense that these missionaries would likely go to jail or be punished in any other way, but being denied entry to china ever again is a very real possibility.

      and for chinese christians, much worse could/can/does happen.

      but your friend in hong kong is in hong kong, which is very different. hong kong, macau, and taiwan have extremely different rules when it comes to faith and evangelism. so i think you’re probably safe to continue sending her books. but i’m NOT basing that on her having said there is no danger. most chinese have no idea that they’re not allowed to be sent bibles or to discuss evangelism efforts in emails. they believe they are completely free to do as they like. but they’re not. i saw, in my short three years there, many a christian punished in one way or another — from being forcibly sent to live in another city to being kicked out of university and never allowed to return (to any higher institution of learning). and i did not live in an area known for strict punishments for christianity and proselytizing.

  5. JMF

    Brett:

    Hyperbole — not a problem in our society. In fact, God used it. There are times in the Prophets where he says that something will endure “forever”…yet it comes to an end.

    Sarcasm — In my opinion, not a good idea. In close, established relationships — maybe. I’d advise against it in any type of public setting, even if the sarcasm is directed towards one of your “close” people. Reasons?
    1) Sarcasm is a power grab by elevating yourself over another. Admittedly, self-deprecation is sarcasm’s ugly step-sister — same thing, just done against yourself instead of another.

    2) Can you name anyone for me that you admire and have attempted to pattern your life after that uses sarcasm as a communication device?

    3) Too difficult to understand. Especially in writing.

    4) Of all forms of humor, sarcasm would have to be considered the humor choice for the simple. It’s just…obnoxious and easy. Me: “Hey Brett, I’m getting ready to go to the store.” Brett: “Yeah, I’ve heard that before (huge laughs). I hope you don’t ‘forget’ to go…like you ‘forgot’ to go yesterday (more huge laughs)!!”

    Me: “Hey, Brett, what are you doing?” Brett: “Talking to you.” As you can see, the humor IQ stays very low with sarcasm.

    And, no, I’m not one of those Christians that avoids anything worldly. I’ve not memorized ‘Fireproof’. I don’t even wear a cross necklace. But from the standpoint of being 1) Christ-like and 2) effective, I just don’t see sarcasm playing a part.

    Stick with the old stand-by’s: farts, fart jokes, fake farts, stink bombs, etc. Even in Africa, I’m certain these will go over well and allow you to win friends and influence people.

    • whoa, jmf, this is not the comment i would have expected from you. i would have figured you regularly employ and enjoy others’ use of sarcasm.

      1) is it possibly to use sarcasm without grabbing for power or elevating one’s self?
      2) i can think of christians i respect and want to be like who use sarcasm. and that’s part of the reason i want to be like them.
      3) i agree completely. a see the post that got me thinking about all this.
      4) i do agree that sarcasm is often used without intelligence. but i don’t think it’s humor for the simple. it’s intelligent sarcasm which i enjoy so much. and you can’t really tell me to stick with fart jokes a couple of sentences after complaining that sarcasm is for the simple…?

      • JMF

        2) LOL
        4) I was being sarcastic about the fart jokes.

        Like any guy, I appreciate sarcasm…in fact, my humor ranges from sarcasm all the way to being an all-out donkeyhole. Enjoy and think funny? Yes. Think Christ would do it? No. Think it is effective? No.

        As I started with, only in deep, strong relationships. And not with women.

        Case-in-point: A girl I am good friends with at church (wife of my friend) went to the same prayer class that I had attended. The next Sunday at small group she asked, “JMF, did you enjoy the prayer class?” I responded, “No. I hated it, because I hate praying. What am I supposed to say to that question?!” (followed by my laughing)

        Well….feelings were hurt, and they weren’t JMF’s. Pretty much the story of my life (try being funny and pleasant with girls, ends in tears). Oh, well. Don’t take after me, Grasshopper. Learn a new humor.

        • this comment makes a lot more sense for who you are — or who i thought you are. i was really surprised by that other one…

          i think that girl was a bit too easily hurt. okay, a lot too easily hurt.

  6. Great question! I have been curious about the same thing.
    I often wonder about Ephesians 4:29 and Ephesians 5:4 when thinking about this, questioning if sarcasm would apply.
    I tend to agree with some of your other commenters – it can so easily be taken the wrong way, even appearing haughty, rude and degrading to others. However, it can be so funny too and really drive a point home. Maybe on a person’s own writing – where they are expressing their point of view, on their “terf” so to speak, it may be more useful than when directly addressing someone else in writing, unless the people know each other well and share the same sense of humor.
    In my opinion, person to person among friends, it is wicked funny, as long as it’s not at someone else’s expense.
    Just thoughts…

    • tisha, i read through the ephesians passages — and, like most tools of rhetoric, it seems that context and company (as larry said) should rule when deciding whether or not to employ hyperbole and/or sarcasm. though i asked him the next question, then, which is: what about on my own blog, where i’m writing for myself and for others?

      it sounds like you would support an author using sarcasm in his own work, on his own blog. is that correct?

  7. I believe there are forms of sarcasm and hyperbole that are easily misunderstood to an outsider. Sometimes these possibly hurtful expressions of speech are endearing and beneficial to a close and growing friendship, adding a depth of comfort and intimacy that is difficult to communicate otherwise. (without sounding like two hobbits)*

    Example: Brett often enjoys picking at my coffee drinking habits, and I return the favor in uncounted ways. This shows not only a knowledge of my coffee drinking habits and Brett’s numerous quirks, but also a playfulness in our friendship.**

    I also believe there are forms that although they may sting when heard, they can unveil a truth that is both accurate and punctual.

    Example: Suburbia: where they tear out the trees & then name streets after them.
    An extremely pointed yet easily understood attack on our confused love of nature.

    Other forms are funny but may be used to paint a more vivid picture:

    Example: It’s raining like cats and dogs!
    or: I have a million things to do today.

    Of Course, I also believe there is sarcasm and hyperbole that is purposefully hurtful.

    *this is an example of allusion
    **I claim only one quirk but claim brett has many. An example of our humor.
    ***no, you did not see three asterisks, this is me sarcastically alluding to brett’s form of blog writing. Another example of our humor.

    • i’m not sure how i feel about all this talk about you and i being intimate — especially when you mentioned hobbits. i think you wrote this partly just to make me uncomfortable…

      but, carson, drinking coffee like a fifth grade italian girl really is the only quirk you have. otherwise, you’re impossible to make fun of.

      and, for future reference, we don’t do hippie talk and nature love on my blog. even if you are bitter about trees being cut down, mr. contractor and furniture-maker.

      * point awarded to carson

  8. Jason Miller

    What about, say, 1 Kings 18:27. One of my favorite passages in all the Bible.

    Or, then again, look at Matthew 23. We like to read this in dead serious tone, but I wonder how it was actually delivered and how it was received.

    Not that we’re trying to prooftext sacred usage of sarcasm and hyperbole, but is that what is being used these passages?

    By the way, this is by far the stupidest post you’ve had. Ever.

    • i do enjoy elijah’s sarcasm in that passage. and if i remember correctly, our bible translators have failed us by not translating there, “maybe he’s taking a dump.”

      [i preached at bilyahilu yesterday — remind me later to ask you about tanzanian parenting and discipline. i used a particular analogy that i’m not sure went over exactly like i’d thought…]

      your comment isn’t too bright either.

      “do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself. answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.”

  9. The sarcasm that my friends and I used in college was not appreciated at all in the rural congregation where I worked after graduation. Larry is so correct when he notes that it does not translate well.

  10. Linda M

    Hi Brett,
    To me this is a difficult question in some way. I think that jesting, sarcasm and hyperbole can be overdone. A little bit of this can be funny, if I get the meaning or the joke. I know for myself being a Canadian and blogging on USA sites, I sometimes don’t get the point that is being made by someone’s sarcasm in a comment. We may not use that expression in Canada or we may not use it in the same way in Canada.

    I’m thinking moderation in all things. The Bible says that all things are allowable but not all things are profitable. I think that your context and company make a difference. Also, it’s easy for someone else to use sarcasm against you. You meant it one way, but they take that and present you as saying something else (whether innocently or deliberately)
    Sometimes a foe can even use your exact words against you that you are then forced to try and defend.
    Paul said he was all things to all men. I would take that to mean that if a society or culture was more serious in their communication then he would conduct himself likewise.
    Something funny can be an event that happened on a particular day. Something funny that Baylor did or said, a comment made by someone innocently that was quite funny in the circumstances in which it was said etc.
    I like humor but I’m not sure that sarcasm is the way to go.
    I think I would tend to say, don’t overuse it. Use it sparingly if possible. At a time when you intend to be serious in your communication it can be taken as sarcasm by others if that is your frequent mode of expression.
    Hyperbole can be a problem too. such as ‘You ALWAYS do that’
    Just some thoughts.
    God Bless

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