Addressing the Problem of Evil, Part VI: The Role of Humor

Patient (anxiously): “Doc, am I gonna die?!
Doctor: “Believe me, that’s the last thing you’re gonna do.”

They say that laughter is the best medicine and this often applies to encounters with evil as well. You may be familiar with the morbid humor found in professions that deal with death or the negative aspects of human nature (e.g., doctors, military personnel, police, firemen, caregivers, morticians, etc.). An ability to laugh at some of the horror and tragedy encountered in these fields is necessary for the worker’s health and sanity. Without the ability to find some humor in things, sad and traumatic life experiences can become too much to bear.

However, all of us are at risk when it comes to the challenges of evil, and so we all need to have our wits and humor about us. One of the ways evil works is by trying to get us so much in our heads, so obsessed with a particular problem or issue that we tie ourselves up in a mental straight jacket. Evil wants us to fixate on problems to such an extent that they start to define our life. We become excessively serious and focused on the negative, preoccupied and overly invested in a certain outcome or perspective. When this happens we lose our ability to enjoy life, to step back and consider that there might be more important things in life, or that maybe it’s better to be happy than “right.” Evil wants us to be so immersed in depression, bewilderment, anxiety, rage, or our own sense of what is just that we can’t see any other perspective.

Humor is a necessary and natural antidote to our tendency to take ourselves, our thoughts and beliefs too seriously. When we become inflexible, over-attached, blinded and self-righteous in our thinking, humor is there to dissolve our rigidity, soften our perspective, help us accept paradoxes, or just ease the tension. It offers a bridge of humanity between people who are at odds with each other. It allows you to disagree without hate or rejection and offers a way to honor the feeling dimension of a relationship amid disagreements in belief or ideology. In fact, one sign that you have become egocentrically enveloped in a particular cause or standpoint is a lack of humor, especially the ability to laugh at yourself with tolerance and understanding.

Humor is the antithesis of egocentricity. Genuine laughter and spontaneous humor come from deep within. They break the bonds of a one-sided focus and morbid seriousness. Humor helps you to laugh at yourself, laugh at some of the silliness and absurdities in life, and reconnects you to your playfulness. It reminds you that for all of life’s tragedy, there’s also a lot of comedy. Evil casts its net, and humor helps you slip out from under it.

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