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Feb 29 2012

Oh God, Oh GOD, OH YES! Oh no!

There was some very interesting discussion that cropped up in the comment thread of last week’s Movie Friday where I asked you to discuss what the lyrics to Regina Spektor’s “Laughing With” actually mean. Many of you thought that she was articulating a kind of “faitheist” position, or one of arch-deism, where those who disbelieve are hypocritical fools, yet those who profess strong belief are simpletons. My own interpretation was a bit more generous, thinking that perhaps she was talking about God as a concept rather than as an actual entity (either theistic or otherwise). A bunch of others helpfully suggested a bunch of other female artists that I could check out since my iTunes is lacking (for which I thank you).

I am still struck by that line “God can be funny”. For all the misery and general awfulness that religion causes in everyday life (to say nothing of its capacity for breeding hair-ripping frustration), there are a lot of reasons to laugh. Sometimes you laugh because it’s either that or cry, sometimes you laugh because it’s genuinely hilarious, and sometimes you laugh because there’s no other reaction to something so bizarre. Religious people don’t particularly like having their beliefs and behaviour ridiculed, and often claim that anti-theists like myself are waging a campaign intended to discredit and undermine the very foundation of our society. I obviously disagree – I am not putting in nearly so much effort as they claim. One does not have to hold up religion for ridicule, one merely has to hold it up:

The Taboo Naughty but Nice Show is being cancelled in Abbotsford due to restrictive liquor laws and flack from the fundamentalist Christian community, the event producer announced on Friday. The successful Taboo sex show was scheduled to take place at Tradex in Abbotsford starting March 29 but was pulled by Canwest Production on Thursday morning.

It would have been the fifth year the adult-only event had come to Abbotsford, often described as the Lower Mainland’s Bible belt. Canwest has been unable to get the event a roaming liquor licence, which allows patrons to move about the sex show with a drink in hand as they do at the event in seven other Canadian cities, said Sean Libin, Canwest marketing vice president. The Taboo sex show also been subject to “push-back” from an increasingly vocal group of Christian fundamentalist’s, led in large part by former Abbotsford mayoral candidate Gerda Peachey, said Libin.

I mean really, I almost feel lazy writing about this story because it requires so little effort on my part. What could I possibly add to this story? Abbotsford was going to actually have some fun, until the religious folks caught wind of it, and like the proverbial dog in the manger, decided to uphold their reputation as the town from Footloose. Because, you know, drinking leads to touching, and touching leads to those funny feelings that the priest told me was the influence of Satan, possessing your wee-wee. And won’t somebody think of the children? Do we want to live in a society where kids get the idea that sex between two (or more, or fewer) people must be a joyless, sanitized experience that mommies and daddies force themselves to do in order to broadcast their genetic material into the future? I shudder to think what that might look like…

I mean, it’s not “funny” funny:

Dan Stefanson, executive director of Tourism Abbotsford which runs Tradex, said the show’s cancellation will cost the venue $38,000 in lost revenue and generate a significant financial hole. The cancellation of the show will also mean lost employment and revenue spent at area businesses.

But it has all the great elements of a joke. “A guy from Abbotsford walks into a bar, discovers that people are enjoying themselves and demands that it be shut down immediately“.

And what kind of sticklers would we be if we couldn’t laugh at ourselves too?

Quebec parents, politicians and music lovers are outraged that an elementary school music teacher chose to censor part of a song by French musical icon Edith Piaf because of a reference to God, a move that has become a new flashpoint in the debate over reasonable accommodation. In preparing a performance by 10- and 11-year-old students, the music teacher at Saint-Gabriel-Lalemant School in Sorel-Tracy, just east of Montreal, decided to eliminate the last sentence of Edith Piaf’s masterful love song Hymn to Love. The words “God, reunite those who love each other” were removed from one of the most acclaimed French love songs ever written.

(snip)

A spokesman for the Sorel-Tracy school board defended the teacher’s decision, saying that the song was presented to students in its entirety. The teacher told the students the reference to God would be removed in the performance because it was preferable to discuss the issue either at home or during a course on Ethics and Religious Cultures provided in the school curriculum.

Maybe the kids should have just chosen something by Cee-Lo instead.

Yes, there are serious issues involved in ensuring a non-sectarian voice in public schools. Ethics/Religion/Culture classes are indeed the proper place to discuss religious matters. But none of that changes the fact that this “flashpoint” is just silly! They’re 10- and 11- year-olds who have probably sung the national anthem in English (“God keep our land glorious and free”) and in French (“Car ton bras sait porter l’épée, il sait porter la croix”) dozens if not hundreds of times before. But bring the word “god” into the picture, and watch it explode into a national debate point, with different political parties scrambling to blame each other for letting a three-letter word get uttered (or not, as the case may be) in a public school.

It is certainly not my intent to grant a free pass to religion, or to label its actions ‘harmless’, or opposition to it ‘frivolous’. I am also not saying that we need to learn to “pick our battles” or “be judicious” or any such claptrap. You want to fight about something – I’m happy that you care enough to do it. What I’m saying is that sometimes, just sometimes, we need to remember just how fucking silly the thing we’re fighting against is, and be unafraid to laugh not derisively or defiantly, but in pure joyous recognition of just how deeply and fundamentally absurd the other side is. It’s okay.

God can be funny.

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8 comments

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  1. 1
    mynameischeese

    I still can’t on board with that reading of the lyrics, though. The key words, for me, are “No one’s” and “We’re all.” That seems like a pretty black and white way of insinuating that everyone behaves the same way in certain situations. Spektor seems to think she’s doling out some pretty profound lyrics about how universal human behaviour is.

    But she’s not. “We’re all laughing with God.” How can we all be laughing *with* God (note the capital G) if we don’t believe in any of the theist or deist versions of him?

    And the lyrics further divide up human experience into luxury and suffering (the cocktail party vrs being cold and starving). The implication is that laughing *at* god is for rich people at cocktail parties with no worries and that people who are really suffering laugh *with* god. But what’s the difference between laughing with or at? You can’t laugh with a concept of god. So the difference must be belief.

  2. 2
    Crommunist

    I think you’re reading way too much into the cocktail party line. Also you’re ignoring the entire second half of the “god can be funny” line, where god is used as a mouthpiece for hatred, and that people think he’s a wish-granting entity if you just believe “the right way”.

    All of which isn’t really related to the substance of this post anyway.

  3. 3
    mynameischeese

    True, but I didn’t have anything to add to the substance of the post. Atheists, indeed, can be funny. But only at a cocktail party when listening to a good atheist-themed joke. Not when you’re cold or starving or there’s a war on. Only messing.

    No, but seriously, the bit about god being a mouthpiece for hate and such doesn’t really change my reading. It just tells me that the writer thinks her kind of faith is superior to that of the “crazies.” And the people who have no faith what-so-ever, even when the plane is crashing, are so far below her that they don’t even exist in this song.

  4. 4
    Pteryxx

    Is this the “humorless atheists” thing again, rly? I put this over in TET but it oughta go here: Advice God

    http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/advice-god/photos

    “Create entire universe out of nothing — Need Adam’s rib to create one more thing”

    “Allow humans to exist in completely isolated jungle tribes in the Amazon — Send them to Hell for not being Christian”

    “Abraham, kill your only son for me — LOL J/K”

    “Evolution is not real — Unless they prove it, then it was my plan”

    “I made you that way — I hate you because of it”

  5. 5
    Crommunist

    Oh definitely not. I am not saying that atheists are humourless. Dude – last week we had a fight about CATS!

    I just thought it was a couple of funny stories about people taking shit way too seriously.

  6. 6
    Pteryxx

    Ah, that should’ve been to yon “atheists are only funny at cocktail parties” up there. Oops!

  7. 7
    thaismcrc

    I love Regina Spektor, but that particular song annoys me. The problem is the last line – “we’re all laughing with god”. When I first heard the song, my interpretation was the same as yours, that she was talking about god as a concept that people cling to fervently in some situations but is really quite laughable. But then that last line does sound like she’s saying it’s ok to laugh at the silliness, because we’re all laughing *with* god, like you can still point out how ridiculous it all is but still believe. I just always end up skipping that song.

    I don’t know if you’ve seen it already, but she’s released a new song this week: http://soundcloud.com/reginaspektor/alltherowboats

  8. 8
    leni

    God can be funny.

    Wait though- if I were going to be pointing fingers and laughing at anyone it’s not going to be god. I mean, I wouldn’t even know where to point. It would just be awkward and weird.

    This is like some kind of bait and switch, thrown tuna can distraction! No no. I will not laugh at some whack-a-mole, abstract god when there are perfectly good people around to mock.

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