Lent (Day 12) — Happiness Attracts…

We now move on to Chapter 3 of James Martin’s Between Heaven and Mirth, “Happiness Attracts: 11 1/2 Serious Reasons for Good Humor.”  Having already suggested that in editing out humor, or in unduly emphasizing a serious gravity, one may miss the point about God and the blessings of God, Martin, in this chapter aims to provide reasons for humor, why it is necessary.  The subtitle, I’m guessing, is supposed to be a playful reworking of the “(5 or 6 or 10) Proofs for the Existence of God.”  By making it an odd number, and then a fraction too, Martin makes the phrase more memorable.  

His first reason is the title of the chapter, “Happiness Attracts,” a phrase he takes from Archbishop Dolan of New York.  The idea here being that Christians are supposed to be spreading the “good news” (gospel) of Christ, and that such a positive and optimistic message (that life wins out over death, that death is no end) should be viewed positively. Who wants to be part of a group of miserable guys?  

His second reason is that Humor helps one be more humble.  Humor short-circuits our ego, at least for a moment, and allows us to share a laugh with another, and not be so caught up in our heads.  There is also the danger, if one is in any position of authority, to think the matter is all about oneself.  Such an attitude cuts one off from one’s fellows.  There is a good reason that pride is seen as such an awful sin by Catholic theologians and writers.  For instead of the message being about God in the world, or love in the world, or how people are all brothers and sisters, in some way, the message is all about “me” and how clever I am.  At several points in the book so far, he has used the humor of John XXIII, Pope from 1958-1963.  John was a fat, old, and not very handsome man.  He often poked fun at himself, which not only put others at ease, but made him approachable in ways that his predecessor, Pius XII, a man who always looked serious and somewhat imperious, never did.  In this section, he also quotes G.K. Chesterton, who is the author of the line about the angels being able to fly because they take themselves lightly.  

His third is that humor can show us reality.  Not all reality is humorous, but we often make the mistake, when we try to sound serious and profound, of getting caught up in the tone, and thinking that our pronouncements are reality.  No system of belief, and no system of thought can capture all of reality.  There will always be mystery beyond that.  Humor sometimes allows a glimpse of something else, something all our systems miss, and it can be used to foreground the very intellectual edifice we’ve created and confused for reality.  And so, while we will continue to use our systems to try to make sense of the world, we can also be aware that such systems are always in flux, ever-changing, as we get new information, and be open to the mystery.  

Humor allows us to be aware of the limits of our vision and our thinking, and invites us to not get so caught up in ourselves and our way of thinking that we don’t see or appreciate the world around us, which can never be fully encompassed by any of us.  

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