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Heard the one about the pope? Sadly, yes

(Patrick McKearney is studying for an MPhil in theology and religious studies at Cambridge University. A scholar of the Cambridge Interfaith Programme and Queens' College, he is researching the implications of the contemporary ridicule of religion.)

Stand-up comedy has the ability to cast anything, from traffic jams to politics, in an entirely new light. It is like a new pair of glasses that helps us see the world in a novel way. The best of it challenges our suppositions and deconstructs our prejudices. The most impressive comedians use their powerful voices to change how we look at our society and ourselves.

But when it comes to religion, contemporary stand-ups are not giving us this new perspective. They endlessly ridicule tired stereotypes of religion, but fail to turn their critical attention to secularism, atheism or liberalism. And that is problematic. Because when comedians mock the faults of a standardised "other" they leave their own assumptions, ignorance and flaws untouched. They just reinforce our world view, rather than critically engaging with it. They are not giving us a fresh pair of glasses, but returning some old and dusty spectacles that we have had for years.

This lack of self-reflection must be the only way to explain their tedious repetition of generic, flat-pack criticisms. I might have doubled Richard Dawkins's profits by now if I had bought a copy of The God Delusion every time I had heard that Christian holidays were actually pagan hangovers, that the idea of a loving god is incompatible with the existence of evil and suffering, or that dinosaurs disprove intelligent design.

Read on



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