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Jos Gibbons's Avatar Jump to comment 18 by Jos Gibbons

Before I begin my critique of this piece, I’d like to reproduce the one comment below it in which our website is referenced:

Saxotelephone @FrankRoberts Who says atheists don`r have a sense of humour? Aside from Cif, definitve proof that they don't can be found on the RichardDawkins website. If you follow a bad link there, all you get is 'The page you are looking for doesn't exist. You may have mistyped the addres, or it may have moved'. Now, if I were running an athiest website, I would at least try to make something of that opportunity.

Now for my response to the article itself. I may rewrite this later to become a Cif comment. I can’t yet as I have too much else I have to do today.

Good stand-up comedy makes us question ourselves

Good stand–up comedy makes us laugh. I’ve lost count of how often I’ve seen it cause us to laugh with faulty logic, or with “Why is X the case?” questions experts can answer very well in such a way as to subsequently ruin the joke. Having said all that, I do like it when stand–up gets us thinking too, though not so much because I think it “ought” to any more than anything else should, but rather because doing two good things at once is always nice to see. I think an orange zest improves chocolate, but because it’s goo, not because chocolate ought to be like that (any more than orange–flavoured concoctions ought to be chocolatey). Presumably, if the author of this article is willing to concede there have been critiques of religion which satisfy his criteria, he might say, for instance, Bertrand Russell pulled it off. Should Russell have been funnier? Having said all that, I should also admit I’ve shared McKearney’s dislike of an irrational act that merely repeats the audience’s lazy assumptions. I’m talking about Dane Cook’s ragging on atheism. McKearney would like to see atheism tackled in comedy as well as religion, and would like to see religion tackled better, so presumably would also like to see atheism tackled well. And not only have I never seen atheism tackled well in any context, comedy or otherwise – and I have given the religious countless opportunities to change that – I’ve no clue how McKearney’s dreams could ever be fulfilled. Unless, of course, he would be happy with Dane Cook’s level of analysis for atheism but not for religion; but that would be a double standard. Here’s a link:

the contemporary ridicule of religion lacks any originality or insight

Much as originality or insight is admirable, to demand it is to require ideas to only be said once each, preventing their wide dissemination, and in any case there’s no especial need for it in comedy instead of, say, philosophy. And ultimately, if an argument is irrefutable, enemies of it shouldn’t focus on irrelevancies like “heard it before”. Yes, you have, because you ought to hear it again until you bother engaging with it, something McKearney doesn’t do with a single one of the arguments he says in this article he dislikes hearing. This article therefore presents yet another arbitrary rule regarding how criticism of religion should proceed should it occur at all. This is simple: if something is the case, say it, and let you only be critiqued for flubbing it. Insight, incidentally, is a subspecies of originality, so I won’t defend the two with separate arguments herein.

Catholics are often the butt of jokes about religion.

Aren’t religious people meant to be the butt of religion jokes?

They endlessly ridicule tired stereotypes of religion, but fail to turn their critical attention to secularism, atheism or liberalism.

If I condemned specific examples of stereotypes, I’d explain why they’re invalid too; and by “tired” McKearney references another irrelevant factor, age. This is ironic considering that an idea being old lends it some gravitas in religious contexts. As for failing to turn their critical attention on ... wait, why is liberalism in that list? Is religion diametrically opposed to it? ... But anyway, how would stand–up comedians give secularism (political neutralism with respect to religion) or atheism (lack of a belief in a god or gods) critical treatments? In fact, I will lower the bar: how would anyone do it, without also simultaneously having to be funny (though they can be if they want)? In other words, how would a case against atheism be made at all? I have yet to see anything approaching one. That’s the problem. Theists will use every excuse in the book for criticisms of religion to “suck” by standards disconnected with their validity, but they won’t ever defend their own crappy ideas.

they leave their own assumptions, ignorance and flaws untouched. They just reinforce our world view, rather than critically engaging with it.

Atheism is not a world view; it’s a lack of a world view. Secularism is not a world view; it’s a political policy. In any case, why must stand–up comedians only critically tear apart world views? Reasonable as that idea sounds, what it amounts to is they can’t assert, expand on or defend the world view they actually embrace. If McKearney’s bizarre criteria were genuinely important, stand–up comedians would be wrong to ever say what they think.

This lack of self-reflection must be the only way to explain their tedious repetition of generic, flat-pack criticisms.

Firstly, “X must be the only explanation of Y” is always, and I mean always, wrong. Second, what lack of self–reflection? Had it ever occurred to McKearney these views may be born of a self–reflection which has since continued but hasn’t changed their minds again because it’s already struck gold? That’s often how critical thinking works. Third, the rest of this sentence condemns further dissemination of ideas people have had. As I explained before, McKearney should instead explain why the ideas are actually bad, but he never even tries to do that.

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 ...

There are any number of financial ways to make this point, the standard one being to talk about the wealth which would be accrued by gaining, say, a pound every time it happened. If we’re talking about tedious repetition of generic, flat–pack stuff, I’d like to know why YET AGAIN we’re treated to an aside reference to Richard Dawkins in an article that has nothing to do with him just because the article is about criticism of religion sucking. We’re talking about stand–up comedians. Dawkins isn’t one, nor do stand–up comedians making points similar to his acknowledge him as a source. And by the way, to double the profits on that book you’d have to buy as many copies of it as have ever been bought – and I bet you’ve not even heard 2 million jokes in your life (the approximate life’s work of Bob Hope), let alone 2 million about religion. So don’t even try this lazy hyperbole. Just say it happened a lot, OK?

Just off the top of my head I can think of six routines – by Eddie Izzard, Dara O Briain, Frankie Boyle, Ricky Gervais, Robin Ince and Stewart Lee – in which I have been gleefully told how stupid creationists are. But they are not the only caricature.

They’re not caricatures. Creationists are like that, and Christianity per se is not alleged by any of these comedians to be automatically like Creationism.

Anglicans are pushovers.

That’s what we like about them!

Muslims are violent, oppressive and backward. (Marcus Brigstocke)

You know what Creationists don’t get enough critique for from stand–up comedians who do bits on them? Quote mining, which is what’s happened here. Firstly, that’s not from stand–up; admittedly Brigstocke has done stand–up, but rules McKearney has particular to the genre only apply to radio if stand–up comedians should “always be on duty”, which is ridiculous. Secondly, only a couple of sentences earlier Brigstocke made it clear he was about to launch into a critique of extremists, and that although he had criticisms of moderates too those were separate. Again, here’s a link:

The next quotation quote–mines Brigstocke from later in the same piece:

All of them claim to be peaceful. Yeah, peaceful right up to the point where someone takes something they claim is theirs, or says the wrong thing or looks at them funny

McKearney pretends by “them” Brigstocke means religious people, but he actually means the religions themselves. In fact, if in the link I gave above you jump to the 3 minute mark, you’ll see McKearney deliberately omitted the word “religions” after peaceful. That means not only did he quote mine, he cut a bit out of the MIDDLE of the quotation. That’s the worst kind of quote mining!

McKearney is a liar and a charlatan and a fraud, and he and/or the Guardian should issue a retraction apologising to the slandered Brigstocke.

They are pathetic fools. They are stupid – if not deranged. "Religion's just what we thought before we understood what mental illness was." (Frankie Boyle)

Firstly, this doesn’t mean the religious are mentally ill; it means a lack of understanding of mental illness fosters religious beliefs. How do I know my understanding of Boyle is correct? Because he said religion is what we thought in a particular era of misunderstanding, not that it was something we misdiagnosed in a particular era of misunderstanding. Secondly, there’s no point complaining when Frankie Boyle offends you. I’ve only heard him say one vaguely inoffensive joke in his entire career – funnily enough, a joke about Creationists, from Mock The Week:

(I’m paraphrasing) Creationists deny dinosaurs. If you’re gonna deny part of science, don’t deny dinosaurs; dinosaurs are cool!

In sum, religious people are just wrong.

Either religion is partly right or wholly wrong. Whichever one it is, stand–up comedians should work out which, then say it. And complaining about them only critically analysing one of the two options – namely, the other one is ridiculous. Critical assessment isn’t about saying every view is suspect; it’s about reporting the findings of critical thinking.

it just narcissistically affirms that we were right all along. It is not edgy, original or insightful. One might even be tempted to call it preaching to the converted.

Firstly, who’s this “we”? Most people, especially historically, are religious. Secondly, the one thing religion’s defenders never tire of saying about criticisms of religion is that they’re too rude. If that’s not edgy I don’t know what would be. Or are religion’s defenders trying to eat their cake and have it? Third, I’ve already explained why originality and insight aren’t such a big deal. Fourth, “preaching to the converted” repeats the mistake of the first bit.

the last word goes to a stand-up who is still doing his job properly: "And we all think we're very rational and very secular, but we make gods all the time." (Dylan Moran)

First, that means Moran thinks god hypotheses are irrational, which is pretty much what you told off Noble for saying. Secondly, if this is the kind of critical assessment, originality or insight about religion you think other stand–up comedians should be giving us, I’ve no idea how you detect it. Apparently “religion sucks” is off–limits but “Our making religions proves how much we suck” is different. It’s almost as if McKearney cares more about religions than their followers. But, in fact, that’s often the case of those infected with a religious mindset. It is we infidels who can’t help but have a higher opinion of, and regard for, theists than theism.

Wed, 22 Jun 2011 07:37:00 UTC | #641560