Scot McKnight & Bob Hyatt on Ridicule and Insult

kinnon —  September 17, 2007 — 4 Comments

It’s not the topic of the week, or maybe it is. Who knows?

Scot McKnight responded to the Fake D.A. Carson Site on his blog today (if 2:18 am in the morning qualifies as today). Scott says,

A few comments: Yes, this can be funny stuff. Yes, Carson’s big enough to handle it. Yes, we all need a little humor and satire can be great fun. But… No, this site is not good. Why?

A steady diet of satire is soul-destroying, especially when one remains anonymous and especially when it goes on indefinitely about the same person. Satire turns the human gaze against others, even if at first in fun, and learns to hold Eikons up for ridicule and insult. It has its own way of becoming a cancer of cynicism, eventually eating the soul. I was a reader of The Wittenburg Door in its early years. Feasting on such comes with a price.

Bob Hyatt comments on his blog,

There are two kinds of satire- the satire that you do when you genuinely like someone, but see their flaws and foibles and the satire you do when you genuinely dislike them and really don’t care much about their feelings at all.

To me, the first is lighthearted, and even though you are poking fun at their foibles, you make a point not to be a tool- yeah, points get made, there’s a bit of jabbing… but you don’t take the time to show up and roast someone unless you really like them.

The second… that’s another story. When you dislike people and what they stand for, and out of that produce satire that mocks them… in my opinion, it’s exceedingly easy to cross a line into just ridicule for the sake of ridicule, no matter what high-minded motivations you may try to attach to it.

I’m convinced the right word is scorn. As stated in the Scornucopia post – noun: the feeling or belief that someone or something is worthless or despicable; verb: to feel or express contempt or derision for someone or something. I’m further convinced that whether noun or verb, scorn should not be used as easily and as often as it is in the supposedly Christian blogosphere – whether by me or anyone else. Perhaps more learned believers than I have come up a Biblical hermeneutic for scorning fellow believers, but I have my doubts.

UPDATE: Bene D joins the conversation with a very good postSatire, sarcasm, scorn and scars – wrestling with our tendency to so easily respond with the first three.

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A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

4 responses to Scot McKnight & Bob Hyatt on Ridicule and Insult

  1. The dark side of satire is a call for attention. It is a self-proclamation of “Look how intelligent I am. I’m so smart that I can see the total moral and intellectual errors per million of the person. Join me in my own self-importance.”
    This is relevant to Scornocopia, Doc Searls and The people who … threads in that at the heart of all these issues is the lack of humility. I’ve just been reintroduced to Ira Williams, Speak Softly website, where he has taken his Change This manifesto of November 2005, and produced a book and charitable organization from it. Here’s the link. This stands out to me as a model for how we should develop our virtual selves.
    This isn’t some abstract social problem that needs debating. These are individual human problems that need personal intervention by the friends of these people. Where are they? Do we see any changes in behavior, or are these people so isolated that their scorn/satire/mendacity (My term for the evening.)is a call for help. The reality is that in the blogosphere no one may actually hear their cry. “If a person cries for help in a forest of self-projection, will anyone hear their fall?” I wonder.

  2. It may be that it’s early in the morning and I haven’t had enough coffee yet. So it’s just possible that I’m being a little too dogmatic here. But as I read this post, I was literally slammed (as in became dizzy) with this thought:

    When you don’t know or care about a person and “… you dislike people and what they stand for, and out of that produce satire that mocks them …”

    It hit me (upside the head) that this is calling someone a “fool” and Jesus likened that to murder in Matthew 5:21-22. I think he did this for good reason. When we put enough distance between ourselves and another person to call them a fool, or to heap scorn upon their heads, we have put enough distance between the two of us to be able to kill them. We are at a point where it would be easier to pick up a weapon and destroy them. Certainly, we are destroying their souls by calling them names (heaping scorn on them) and we are provoking war and begetting violence when we persist in that.

    This is the slippery slope that I worry about, because I’m all too eager to stand at the top of it with my sled!

  3. I confess to being a bit confused by McKnight’s position, though I think I agree with the spirit behind it.

    He says satire has its place, but “nothing good” comes out of it. I think I read that right, in the comments. Forgive me if I misread.

    Satire can be misused. Metaphors can be misused. Humor can be misused. Reductio ad absurdum, as an example among logical tools, can be misused.

    Satire isn’t soul-destroying, ungrace is. Satire is just so interesting — done well, or even poorly — it sticks out.

    How many quite literal denigrations of people have I read? Countless. Many have been couched in seemingly Biblical or Christian terms. But I don’t stand ready to condemn the use of literalism, or Biblical authority, in conversation.

    It’s the motivation, folks.

    Some of us see the irony that abounds, too, and appreciate it. I, for one, read the Wittenburg Door as a teen and thought, I must have a place in the Kingdom! I say some good can certainly come out of it.

  4. “A steady diet of satire is soul-destroying, especially when one remains anonymous and especially when it goes on indefinitely about the same person”

    Personally, I would exchange the “is” for “can be” or “often is”, because satire can be good. It is very effective at getting people’s attention and making them think about the big picture. I think Kinnon rightly pointed out one of the weaknesses is that it can turn easily into scorn.

    Going back to McKnight’s quote above, my observation has been that satire is often unbalanced and in that sense a caricature that is not truly representative of the real object of the satire. That’s ok once in awhile, if balance can be brought out in other ways. However, if satire is used repeatedly by one person against another person or group of people, then it tends to paint a false portrait of only bad without recognizing the real good in the person or their ways of doing things. All of us are a mixture of good and bad.

    One of the biggest dangers of satire, as I see it, is to the soul of the individual satirist. Because the abuse of satire is highly dependent on the motivations of the person dishing it out, it is easy to justify to oneself when it is being misused. It is rare for anybody to admit that they weren’t being fair or objective in their criticisms of a person/concept. However, in my experience, it is far more likely for somebody to do so when engaging in more direct criticism than when engaging in satirical criticism.



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