Monday, November 26, 2012

Stand-Up Theology

I was asked to reply to a couple of questions about my speaking career, and thought you might enjoy reading my responses. 


Essentially I’m an entertainer. I do what I sometimes call stand–up philosophy or stand-up theology. My goal is to share ideas and concepts I think are important, and do so in a way that keeps you open to hearing them. I find that humor is the best way to help this happen.

I am not afraid to use humor to point out the irrationality and absurdity of much of what passes for serious religion and theology, and no religion is spared in my critique. If I can help you see the humor in what you hitherto accepted as “gospel,” you are more apt to let me help you free yourself from it as well.

And that is my ultimate goal: freeing myself and others from the isms and ideologies that keep us from seeing reality as it is (or at least as I think it is), and creating a world based on compassion and justice.

I don’t call what I do preaching because it isn’t one–sided. My talks almost always include an opportunity for dialogue. I say whatever I want, and then invite you to do the same.

My biggest challenge is to keep my ideas simple without being simplistic. I think people are more than capable of dealing with very sophisticated explorations of religion and faith, but lack the professional jargon for doing so. I dispense with the jargon whenever possible.

My most challenging audience was at Occidental College. I was exploring the notion that biblical authors often used humor and the absurd to alert their readers that something very important is about to happen. The births of Isaac and Jesus were my two examples. The idea that either a woman in her nineties or a virgin can give birth is, I said, absurd, and the authors knew this to be so. They never expected their readers to take them literally. Rather they were saying, look these births herald the coming something new into the world and hence break with the normative ways of producing offspring.

A contingent of self–identified Catholics began to boo. After the talk the campus priest refused to shake my hand, and several Catholic audience members told me that I had “destroyed their faith.” Referring them to the now cowering priest, I suggested they confess their lack of faith and move on. It was not my finest moment.

When asked how he could speak so eloquently and yet extemporaneously to thousands, the Reverend Billy Graham replied that he gave the same sermon over and over again.  Many speakers might make the same claim. I, too, have a core message: reality isn’t what we think it is, religions sell us ideas the way Campbell’s sells us soup, and if you want to experience Truth directly you will have to drop all your opinions, no matter how much you spent to secure them.

3 comments:

Dean Hall said...

If faith in an omnipotent, omnipresent, omnibenevolent—sometimes jealous, angry, capricious and misogynistic—god can be destroyed by one speaking engagement from a self-proclaimed entertainer specializing in stand-up philosophy and theology, one would have to ask if the real problem of diminishing Catholic faith lies with the believer.

(Previous comment deleted due to m dash debacle)

Maggid said...

Thank You, Thank You! If i ever "grow up" - I want to be a lot like you . . . (okay, neither of us intends to grow up ever, i KNOW . . but, you set a good example for my imagination)
Love & Love,
-g-

ps - when i was a kid, my dad was concerned I had been warped by family dynamics . . . is that anything like some faith being "destroyed?" Sounds a little like battleship games in the kiddie pond . . . (giggle)

Erick Reynolds said...

Most people build a reality to live in, like a container for water. It is unsettling, if not darn right scary to peer out of this container, or consider it doesn't really exist, for fear that we will spill out to an unknown with nothing to hold onto. Humor can sooth the fears.