Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Church or Cult?

This joke was told to me by a Baptist:

"Why do you have to take two Baptists with you when you go fishing?

Because if you just take one, he'll drink all your beer."

The subject of what distinguishes a church from a cult came up in the comments section. I ran across a proposed litmus test online that's worth considering:
If, on appropriate occasions, the members tell, enjoy, trade, and/or devise transgressively funny jokes about their denomination, it’s a church.

If such jokes reliably meet with stifling social disapproval, it’s a cult.

Aristotle observed that "only the human animal laughs." While some primatologists believe that other great apes laugh after their own fashion, only humans are capable of producing and appreciating wit, irony, sarcasm and a good joke. Humor is essential to our humanity. Perhaps the highest form of humor, one which most depends on a developed intellect, is of the sort in which we laugh at ourselves and the absurdities in our own culture. I think it is at least in part the lack of any sense of humor projected from the Twelve Tribes, either in person or in their literature, that heightens outsiders' perception of them as cult-like.

Is it the case that TT drains this most human of characteristics--humor--out of its recruits? Here's what Mandy said in a comment to the article "How I lost my sister":
I still get depressed when I think of how vacant her eyes looked. The girl I knew and loved desperately was full of life and funny as hell and a generally wonderful person to be around. After joining TT, there was not a shred of that person left. She was vacant and quiet and seemed to have difficulty comprehending the conversation. She was distant and disinterested in anything we had to tell her.
Among those Twelve Tribes "MerryMakers" we were treated to on the Commons last summer I noted lots of smiles and some laughter of the "ho-ho-ho, I'm so full of God's love" variety, but nothing I would call humor as they went about in their scripted way making merry as if actors at a Renaissance festival or Colonial Williamsburg. The vacuous smiles of the adults were absent from the children, who, preternaturally serious, haven't yet learned the art of the put-on smile. According to an ex-TTer, "foolishness, joke telling, laughing or making faces often results in 'discipline' for these young children." My smile would be vacuous, too, were I working long hours with no pay for Ol' Eugene and raising children to be "martyred against the Beast." In all the literature of theirs I've slogged through, including their own newsletters, I have found a number of things "funny" but nothing intentionally "ha-ha funny". To the TTers reading this, here's your opportunity to clear up this misconception, if it is one, and send us your funniest self-deprecatory jokes and invite us to laugh along with you.

Here are some jokes I liked from These are jokes for Catholics by Catholics that we all can find funny. Like my Baptist friend, some Catholics can laugh at themselves. Someone who can do that is secure in who they are.
A drunken man staggers in to a Catholic church and sits down in a confession box and says nothing.

The bewildered priest coughs to attract his attention, but still the man says nothing.

The priest then knocks on the wall three times in a final attempt to get the man to speak.

Finally, the drunk replies: "No use knockin' mate, there's no paper in this one either."

* * *
What was Jesus?

My black friend had 3 arguments that Jesus was Black:
1. He called everyone "brother."
2. He liked Gospel.
3. He couldn't get a fair trial.

My Jewish friend had 3 arguments that Jesus was Jewish:
1. He went into His Father's business.
2. He lived at home until he was 30.
3. He was sure His Mother was a virgin and His mother was sure He was God.

My Italian friend gave his 3 arguments that Jesus was Italian:
1. He talked with his hands.
2. He had wine with every meal.
3. He used olive oil.

My California friends had 3 arguments that Jesus was a Californian:
1. He never cut his hair.
2. He walked around barefoot all the time.
3. He started a new religion.

My Irish friend then gave his 3 arguments that Jesus was Irish:
1. He never got married.
2. He was always telling stories.
3. He loved green pastures.

But my lady friend had most compelling evidence that Jesus was a woman:
1. He fed a crowd at a moment's notice when there was no food.
2. He kept trying to get a message across to a bunch of men who just didn't get it.
3. And even when he was dead, he had to get up because there was more work to do.
You might argue that only those in established "mainstream" denominations are really at liberty to poke fun at themselves. But I note that even the group identified in recent polls as the most distrusted minority in America--atheists--are capable of looking at themselves in a humorous light. On the AtheistAlliance web page, you'll find this joke, among others:
"Did you hear about the dyslexic, agnostic insomniac who stays up all night wondering if there really is a Dog?"
(Granted, by defintion atheists don't constitute a church or denomination! )

Whatever our differences of creed, humor highlights our common humanity and of brings us together. If you can make a joke about yourself and your belief system and invite others to laugh with you, you've gone a long way towards breaking down barriers. (Of course, some of us may have no interest in doing that.)

Is it a big deal if the culture of the Twelve Tribes does stifle humor? Frankly, it's of less concern to me than their exploitation of young adults, their mistreatment of children and their promulgation of racist, sexist and homophobic ideology. But I think that it should serve as a warning sign to anyone considering whether these folks are really on the one, true path as they claim to be. Have those who have lost their sense of humor been enhanced or damaged as human beings? To me, the answer is clear enough.

So TTers, I invite you prove to us that I've been completely unfair in this article and send in those TT jokes! I'll recant my characterization of you if you can show me the evidence.


Joo'd'apologia said...

This is the best post I've seen on here yet. I know the request is for TT jokes about the TT, but as I hope has become clear, I don't restrain myself from butting in... and so here's a two-pronged attack against two groups, both of which I've been in or closely associated with:

Did you hear about the Catholic who decided to become an atheist?
Her new creed was "There is no God, and Mary is not His Mother."

Anyhow, great post. I'm not in the TT, so I don't feel I'm entitled to share any of their jokes on their behalf (seems it would slightly violate the spirit/intent of the request), but I do hope they'll share, because I've heard some good'uns. No zippy one-liners, yet, but some funny longer jabs.

Anonymous said...

I live in Warsaw MO. There is a bunch of TTers that walk by my house every day. They all look so...'cookie cutterish.'

They have never been allowed on my porch. Nor on my property.

Now they are planning a restaurant. An old hotel to be reopened. And who knows what else?

What could the people that want to stay in the hotel can expect? A barrage of invitations to join in a sing along? To come on out to their place in town and to eat and meet?

Is this possible, for TTers to ambush unsuspecting people this way?