Renee Garfinkel Ph.D.

Time Out

Laughter and Spirituality

Does your faith have a sense of humor?

Posted Jul 26, 2013

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Religion has an image problem.  It is badly in need of rebranding.  Religion’s public image is grim; it’s all fire and brimstone, and Dante’s Inferno.  Severe, and reproving, religion’s reputation is largely one of humorless inhibition and pleasure-fearing. Even New Age religions, the self-described more spiritual “religion-lite” of the genre, even they seem to emphasize a life of what’s “good for you”, with a whiff of tofu and kale.

Religion’s grim attributes would present enough of a PR challenge without the added baggage of the folks who truly give religion a bad name:  the holy warriors whose trade is terror, the cartoon-inflamed violent mobs.  Pedophiles in the pews, corruption in back rooms, misogyny out front, and hypocrisy on a scale matched only by politicians – for the broad, news-reading public, this is face of religion. *  It isn’t a pretty face…

And it isn’t a complete face, either.  Most religions agree that humor and laughter are central to a spiritual life.

Viktor Frankel, the founder of Logotherapy, who knew more than most about the depths to which humanity can sink, said, ““Humor, more than anything else in the human make-up, can afford an aloofness and an ability to rise above any situation, if only for a few seconds.”

Those “few seconds” are the doors that let spirituality in.  This is a truth understood by great religious leaders and practitioners.

The Dali Lama’s photos often show him with a ready smile, giggling in interviews and laughing on stage.  The popular televangelist Joel Osteen famously begins his sermons with. “I like to start with something funny…” in the tradition of good preachers and teachers everywhere who realize that laughter makes people more receptive to the message, and to the sense of connection with one another.  There are yoga paths that emphasize laughter, and even a worldwide laughter yoga movement.

The Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Jewish Hasidic movement, noted,  “Humor is that thing that ushers a person’s mind from a place of constricted consciousness to a place of expanded consciousness."  Read that again.  It is a profound observation at the nexus of psychology and spirituality.

The Talmud tells a story in which Elijah the prophet points out two people in the marketplace who will have a share in the World to Come.  Who are they?  Comedians!  Jesters who cheer people up when they are sad, and try to make peace between people who are quarreling.

Does your faith make room for laughter? Please share your experiences in the comments, or call me on the show, below.

What’s on your mind?  Let’s talk on Friday@6 PM EST on SiriusXM radio, channel 110 (the Armstrong Williams Show). Call-in during the show: 1-866-801 TALK (8255)

(*Reader, please note.  Atheistic and secular ideologies don’t have a great track record either – think communism, fascism, just to name a couple – but that’s for another blog post.)