How can each religion be right and have conflicting beliefs? That, says Dave Barry, is why a sense of humor is crucial for religions to peacefully co-exist. Being able to laugh a little at our own behavior keeps us flexible, and religion really only becomes a danger when it’s too rigid or is imposed on others. When a situation is tense in any area of life, humor is one of the most reliable ways to defuse it and find common ground again. The same goes for religion. Dave Barry is the co-author of For This We Left Egypt?.
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Dave Barry: Well, first of all I kind of grew up in a religious environment—sort of. My dad was a Presbyterian minister; his dad was a Presbyterian minister. I was actually an altar boy at Saint Stephen's Episcopal Church in Aramark New York.
I was raised Episcopalian even though my dad was Presbyterian because he was more of a social worker than like a pastor, and Aramark didn't have a Presbyterian Church. So I myself am an atheist. I'm never really kind of was religious, even though I was raised sort of religious.
So I always thought religion was kind of amusing because it was very benign. I went to this nice church and everybody sang hymns and stuff like that. And I didn't exactly want to mock them, but I didn't really understand why they believed what they believed and acted the way they do.
I never really wrote a lot about religion as a humorist, but my sensibility always was A, there's a lot of religions, a lot of people believe a lot of different things; they all think they're right. The value of I guess making fun of that is: it's okay to believe whatever you believe as long as you don't think that everyone has to believe it, and if you're willing to laugh a little bit about your own beliefs then it's just going to be easier for everybody to get along with different beliefs.
If you are like really rigid about what you believe then there could be a variety of bad consequences, up to and including people killing each other. So the value of mockery of religion or faith isn't so much to (I don't think) put people down, although I guess that's an element in some humor that knocks religion, so much as to say: don't take yourself too seriously because that could lead to problems down the road, which is kind of what humor is about with almost every topic.