As many might be aware, there’s a storm-a-brewin’ surrounding some videos and whether or not they’re appropriate. I have been asked to put some thoughts out regarding this series of satirical videos titled Islamicize Me and some of the controversy surrounding the situation. There was a time when I found myself in a similar situation at work, but where I was on the opposite side of the table and was asked to defend the satirists and their right to say things that people might find offensive. But my, how the tables have turned, now I’m having to outline what may be too offensive and obscene for God’s people. It’s an interesting position to be in to say the least.
Definitely was not me. Fine. Yes, it was me.
When I worked for a particular Fortune 100 company, someone had uploaded a memeish emoji into a chat system for which I was an admin. Well, turns out the feelings of a few snowflake were hurt, and the emoji was removed from the system because the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) had classified it as a “Hate Symbol.” Meanwhile, the removal of the emoji in question caused a lengthy and respectful debate over the course of two days in a public chat channel between about three thousand employees, and the support for keeping the emoji was much greater than 50%.
Then legal got involved, and everything got real.
It’s at this time that I was approached by a VP within the enterprise to represent the company in determining what’s offensive, how far is too far, and what (if any) should the line be. In running this request through my immediate supervisor, he said, “Ryan, save us from ourselves.”
We quickly established the snowflake bar of offense, namely, “The Berkeley Bar”. Did we want to create rules that said if it was offensive to Berkeley snowflakes, it was too offensive to be in the system? See, in these discussions, we were trying to find out what the bar was, starting from the idea that EVERYTHING was offensive. Trigger warnings, safe spaces, and microaggressions, oh my!
Enter, Islamicize Me.
The creators of Islamicize Me, as opposed to the previously mentioned “Berkeley Bar”, are turning to “Ezekiel 23” as their standard. So on the one hand, there’s a group of people that say if it offends Berkeley, we shouldn’t discuss it, and on the other hand, because the Bible uses Ezekiel 23 language, then Ezekiel 23 is the limit on what Christians are free to say.
Welcome to the upside down.
Being involved in both discussions, what saddens me is that there seemed to be more charitable and open dialogue in the liberal Fortune 100 company where we used “The Berkeley Bar” as the starting point of offense. That’s all I’ll say on that.
Just to be clear, I don’t take issue with the series for mocking what is false, laughable, and, in essence, absurd. Where I do think Islamicize Me crosses the line is the intensity and degree to which the visualizations of offensive behavior, obscenity, and coarse jesting is presented. To quote Robert Spencer–
[Islamicize Me] is full of slapstick, broad (some would say tasteless) comedy and satire
Emphasis mine, and I’m a part of the emphasized “some”. Dr. James White also said as much when he alluded to some of the details surrounding the offensive contents of various videos and situations found in the series. I will keep the descriptions on the same level as the examples Dr. White has used, without going into deep detail. While I wouldn’t recommend watching the series, if you’re intensely curious, you’re free to watch it in the same way you’re free to watch a sex scene on public television. No nudity is shown.
Some of the examples of coarse jesting are the visual aids of urinating on feet, walls, just urinating in general, excessive puking, and the milk scenes, to name a few. For the purpose of this post, when I mention “coarse jesting” or something similar, I’m referring to these scenes and this level or degree of graphical representation. I’m not saying all the content is crossing this line.
In the “Islamicize Me and the James White Controversy” video found here, the creators of Islamicize Me provided some justifications for why the series is, ahem, kosher. Here are some:
- The Bible employs and commands us to be somewhat “edgy” (Colossians 4:6)
- The Bible employs satire (Job 12:2, Isaiah 40:19-20, Isaiah 44:14-20, Matthew 7:3-6)
- The Bible employs mocking (1 Kings 18, Matthew 23:27)
- The Bible employs extreme/explicit language (Ezekiel 23:19-21, Song of Solomon, Philippians 3:8)
Now, the emphasized passages above weren’t used as justifications by Acts17Apologetics but, personally, I would use them as justifications for the position of the satirist.
What’s important to consider is that in our use of “edgy” language, we employ Colossians 4:6, that is, we ought to season our “edgy” language with salt. What does Colossians 4:6 say?
Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.
“Seasoned with salt”, as in, salt isn’t the main dish. One of these depicts “seasoned with salt”, the other depicts using salt as the main dish:
Side note, instead of the brick video with punk kids, I was going to contrast Salt Bae with a sweet Childish Gambino meme. The one where he comes through the door (Acts17Apologetics), someone tosses him an AK-47 (Salt), and he mows down a crowd of singers (Unbelievers). But, there were two issues, 1) It wouldn’t be understood by as many people as the fun brick video above, and 2) It probably crosses the line into obscene and offensive, so I opted not to make the killer meme.
When we’re employing satire and mockery, or we’re using what could be considered extreme or explicit, we’re supposed to do it in such a way that it seasons, or enhances the flavor, of the underlying thought or argument.
So, how should Christians go about doing this? And who might we know that does this effectively today? There have been many satirists over the years. Luther, Erasmus, the Princeton theologians would speak in a mocking tone at times, G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, the list goes on. But in our day and age, I think the current king of satire is Douglas Wilson. In fact, he kinda wrote the book on it. Enter, A Serrated Edge: A Brief Defense of Biblical Satire and Trinitarian Skylarking.
The Amazon description states-
Satire is a kind of preaching. Satire pervades Scripture. Satire treats the foibles of sinners with a less than perfect tenderness. But if a Christian employs satire today, he is almost immediately called to account for his “insensitive” and “unloving” behavior. Yet Scripture shows that the central point of some religious controversies is to give offense. When Christ was confronted with ecclesiastical obstinacy and other forms of arrogance, He showed us a godly pattern for giving offense.
This looks promising to our discussion…
John Frame wrote a stinging review of Wilson’s A Serrated Edge. What Frame took issue with in the book wasn’t necessarily the use of satire, but the fact that Wilson failed to establish that line we, as Christians, should not cross.
This line does in fact exist, as difficult to discern as it might be, and we have plenty of examples of these types of lines that shouldn’t be crossed throughout scripture.
- Consuming alcohol / Drunkenness (Galatians 5:21)
- Eating food / Gluttony (Proverbs 23:20-21)
- Resting / Laziness (Proverbs:30-34, 1 Timothy 5:8)
- Seasoning with Salt / Coarse Jesting (Ephesians 5:4)
Within all these texts, there’s a line in the sand, where righteous behavior is on one side and sinful behavior is on the other, and scripture doesn’t tell us exactly where that line is.
The following quote is basically the crux of Frame’s issue with Wilson’s A Serrated Edge–
What is inadequate in the book, however, is Doug’s account of the principles governing this sharp language. The obvious question is, how does all this fit in with the Bible’s teachings about gentleness, graciousness, and love? Doug tries to answer that, but it is clear that the task is not easy for him. He admits that it is possible to be too nasty, too harsh. We should not attack “with a spirit of malice and selfish hatred”. But he does not describe any signs of malice and hatred, so that we can distinguish good from bad verbal attacks. He says later, “Of course it is possible to sin by means of sarcasm and mocking”. How is that possible? We know it is possible, because the Bible says so, Doug answers. But what does such sin look like, according to the Bible? Doug tells us only that “Before we can answer this question rightly, we have to ask it rightly”, that is by recognizing that there is indeed a time for polemical speech. But then he closes the chapter without any reflection relevant to our question.
Ouch. In the book, Douglas Wilson didn’t go into detail about the line that we as Christians should not cross.
Douglas Wilson must have recognized the validity of the critique, because he laid out principles for defining that line in the sand in a response to John Frame’s review and critique, in a total of 21 different points. Because they’re pertinent to the discussion here, I’m going to post all 21 of them as they appear –
1. A godly satirist should be a member of a worshipping community of orthodox and faithful Christians, and he should live in such a way as to be accountable to others for his words and actions. He should not be the sole judge and arbiter of the words that come from his mouth and keyboard. He should be one who knows how to live fruitfully in community with other Christians (Eph. 5:21).
2. A godly satirist should be steeped in the language and categories of Scripture. This should be done through constant reading and rereading, and/or listening repeatedly to Scripture on audio. Spurgeon said of Bunyan that if you pricked him anywhere, his blood would run bibline. It should be the same here (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
3. A godly satirist should have a warm and affectionate relationship with his wife, sons, daughters, mother, and father. No close member of his family should flinch when he walks into the room (Col. 3:19, 21).
4. A godly satirist should be well-educated, well-read in the kind of literature that he is seeking to contribute to. A good ear comes not only from practice, but also from listening long and thoughtfully to those who are gifted and have practiced the same art. The list would include individuals who are not worthy of imitation in every respect (e.g. Swift, Mencken) and it should include those who are genuine exemplars (e.g. Spurgeon, Chesterton).
5. A godly satirist should study to learn the quantitative boundary between satire and scurrility, knowing from the outset that there is such a boundary. It is easy to pretend that there is no “logical” difference whatever between 37 lashes (sorry! xxxvii lashes) and 42 lashes, but the Scriptures say that the former is not necessarily degrading and the latter necessarily is (Dt. 25:1-3).
6. A godly satirist should study the qualitative difference between satire and scurrility. This is a matter of timbre and tone. No mechanical rules can be set down for it, but it is a very important distinction to make (Heb. 5:14). It is the shrillness or “screech” test. The ability to tell the difference between right and wrong in this kind of thing is a matter of long practice and godly maturity.
7. A godly satirist should not be too young. Paul tells Timothy not to ordain a neophyte, what Tyndale translated as “young scholar” (1 Tim. 3:6). The reason for this is to avoid the snare of the devil. An acid tongue is frequently a diabolical tongue. In his Table Talk, Martin Luther once quoted an old instructor of his who had long wondered how St. Jerome, God’s grouch, had ever gotten saved. But old and crotchety men come from somewhere, and where they come from are young men who were promoted too soon and too rapidly (usually because of native intellectual ability) to positions that then go to their heads. Because satire assumes a stance of rhetorical superiority, there is a real snare in it for certain young men. So native ability is no substitute for seasoned experience. And if I may speak autobiographically here, I was in my thirties before I began using satire in any kind of consistent way, and I was well into my forties before anybody noticed.
8. A godly satirist should target lack of proportion, not exhibit lack of proportion (Matt. 23:24).
9. A godly satirist should look carefully (and regularly) at the effect he is having on younger Christians who know him and desire to imitate him (2 Cor. 11:1). Does their imitation of him lead regularly to relational disasters in their lives? Does their imitation cause one firestorm after another in the church? Or do they, using wisdom, imitate more than just the fact that their mentor occasionally uses satire, and go on to make appropriate distinctions having to do with objects, levels, occasions, warrant, and so on? If the imitator is becoming more and more like the satirist, is this a matter that causes dismay in all godly observers? Or is it something that encourages them?
10. A godly satirist should have long experience in letting love cover a multitude of sins (1 Pet. 4:8). He should not be the kind of man who consistently gets bad service in restaurants. One of his chief characteristics in his day-to-day living should be his patience (Gal. 5:22). Road rage should be an alien temptation for him.
11. A godly satirist should be courageous. Lawful satire is leveled at targets that know how to defend themselves, and that will defend themselves. As King Lune of Archenland put it, “Never taunt a man save when he is stronger than you: then, as you please.” Lawful satire is a challenge to engage; nothing is more unbecoming than to act surprised when the challenge is received and answered. Don’t start what you are not prepared to finish.
12. A godly satirist should be a man who knows how to humble himself in order to seek forgiveness from others for sins he has committed (Jas. 5:16). If he is too proud to humble himself when he has sinned, then he is too proud for this calling.
13. A godly satirist should not be an angry man. His demeanor should generally be jolly, not angry. Man’s anger does not advance God’s righteousness (Jas. 1:20). Anger, even when it is righteous (Eph. 4:26), is like manna and goes bad overnight (Eph. 4:27). Occasions of anger are appropriate (as Christ’s example shows in Mk. 3:5), but if it is an accurate description of a man’s general demeanor, he should not even think about satire.
14. A godly satirist should not have “little man syndrome,” meaning that he should not employ satire because he has something deep inside to prove, usually to his father. If he is trying to make the little voices in his head go away, he should be aware that the use of satire only enflames them.
15. A godly satirist must be free of all envy. James tells us that truly destructive battles occur within the church because of envy (Jas. 4:1-6). This means that a satirist must be sure in his heart that he is not in any envious way dazzled or bewildered by that which he is attacking. The history of polemical exchanges has seen more than a few moralistic denouncers of immorality whose real beef was that they were not getting any. Envy operates on the philosophy that if “I can’t have it, nobody should have it,” and this can easily be expressed through moralistic denunciations. But the prophet Nathan would not have been able to deal with David rightly if Nathan had been secretly desiring Bathsheba for himself. Envious satire is brittle satire, and not very effective.
16. A godly satirist should know the difference between weakness and arrogance, and, as far as possible, reserve his arrows for the latter. No doubt sometimes the former are caught in the crossfire—some simple widow in Israel probably thought that the gold sanctified the altar because her rabbi had told her that. Christ’s words of rebuke were directed at the rabbi, but His words still had a relationship to her. In the same way, if I were to attack some huckster televangelist for telling people to send ten dollars to get an anointed cloth to put on the top of their television in order to juice up the healing power of his weekly show, this attack does affect those simple souls who are getting fleeced. And some of them may indeed take offense because their spiritual master is being insulted. But this is not the intent—the main target needs to be those who know better.
17. A godly satirist needs to read widely in church history, particularly in ancient disputes. This will dislodge the very provincial notion that the current rules of academic etiquette are somehow binding on all generations of the Church. Scripture is the norm, not our current traditions. A good way to check ourselves is by looking at how Scripture was applied by other generations of the Church. C.S. Lewis’s essay on the reading of old books in God in the Dock is apropos here. Other generations are not the authority—Scripture is. But getting to know others who read and apply the same passages you know, but in a very different way, is a healthy spiritual exercise.
18. A godly satirist must love to sing all the psalms that God has given us (Eph. 5:19). Nothing serves like the psalms if the goal is to nurture and restore a vertebrate church. In these days of the invertebrate church, the satirist is thought to be the pestilent fellow, and he is the one who has to be put out in order to restore peace. The object of his satirical observations might be the lesbian bishop who thinks the central message of Romans is about global warming, but the more he says or writes anything about it, the more it is his behavior that is thought to be clearly “unscriptural.” Right—like, who cares about that anymore?
19. A godly satirist should not be stuck on one speed (Ecc. 3:1-8). All satire, all the time, would be tolerable for about forty-five minutes. We are to weep with those who weep, laugh with those who laugh, encourage the downcast, rebuke the arrogant and powerful, comfort the afflicted, and (here is where satire can come in) afflict the comfortable. This means that we cannot have a “one-response-fits-all-situations” approach. If I might be permitted one more personal reference, satire is just a tiny fraction of our ministry here. In other words, I have written not only A Serrated Edge but also My Life For Yours. Satire is just a small portion of what goes on in the pages of Credenda—I suspect that for many, turning to the Cave of Adullam first is a guilty pleasure, and if they don’t read further, they might come to assume that this is all we do. But the principle is that satiric response needs to be held in balance and tension with all the other appropriate responses that Scripture calls us to. And that balance means that satire occupies a clear minority position.
20. A godly satirist should hate what is evil. The fear of God is not only the beginning of knowledge, but it is also defined as the hatred of evil. “The fear of the LORD is to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate” (Prov. 8:14, KJV).
21. A godly satirist should love what is good (Tit. 2:14). He should be motivated by a love that seeks to defend what is noble and right, or weak and defenseless, and not be motivated by a bitterness that seeks to bite and tear (Gal. 5:13-15).
How many of these principles were employed in creating Islamicize Me? Very few.
There is a common theme among Godly satirists, and the theme is always caution. With this caution, there is a wise and gentle toeing of the line of offense. If the propensity is to run at this line while throwing caution to the wind each and every time that satire, mockery, or sarcasm is employed, then eventually that line is going to move and shift into unbiblical obscenity.
And I think that’s where we find ourselves today, sifting through unbiblical obscenities.
One simply has to view the videos of Acts17Apologetics over time to see an increase in the degree of offense, going from “mild” to “edgy” and crossing into “obscene”.
If the biblical language of Ezekiel 23 and Song of Solomon is used as the justification for visually presenting the obscenities shown in the Islamicize Me series, then couldn’t someone simply use the same justification to visually recreate Ezekiel 23 and Song of Solomon? As Vocab stated, “The immoral stuff they didn’t really do.” Are you in the clear if you simply blur out Solomon’s Bride’s two fawns (Song of Solomon 4:5)?
Quoting Vocab, how does someone “show the absurdity of sin, without sinning”, in regards to Ezekiel 23, using a visual medium such as YouTube? Can we all agree that an Egyptian male with the member of a donkey and the issue of a horse is absurd? I think we can. Since that’s the bar or line Acts17Apologetics is employing, does that mean Christians are free to visually represent it? This is your degree of offense that Christians aren’t supposed to surpass, right?
This is what’s being used to justify all of the obscene scenes in Islamicize Me.
The argumentation and justification being employed is akin to an ignorant potty mouth being called out on their cursing, who then points to Philippians 3:8 as their justification.
But Vocab seems to know there is a difference between the words on paper and making the same thing visual, he even stated as much–
It’s one thing to read it on a paper, it’s another to see the act that is commanded in the sources acted out in some sense.
Everyone can agree that there is a line, and that the line that does exist can vary whether the idea is on paper or on video.
But that isn’t being acknowledged.
There’s very little difference in the degree of offense and the justifications being used by Acts17Apologetics and Westboro Baptist Church. In fact, Westboro could probably learn a thing or two from the Islamicize Me and the James White Controversy video and bolster their defense by employing the same justification.
I also think Acts17Apologetics knows that lines were crossed. Regarding a church in Florida that David Wood was scheduled to visit, he revealed some of his personal thoughts prior to the visit from the YouTube video–
Gosh, I hope they haven’t seen Islamicize Me because they’re going to get mad.
David, if you didn’t cross any lines, then why did you think the church would be mad?
The fun short video of the idiots with bricks from above also provides another point, namely, if we go around chucking salt bricks at people’s heads, they’re usually not going to be very responsive after we hit them. This is why discretion is required, and also why we’re called to “season with salt” the main dish, which is the gospel.
I’ll end with a quote that’s found on page 104 of A Serrated Edge–
Of course, in saying all this, there are a few caveats of the “don’t try this at home” variety. I believe that true biblical balance in such things is the fruit of wisdom, and that such balance is not usually found in hot-headed young men who don’t know what spirit they are of (Luke 9:55). Consequently, prophetic rebukes should come from seasoned prophets, from men called to the ministry of guarding those people who belong to the Lord. The work should be done by men of some age and wisdom, and not by novices, firebrands, and zealots.
You see, even a monkey can fling poo, but it takes a seasoned, skilled, and wise artist to use σκύβαλα to paint a mural without soiling their fingers. At this stage in the game, I pray you employ pure water to cleanse your hands.