Monday, December 10, 2012

So, Shall We Speak Sarcasm?

"Speak the truth in love, so that we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ."
Ephesians 4:15 

     This is a hotly debated topic in the realm of Christian Literature. Should Christians, who are to embody Christ in every way, use literary techniques that are often used as derogatory or spiteful? While it may seem clear at first that both satire and sarcasm should be immediately thrown out as contrary to Christ’s mode of communication, you may find that the water isn’t quite as clear as you might think.
     First, as always let’s define two terms: Satire - a work of literature that exposes, though ridicule or rebuke, a fault in society – often using wit as a shield, and Sarcasm – mode of speech or a literary technique that uses irony to the extreme by saying one thing and meaning another; often used to mock or deride, or in order to make a joke. Satire uses techniques like irony, exaggeration and parody to make its point, which is usually the presence of a social ill (Animal Farm, the works of Jonathan Swift, and much of Mark Twain’s works are all forms of Satire). Sarcasm is when irony is used to an extreme in a method that means the exact opposite of what is said. “Yeah, right” is sarcasm; you say yes, but mean no. Usually you can only tell sarcasm by the tone and context.
     Let’s start off with satire, which is much more straightforward (by definition) than sarcasm. The number one question in regard to satire is, “Did Christ use satire?” The answer is yes. Matthew 23 (“Woe to you, oh you scribes and Pharisees…”) is an almost perfect example of harsh or Juvenalian satire, which does not employ humor. Matthew 23 is an exposure of a fault in society through rebuke. The next question, invariably, is, “Should we use satire?” This is a little tougher. The argument could be made that by using satire we are emulating Christ. I saw a quote once - I don’t know who it’s by though; “When someone asks you ‘What Would Jesus Do,' remind them flipping tables is a viable option.” Sure, Christ used satire, but do you think in our sinful nature we would be able to emulate His heart as well? Because that is what it boils down to - your heart.
     Sarcasm is much less cut and dried. You can certainly call 1 Corinthians 4:8–13 sarcasm, depending on your definition. Paul is saying one thing, while meaning quite the opposite. “We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ.” The Corinthian church had many heart issues, not the least of which was pride. Their pride had gotten to the point where a simple warning would no longer suffice. The tone of this passage grabs your attention, and makes you look twice. But, again, we have to look at the heart. Paul is giving the rebuke in love. He knows that this is the best way to emphasize his point. He is not mocking the Corinthians, but giving them what they need to hear in order to stop sinning.
      “Ah-ha! The end justifies the means, and the heart is more important then the sin!” That isn't what I said. Sarcasm isn't a sin; nowhere in scripture does it condemn sarcasm or satire. We are told that ‘sweet words are a honeycomb’ (Proverbs 16:24), and to ‘spur one another on to love and good deeds’ (Hebrews 10:24); our speech is to be used to help each other get closer to emulating Christ. What was the context in both Matthew 23 and 1 Corinthians 4? People were sinning, and were not listening to a gentle rebuke. Spur is not a gentle verb; the image associated with ‘spurring’ something is to dig a piece of metal into a horse’s side in order to make him go forward. If you know about riding, you also know that a gentle touch is usually all that is necessary to move the horse. But sometimes a firm touch or even a kick is needed to get the horse going. Sarcasm is like gluttony. If the heart of your actions - whether eating or speaking - is not honoring to Christ, it is sin. We pray before a meal to remind ourselves to be thankful for God’s blessings; we should also pray before reprimanding, to remind ourselves to have a Christ-like heart.
     Both satire and sarcasm are techniques used by writers and layman alike to convey points that would otherwise be overlooked. But with every method of communication, there is the danger of an attitude of pride, spite, laughing at a person’s mistakes and using a person’s low position to raise yourself higher. I am not going to say, "Sarcasm is fine," or "Sarcasm is bad." I am going to point to Ephesians 4:15 and merely say ‘speak the truth in love,’ and let you figure out the way God will have you do that best.

     Leaping Lizard

-Many of the literary terms I have picked up through high school Literature, particularly “Words of Delight,” by Leland Ryken, which is a great introduction to the use of literary techniques in the Bible.

     Author/Editor’s note; Some of you may remember this article I wrote a while back;, especially the third and fourth paragraphs, and noticed a slight disparity in the conclusions. This merely illustrates that we are still growing in our knowledge and understanding of the scripture, and our communicative skills are still developing, the conclusions (I being the writer) actually are the same, but as my grasp of the English language has increased, I have realized the importance of the selection of the words I use, and their definitions. I was using a different definition of sarcasm, and the emphasis of the article was different and therefore the words I used were different. This also shows that we need to always compare what we hear with Scripture. The Thought Box staff does not have all the answers, nor do we pretend to. We chose ‘The Thought Box’ as our name because that is what we strive to do: inspire thoughtfulness in our readers, and push them to find the answers in scripture.

Image by Leaping Lizard


  1. Hello! Does the frequency of your posting depend on specific things or you work on articles when you have an inspiration or you create in case you have time? Many thanks in advance for your answer.

    1. Thanks for your comment!

      Generally articles are published on a specific rotation, Mondays and Thursdays right now, that is subject to change depending on he number of writers and the time they have to contribute. Article subjects are generally predetermined, but we are working on a system that will allow readers to contribute ideas.

      I hope that answers your questions!