Thursday, December 08, 2005

Satire or just plain scary?

Burt Prelutsky, humor columnist and movie critic for LA Magazine has a new column on the Jews who stole Christmas (posted on the blog

I admit that, until this morning, I was unfamiliar with Prelutsky's work and, since the description of "humor columnist" doesn't appear until you reach the column's footer, I read merrily along, taking Prelutsky at face value. Without question, the mark of good satire is something that, while ridiculous, can also be believed to be true. And in this Prelutsky has succeeded.
But, in this case, is this really such a good thing? Should we be encouraged that something written to lampoon cries of 'anti-Christian sentiment' may be (mis)used to fuel them, or just depressed? Prelutsky's column brought to mind a similarly confusing experience I had earlier this week:

…perhaps two or three illustrations will sufficiently indicate this disturbing trend which if it remains unchecked will make those who are opposed to traditional religion into second-class citizens. A few months ago, for instance, a sub-committee of the House of Representatives included in a Concurrent Resolution the amazing proposition that ‘loyalty to God’ is an essential qualification for the best government service. ‘Service of any person in any capacity in or under the government,’ the legislators officially asserted, ‘should be characterised by devotion to God.’…Another resolution making ‘In God We Trust’ the national motto of the United States has been passed by both Houses and is now the law of the land

That was written by Paul Edwards in 1956 as part of the Editor's Introduction to "Why I am not a Christian", a collection of essays (including the one for which the book is titled) by Bertrand Russell. It wasn't until I reached the final page of the introduction, and saw the date, that I had any inkling whatsoever that it wasn't penned in 2003 (the same year as the the preface by Simon Blackburn which immediately preceeds it in the Routledge Classics Edition).

To my mind, there's something scary about not being able to distinguish religious satire from reality, or the religious activism of the 1950s from that of today. Perhaps I'm just easily confused. Then again, the official motto of the United States, half a century later, remains "In God We Trust."


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