Religious satire is a form of satire targeted at religious beliefs. From the earliest times, at least since the plays of Aristophanes, religion has been one of the three primary topics of literary satire, along with politics and sex. Satire which targets the clergy is a type of political satire, while religious satire is that which targets religious beliefs.
Religious satire is also sometimes called philosophical satire. Religious satire can be the result of agnosticism or atheism, but it can also have its roots in belief itself. According to religious theorist Robert Kantra, in religious satire, man attempts to violate the divine—it is an effort to play God, in whole or in part—whether under the banner of religion or of humanity. Religious satire surfaced during the Renaissance, with works by Chaucer, Erasmus and Durer.
Examples of religious satire and satirists
Films & documentaries
- Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979)
- Orgazmo by Trey Parker and Matt Stone (1997)
- Dogma by Kevin Smith (1999)
- Saved! by Brian Dannelly (2004)
- Religulous by Larry Charles and Bill Maher (2008)
- Futurama: The Beast with a Billion Backs (2008)
- The Invention of Lying by Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robinson (2009)
- OMG – Oh My God by Umesh Shukla (2012)
- Zarquon is a legendary prophet from Douglas Adams' Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy who was worshipped by a small number of people. His name was used as a substitute for "God."
Literature & publications
- Collection of stories The Canterbury Tales (14th century) by Geoffrey Chaucer
- Essay The Praise of Folly (1509) by Desiderius Erasmus
- Novel A Tale of a Tub (1704) by Jonathan Swift
- Robert Burns poem Holy Willie's Prayer (1785), which is an attack on religious hypocrisy
- Letters from the Earth, book of essays by Mark Twain
- Christian satire and humor magazine The Wittenburg Door (since 1971)
- Robert A. Heinlein's novel Job: A Comedy of Justice (1984)
- Christopher Moore's absurdist novel Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal (2002)
- The controversial "Islamophobic" Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons (2005)
Plays & musicals
- Tartuffe (1664) by Molière
- Inherit the Wind (1955), which fictionalizes the Scopes Monkey Trial of the 1920s
- Jerry Springer: The Opera, notable for its irreverent treatment of Judeo-Christian themes
- A Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant (2003), which makes fun of L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology
- Altar Boyz (2005) Off-Broadway musical about Christian Boysband
- Saturday's Voyeur is a parody of life in Utah and Mormon culture
- The Book of Mormon (2011) A broadway production about two young Mormon Missionaries sent to Uganda, written by South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker
- Futurama episode "A Pharaoh to Remember" features a religious ceremony in which a priest chants, "Great Wall of Prophecy, reveal to us God's Will, that we might blindly obey!" and celebrants answer, "Free us from thought and responsibility."
- South Park has satirized Christianity, Mormonism, Judaism, Islam, Scientology, and other religions
- Family Guy has satirized elements of Christianity and other religions in several episodes
- Satirical Australian documentary miniseries John Safran vs God (2004)
- British sitcom Father Ted, which lampooned the role of the Catholic Church in Ireland
- Princess Clara of Drawn Together is a devout Christian who is often used to lampoon conservative Christian viewpoints
- Ned Flanders of The Simpsons is an Evangelical Christian who practices sola scriptura
On the web
- Sinfest, an internet comic strip by Tatsuya Ishida that frequently stresses religious issues (since 2000)
- Semiweekly comic Jesus and Mo (since 2005)
- Comedic short film series Mr. Deity, which stars God, his assistant, Jesus, Lucifer, and several other characters from the Bible (since 2006)
- The LOLCat Bible Translation Project, a wiki-based project by Martin Grondin (since 2007)
- The Flying Spaghetti Monster is the deity of the "Pastafarian" parody religion, which asserts that a supernatural creator resembling spaghetti with meatballs is responsible for the creation of the universe. Its purpose is to mock intelligent design.
- The Invisible Pink Unicorn is a goddess which takes the form of a unicorn that is paradoxically both invisible and pink. These attributes serve to satirize the apparent contradictions in properties which some attribute to a theistic God, specifically omniscience, omnipotence, and omnibenevolence.
- Discordianism is centered around the ancient Greco-Roman goddess of chaos, Eris, but draws much of its tone from Zen Buddhism, Christianity, and the beatnik and hippie countercultures of the 1950s and 1960s (respectively). Its main holy book, the Principia Discordia contains things such as a commandment to "not believe anything that you read," and a claim that all statements are both true and false at the same time.
- The Church of the SubGenius pokes fun at many different religions, particularly Scientology, Televangelism (and its associated scandals), and other modern beliefs.
- The worship of "Ceiling Cat" among Lolcats. Ceiling Cat's enemy is Basement Cat, a black cat representing the devil.
- Dectrip, the worship of the deity Inglip, is a mock religion/cult in which followers (known as Gropagas) communicate with Inglip through randomly generated reCAPTCHA images often found before making a post on the internet. Inglip comics, a branch of the popular rage comics, have become somewhat of an Internet meme.
- The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a street performance organization that uses Catholic imagery to call attention to sexual intolerance and satirize issues of gender and morality.
- The Brick Testament, a project in which the stories of the Bible are illustrated with Lego.
- Purim Torah, traditional parodies of Jewish life written out, and/or acted out, for the holiday of Purim.
Reactions, criticism and censorship
Religious satire has been criticised by those who feel that sincerely held religious views should not be subject to ridicule. In some cases religious satire has been censored - for example, Molière's play Tartuffe was banned in 1664.
The film Life of Brian was initially banned in Ireland, Norway, some states of the USA, and some towns and councils of the United Kingdom. In an interesting case of life mirroring art, activist groups who protested the film during its release bore striking similarities to some bands of religious zealots within the film itself. Like much religious satire, the intent of the film has been misinterpreted and distorted by protesters. According to the Pythons, Life of Brian is not a critique of religion so much as an indictment of the hysteria and bureaucratic excess that often surrounds it.
The issue of freedom of speech was hotly debated by the UK Parliament during the passing of the Religious Hatred Bill in January 2006. Critics of the original version of the Bill (such as comedian Rowan Atkinson) feared that satirists could be prosecuted, but an amendment by the House of Lords making it clear that this was not the case was passed - by just one vote.
In 2006, Rachel Bevilacqua, a member of the Church of the SubGenius, known as Rev. Magdalen in the SubGenius hierarchy, lost custody and contact with her son after a district court judge took offense at her participation in the Church's X-Day festival.
Richard Dawkins frequently points out that there is no reason to exclude religion from objective studying as any other social phenomena.
- Hodgart (2009) p.39
- Clark (1991) pp.116-8 quotation:
...religion, politics, and sexuality are the primary stuff of literary satire. Among these sacret targets, matters costive and defecatory play an important part. ... from the earliest times, satirists have utilized scatological and bathroom humor. Aristophanes, always livid and nearly scandalous in his religious, political, and sexual references...
- Clark, John R. and Motto, Anna Lydia (1973) Satire--that blasted art p.20
- Clark, John R. and Motto, Anna Lydia (1980) Menippeans & Their Satire: Concerning Monstrous Leamed Old Dogs and Hippocentaurs, in Scholia satyrica, Volume 6, 3/4, 1980 p.45 quotation:
[Chapple's book Soviet satire of the twenties]...classifying the very topics his satirists satirized: housing, food, and fuel supplies, poverty, inflation, "hooliganism," public services, religion, stereotypes of nationals (the Englishman, German, &c), &c. Yet the truth of the matter is that no satirist worth his salt (Petronius, Chaucer, Rabelais, Swift, Leskov, Grass) ever avoids man's habits and living standards, or scants those delicate desiderata: religion, politics, and sex.
- All Things Vain: Religious Satirists and Their Art, Robert Kantra, 1984
- Vicar supports Life of Brian ban
- Dyke, C: Screening Scripture, pp. 238-240. Trinity Press International, 2002
- "The Secret Life of Brian". 2007.
- "Votes on the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill". 2006.