What We Laugh At (C.S. Lewis The Screwtape Letters 11)

I love to laugh. I think laughter is a great gift, should be done often, and with the whole heart. But, it seems our world increasingly uses laughter in a negative way. By negative I mean we use it to deal with everyone and everything. We dismiss even the most serious moments of life with a joke. We have trouble taking anything seriously.

In The Screwtape Letters, the demon Screwtape continues to help his nephew destroy human beings in Letter 11. He says humor is a great means of “destroying shame.” We do not feel bad about what we have done if we can laugh at it. We can say the meanest things and then disguise our meanness by claiming we were only joking. In fact, we can compound our meanness by asking someone, “Can’t you take a joke?”

The demon Screwtape says the easiest way to destroy a person is by getting him to realize that his behavior will be excused if he can turn it into a joke. So, cruelty is not so bad if it is just a practical joke. Cowardice is shameful unless it is a funny kind of cowardice.

I think we have to be careful about what we laugh at. If we are not, we may find we are laughing at all the wrong things. Which is not a great distance from accepting things we ought not accept.


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