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Lecture discusses Jesus’ humanity

Megan Loney | Thursday, March 26, 2009

“We know that Jesus ate and drank, and put up with exasperating apostles, but we do not know if Jesus laughed,” said Anita Houck, Saint Mary’s College Associate Professor of Religious Studies who spoke Wednesday for a lecture titled “Did Jesus Laugh?” at 4:30 p.m. in the Student Center.

We know that there have been stories of Jesus’ laughter, but none that were accepted into the Canon with the church follows. We cannot turn to the Bible to find the answer, Houck continued.

The talk was the second installment in a three-part spring lecture series called “Hope Hard Times” sponsored by the Center for Spirituality. The topic focuses on the benefits of spirituality amid the uncertainty of the current economic crisis.

One thing is undisputed: Jesus was human. And to be fully human, Jesus had to laugh like people, Houck said.

“To attribute laughter to Jesus, we cannot go straight from ‘he was human’ to ‘he had to have laughed.’ We have to add the premise that it is good for humans to laugh,” said Houck.

To support her claim that laughter is good, Houck listed a variety of reasons centering around its importance to relationships: old-fashioned joy, comic relief, inside jokes, laughter as a sign of common humanity and as a way to ward of evil and as a way to express the human side of the church.

Like Jesus, Houck practiced the lessons she preached: While speaking about the benefits of laughter, she entertained the audience by feeding them opportunities for humor throughout the lecture.

Using a video clip of MIT mathematician Tom Lehrer’s satirical “Vatican Rag,” a humorous list titled “Why God Never Received Tenure at Any University,” and several cartoons, Houck demonstrated the capacity for laughter, as the room erupted at inside jokes aimed at Catholicism.

“One function of humor is to build community,” Houck said. Inside jokes bring people together.

But humor has had a bad reputation with religion, since the occasional mean-spirited intent clashes with virtue. This is one reason why it is difficult for us to accept that Jesus laughed, said Houck.

“It would be dishonest to say that laughter is always put to good use,” Houck said.

“Despite humor’s negative reputation, it is worth remembering that there are all kinds of laughter, and they can express all types of relationships,” she continued.

Houck used quotes from G.K Chesterton, Mark Twain, Albert Einstein, Thomas Aquinas and William James to transition through her points.

She concluded her lecture with a quote from G.K. Chesterton: “You must have mirth or you will have madness.”