“Wipe that smile off your stupid face. Stop laughing, right now. It is not funny. This is serious.” Sometimes people take themselves far too seriously. Every issue that arises has to be alarming and enraging. There is no subtly or room for questions. We are in a cultural war and you are either with us or against us. That is the mindset that some people are in. In a day in which everybody is taking themselves and everything around them so seriously, a Christian satire website such as the Babylon Bee offers bit of comic relief. During a tumultuous election cycle when people are staring at the television, fearing for their lives and their safety, the Bee might pop up on their newsfeed with an article titled Trump Reveals Plan To Be Sworn In On Copy of Playboy Magazine. However, since the Bee was founded by the Calvinist author Adam Ford of Adam4d, the articles are written from a Christian perspective, sometimes criticizing other points of view. It has therefore been the recipient of criticism from those who were offended by their posts. In responding to these critics, there is much that can be said in defense of the Babylon Bee.
It seems that one of the primary criticisms is that the Babylon Bee provides a cheap laugh at the expense of others, never looking inwardly and only critiquing and caricaturing those with whom they disagree. They mock and ridicule other points of view and reaffirm their own. People will read their posts and be reminded that they were right all along, sneering at those silly non-believers down below. As Tyler Standley said in his article, What Would Jesus Parody? “…Like a sword in the hands of a lunatic, Adam’s technique is to thrash without precision, to mock without understanding.” Or in Jonathan Hollingsworth article, The Babylon Bee, Transphobia, And Why Christian Satire Still Misses The Mark, “Satire that punches down, rather than up, is not only ignorant — it’s oppressive.” The criticism is simple. The Babylon Bee targets those who are down, stomps their boot into their back and howls in laughter, providing an invitation to all to join in ridicule, and they gladly oblige. However, there are good reasons that these criticisms of the Bee do not stand up to scrutiny.
Does The Babylon Bee Look Inwardly?
Introspection is one of the signs of a good comic. People love Jerry Seinfeld because he points out minute details of society and mocks it. He is looking at his own world and criticizing it. Similarly, a good satire website will be able to laugh at its’ own point of view and the behavior of its’ adherents. Hollingsworth argues that in this respect, the Babylon Been has missed the mark. He writes, “What’s becoming increasingly apparent, however, is that The Babylon Bee isn’t challenging Christian cultural norms as much as it’s reinforcing them.” Those aspects of evangelicalism or Calvinism that could be critiqued are apparenty untouched by the Bee.
However, for readers of the Bee, this critique may come as something of a surprise. After all, in Hollingsworth’s own article, he cited a few articles that very much challenged Christian cultural norms, one of them being Holy Spirit Unable To Move Through Congregation As Fog Machine Breaks. The norm is that Christians tend to manufacture an environment in which they feel like they are being spiritual. The Bee is replete with articles just like that which challenge Christian norms.
Of course, Hollingsworth may object that these are not good enough. It is easy enough for a Calvinist to challenge the norms of mainline evangelicalism. That is not really looking inwardly. Well, first, the Bee’s audience will primarily be mainline evangelicals. There is no reason to think that a Christian who attended that sort of church could not read it and laugh at themselves. Second, the Bee does critique Calvinist norms. Articles such as
•MacArthur To Build Wall To Keep Out Charismatics
•Unconfirmed: Calvinist Laughs At Joke
•Animal Control Corrals Cage Stage Calvinist After Biting Incident
•Local Calvinists Sense of Superiority Visible From Space
They do challenge the norms and behavior of Calvinism. In fact, if these posts were replaced with terms such as “liberal” or “Obama” Hollingsworth might write about how offensive they were.
An Outlet For Transphobic Rhetoric
However, Hollingsworth is not concerned with the Bee’s critique of Calvinistic norms. These white, male Calvinists are among the privileged class and they are pushing around the little guy. In this case, even referring to them as the little guy might be offensive because it comes with the gender-binary presuppositions. The Babylon Bee and in the comics of Adam4D have used humor to provide critiques of the culture. Hollingsworth is particularly concerned with their pieces about transgenderism. So the narrative goes: members of the LGBT movement have been pushed around by Christians for far too long. The Babylon Bee is providing an outlet for bullying, and people think it is okay, because it is in the form of comedy. “It is just a joke,” so Hollingsworth has been told. He objects to this because it apparently wards off criticism.
While it is a joke, it is more than a joke. It is a serious commentary about the state of our culture and how it is negatively impacting the minds of the masses. People think that it is acceptable to identify as something that is clearly false. Any dissident voice is seen as preventing people from being who they truly are. But if somebody has a mental disorder such that a biological man thinks he is a woman, the best recourse is not to encourage him by calling those who want to help bigots. The best recourse is to actually provide help. Instead, our culture has raised an affirmative voice, encouraging men to dress as women and to say that they truly are women, all in the name of sexual freedom. In their satire, the Babylon Bee is shining a light on the absurdity and helping people to think rationally about difficult, emotional issues. The Bee is not just making fun of this demographic. It is making a saliant point. The fact that Hollingsworth disagrees with that point does not mean that there is any bigotry.
Bigotry occurs when somebody refuses to tolerate people who hold a particular point of view or fall into a particular demographic. It does not occur when you express dissidence toward that point of view. People can disagree with one another and still tolerate one another. The entire theme behind critiques such as the Bee’s is that human beings are made in the image of God and they possess intrinsic moral worth. They are degrading themselves, pursuing things that will never fulfill them. Rather than offering a helping hand, society offers fake compassion by encouraging them to pursue the fruit of a mental disorder. That is what the Bee is highlighting.
Is The Bee Close-Minded?
In What Would Jesus Parody? Standley argued that the founder of the Bee and its’ authors are close-minded and encourage others to behave likewise. He writes, “By portraying his “enemies” as the kind of people who do not listen or understand, Adam sets the standard for his own interaction with them.” In many of Adam4D’s cartoons, he portrays hypothetical conversations with people who hold a different point of view. The people who read his website are not scholars. Relativists with whom we typically engage will not have interacted with an abundance of literature. Similarly, a site dedicated to creating webcomics cannot be expected to thoroughly engage with every argument. It is a brief representation of a possible or popular point of view. To say that he is creating caricatures because his portrayals do not represent the height scholarly relativism is too heavy of a demand to make of a webcomic.
Second, I am not sure what Standley means when he says that Adam4D “demands that you close your minds to the possibility of being wrong.” He is not citing a particular comic. He is drawing an inference from the overall theme of Adam4D and the Bee. But the fact that somebody defends a particular point of view does not mean that they have closed their mind to being wrong. Further, there are some things are so well-established that the possibility that one could be wrong is minimal. Your mind might be closed to the possibility of the brain-in-a-vat scenario, or to the possibility that 2+2 equals something other than 4, or that the dinosaurs existed. Defending a point of view that is established does not mean that one’s mind is closed. Apart from actually creating a relativistic webcomic, I am not sure what could satisfy the demands of this criticism.
What About Anti-Intellectualism?
In this comic, Adam4d shares a quote from Charles Spurgeon, which says, “Visit many good books, but live in the Bible.” In this case, he is continuing the long intellectual tradition of the Christian church by encouraging his audience to read books and to read the Bible. Yet Standley made the argument that Adam4d has anti-intellectual tendencies because he portrays some of his opponents with shirts that read “wicked smart” or something to that effect. Apparently, the antagonist in this tale is the smart guy, while the hero is the Christian. But the fact that he is wearing a shirt that says “wicked smart” could speak more to the perceived ego of the person to whom he is speaking rather than of Adam4D’s opinion of being intelligent.
Standley made the same mistake by misinterpreting several articles from the Babylon Bee. In Seminarian Unable To Locate Bible Among Towering Stacks Of Theology Books the author was not condemning the use of theology books or education. He was condemning a confused priority, prioritizing those theology books over God’s word. Theologians can easily fall into the trap of focusing more on the academic element of faith than on God himself. Second, in the post Sinister Plot To Expose The Bible Literally Exposed, the Bee was pointing out how scandalous it was becoming to hold a literal interpretation of Scripture. Whether you agree or disagree with that theme, it is still not anti-intellectualism. Third, the post Local Graduate Now Referring To Any Mention of The Bible As Legalism is about how people misuse the word “legalism” rather than about the fact that he was a graduate.
It seems a little ironic that in every case that Standley accused the Bee of anti-intellectualism, he was just misinterpreting them. It is almost as though he was actively looking for examples of anti-intellectualism, and behold, he found them.
Criticizing Evangelicals Is The New Black
Evangelicals are portrayed as malevolent, close-minded oppressors, having a laugh at the expense of the little guy. If you want to gain a lot of traffic, find a popular Christian website and jot down a few criticisms of how they fit those old stereotypes. In this case, the Babylon Bee is anti-intellectual, bigoted, close-minded, transphobic, and does no introspection. If any of that sounds familiar, it is because it is the same stereotype that people hold of Christians. It might be true in some cases, but in many, it is not. It is something like holding the assumption that women are bad drivers. It appears that Standley and Hollingsworth have both made assumptions about what the Babylon Bee must be and looked for validation of those assumptions. Is it any surprise that those assumptions are the very same ones that people always made about Christians?