Krampus: one of the traditions of South Tyrol (Northern Italy)
Photo by Alessio Zaccaria / Unsplash

It appears that the Evil One has no sense of humor. Perhaps that's why laughter is so powerful

That time of year is on its way. Halloween, that is, a time of devils and demons and all things enticingly evil.

As far as retail is concerned,  Hell's Highway to Halloween started on July 4th, with witches and goblins taking up end caps in every major retailer in the country. Scary movies again, Dracula and all the rest. In my house, we have the annual return of Jack Skellington and The Nightmare Before Christmas.

For many believers, All Hallow's Eve conjures up Night on Bald Mountain and Danse Macabre, music to chill us right to the bone before the warming dawn of All Saints' Day. A lot of us use Halloween to make fun of evil or deny it even exists.

That may not be such a good idea.

For those of us who like a good yarn and are fans of The Gladiator's Russell Crowe, there's the recent Netflix release of his most recent film, The Pope's Exorcist. The movie is based on the real life story of Vatican exorcist Father Gabriele Amorth, who was called into exorcism at the age of sixty after many years as both a lawyer and a journalist. That early training served him well. His many books are instructive about the reality and role of evil in the world.

I've watched the movie twice. A few things stood out for me, particularly as the message resonates with the rise of personality cults and social media.

Perhaps the biggest message is one of the movie's lines, "the devil hates jokes."

Let's play with that.

One joke may be Crowe himself, who at this point is doing this kind of meh movie after a terrific career dotted with Oscar-winning performances. The Rolling Stone posed that question in its movie review- what's a guy like this doing in a movie like that?

They have a point, because the material initially feels a bit beneath him. However, like Peter O'Toole in My Favorite Year, he lends gravitas to the role by being very funny, and by having done his research. The main character's whiskey flask, Vesper and irreverent humor make the exorcist a great deal more believable for that very reason.

Yet when you get past the cheap sensationalism that is part and parcel of a possession movie, the underlying message is incredibly timely. It may well be that the larger message is what inspired Crowe to take on the role.

Humor kills evil stone dead.

Crowe's reading of Amorth's work, a man who conducted some 60,000 Vatican's exorcisms, gave him the insight for the humor as well as the deadly serious nature of  evil. Crowe was shaken by Amorth's writings, but he was also struck by the humor. That brings up some thoughts about personal power, laughter, and the role of hilarity in unraveling evil.

As a lapsed never-quite-a-Catholic, I'm not a believer. I have faith aplenty, but not informed by any particular dogma. Still, I'm drawn to rituals and rites for the comfort they can offer when we need distraction from an anxious monkey mind.

I absolutely believe in the existence of evil, which manifests itself through us, as does the sacred.

What we call it isn't as important as recognizing its existence, which, as Amorth pointed out, is where we gain our agency.  

"When we jeer at the devil and tell ourselves that he does not exist, that is when he is happiest."
-Father Gabriele Amorth

By denying evil, or in the church's lexicon, the devil, we empower evil.  When we deny our own propensity for evil, which exists in all of us, we allow it to take root and thrive like kudzu. What we deny, thrives. What we resist, persists.

Nothing I'm saying is new, I'm just coming at it from the angle of using the funny bone as the blunt but highly-effective weapon of choice.

I write regularly about the demons in our emotional basements. In the same way that the demon portrayed in The Pope's Exorcist uses guilt and shame from the lives of the priests to torment them, our personal demons harangue us about how unworthy we are of love.

That is pure evil- that we would believe such a lie. We were worthy at the moment of our birth.

There are plenty of people who are plenty evil. Perhaps our best current exhibit is the one with some 91 indictments against him right now. Our naïveté and utter disregard for the proof of pure evil right in front of us is precisely what has allowed that evil to flourish in so many forms, and spread like the aforenamed invasive plant.

It's also one reason why the person in question (wanna guess?) is famous for having zero sense of humor, most especially about himself, and sets about ruining and wiping out anyone who made fun of him.

In case you are in serious need of a good guffaw along those lines, kindly see this:

Something to that. People who take themselves so seriously are doomed to a most unhappy life. They perpetrate untold damage on others, especially when they see others' laughter and genuine and joie de vivre as a personal threat. They despise people who are at ease with self-effacing humor. Those denote humility and self-confidence, which they don't possess.

Just look at the behavior of dictators, from the abusive father to the bad governor to the tinpot dictator who cannot countenance a good poke in the ribs. They will kill all the political cartoonists or purge anyone who says a single word against them.

What terrorizing insecurity drives such people.

Humor is a super power. I poke myself in the ribs all the time. Hell, I have to. I've got plenty of material all day every day.

If I want proof that God/the Goddess has a sense of humor, all I have to do is look in my bathroom mirror first thing in the morning. I've got no teeth, eight bright silver metal bumps in my gums, and my hair looks like I stuck my thumb into the electric shaver outlet.

Look, that IS funny. Any creator, be it God or Goddess or The Great Stinkbug, has GOT to have a sense of humor. I mean, look at the platypus. Was that the result of a few too many Immortal Mai-Tais?

YES I stole that from the great Robin. Let's let him tell it:

Look at us as we age. Who came up with giving men boobs, and giving women beards? We wake up with an entire outdoor rug in our noses right about the time we can't see well enough to mow it regularly? We end up with an entire boreal forest in our ear canals right about the time we can barely hear a fire alarm?

Are you kidding me?

Yes. Apparently so. If you and I can't laugh at life, at what life does to us, at the absurdities which are inevitable, at the aging process, for heaven's sake WHAT IS THE POINT?

One of the most beautiful examples of this is the now-departed Eugene writer Cai Emmons. Emmons suffered two years of agonzing ALS with great good humor, right up to her dying moment. She was full of life and love and laughter and gratitude in the face of so much pain and loss.

She stared down the worst and chortled her way right to the end of her life. Cai transformed everyone around her including this writer. She was grateful for every living moment, and filled her life with laughter until the very last.

My god, that's powerful. That's life lived in full, no matter what. If you want real riches, let's start right there.

Photo by Surface / Unsplash

Mastery lives, and loves, in laughter.

The devil hates jokes, Amorth said.

One of the things he talks about quite a lot in the books, he says the devil doesn't have a sense of humor. The devil hates jokes. But the one thing that the devil looks for is the people who instead of jeering directly at the devil, jeer at the concept of a devil, because if they start to believe evil doesn't exist, they're the people that are available to evil, potentially.
- Russell Crowe, "The Pope's Exorcist"

Humor in the face of adversity unties the knots of negativity and fear which bind us. When we cackle at what threatens us, we can physically feel the threads unraveling, the freedom flowing through our bodies. Humor allows us to think creatively, find solutions, see what we were previously unable to see.

There are all those great football stories. Quarterbacks with their teams backed up against their own goal lines, who made their guys laugh. Then they drove their teams down the field and won the game anyway. The Drive. The 49ers.

Humor. Is. Power.

Humor is the nitrous oxide gas to our emotional engine.

Yes, I've seen too many Mad Max movies. So shoot me.

Years ago I was in the grip of terrible eating disorders. Like many with a closet illness, I was consumed by shame. Many of us hold closely to our humiliation, for whatever ills we have done ourselves and others. That compulsion feeds on itself, nurturing self-hate and guilt. What a nurturing landscape for evil. Yet the moment we can frame our terrible failings in the light of laughter, they instantly begin to lose their power, and evil's power over us.

I attended a workshop on humor, as I've written about before. The most powerful takeaway was  to take the worst memory you could imagine, and give it to your favorite comedian.

That's precisely what I did. I took one of the most cringe-worthy moments in my life (there are thousands of them, believe me) and lobbed it to Robin Williams. In my mind's eye, he instantly turned it into laugh fodder. His version of MY  MOST SHAMEFUL MOMENT was so funny I nearly hurt myself.

It was one of the most profoundly transformational events of my life.

That was the beginning of the end of forty years of eating disorders. Not long afterwards I invited that habit out of my life forever. I tell that story regularly because it gives others permission to de-fang the demons which keep us in thrall.

When evil/the devil hurls your worst moments at you and you turn them into jokes, evil has no power here.

Humour is, in fact, a prelude to faith; and laughter is the beginning of prayer.
- Reinhold Niebuhr

When comedians like Robin Williams and Richard Pryor turn their stories of addiction into comedy, they are healing themselves and us right along with them.

Humor heals, laughter lifts, and hilarity hurls evil out the door.

Humble and human come from the same Latin base word, humus, of the earth. Humor arises from the Latin word for moisture. Humility keeps us grounded, humor keeps us flowing.

I've seen it at work in my life. The more injuries and surgeries the last few years, the more pain and frustration, the more I've turned to humor. Humor uplifts me, keeps me going no matter what. AND.

Every so often my funny bone rolls under the couch for a while and I have trouble finding it. Pain and loss will do that. Despair has a sacred purpose. But like Emmons, you find that bad boy and wield it again like Conan the Barbarian.

You don't have to agree. However: what's the cost of taking life so seriously?

What is the cost of a life lived without laughter?

A bitter, brutal, broken life.

Do you limit your laughter to Certain Times, just like many folks limit God time to Certain Times, like, a few minutes on Sunday? If that, assuming they're not scrolling while the priest is extolling?

A good friend of mine wisely said, all time is God's time. Or the Goddess, the Great Stinkbug. Doesn't matter. All time belongs to forces far greater than we know. We're just renting here. We own nothing but our thoughts, our emotions, reactions.

The way I see it, why limit humor, joy and the release a good giggle can afford us to one comedy night a month?

So much of what we take so seriously is a Cosmic joke. Humanity itself is a cosmic joke. Just look at how we have managed to trash paradise. We were given this incredible, beautiful world, we've decimated it, ourselves and the wildlife we were gifted. Now people are wailing to be saved from the destruction WE created on the planet WE were bequeathed in all its incredible beauty.

What's not funny about that? We're ridiculous. Having a sense of humor about it allows us a way forward. But wait...we wanna go WHERE?

Now we want to take our trailer trash species to MARS? I'm sure whoever is out there watching us wreck the planet and litter the space around our poor blue marble can't wait for us to show up.

That's a whole HBO comedy special for ya right there (or just revisit George Carlin).

For us, right here, right now, let's find the MAD Magazine version of our lives. Let's learn how to see our ridiculousness through the eyes of our favorite comedians, or whatever allows you to see the silly. After all, many if not most of them found their way to great humor via great tragedy.

Many found a way to look evil right in the eye and laugh long and hard. Nothing strips evil of its power so fast as humor, joy and the humility of gratitude.

Evil isn't some entity outside us. It lives inside us, the twin to our sacredness, It has a purpose. We get to choose which of those to feed.

Humor is tragedy plus time. Real personal power is the ability to see the comedy in tragedy even as it happens, as Cai Emmons did.

Amorth wrote:

Each of us becomes what we see, what we listen to, and what we read.

Faith finds foundation in humor, which is in alignment with the Almighty. Above all humor is deeply rooted in humility. When we can let go of our attachment to our self-importance, we find the touchstone of real power. The rest are false trappings, the commerce of evil.

Humor is celebration of life, amid all the rest of the dumpster fires we get to juggle. And because I can't resist going back to my early Catholic roots,

Humor is the holy water of life. Drink up.

Photo by Isaiah McClean / Unsplash

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