God and Laughing

God loves laughter. Humor makes us laugh because it triggers delighted surprise to hear that things we fear – being alone, being unloved, being ridiculed  – aren’t as awful as it seems. And when it is awful, it isn’t as serious as we thought it was. When God gave us a sense of humor, He was telling us not to be so afraid. ~R. Trotter, The Upside Down World

I have a real soft spot for humor. It is one of the great joys of life. I’d give up sex, wealth, tasty food and reading before I’d want to give up a sense of humor. Hell, we all know old people who made just that deal; they lost all the other joys of life to aging, so now they just sit around and laugh and laugh. And they’re having a hell of a time doing it. If they have anyone to listen to them.

(Actually, that would make a great TV show. Travel the country visiting the funniest old people and record them talking. It would be like one of those “kids say the darndest things” type shows except the old people’s jokes will actually make sense. And tell us something about life.)

I was really introduced to comedy by my husband, who I still reside with largely because of how much fun it is to sit around and laugh with him. My family did not do comedy when I was growing up, largely because comedians are crude and crass and talk about sex and drugs. As if they’ve done them, even. Which, you know, isn’t an entirely unreasonable concern. I suppose.

At any rate, I’ve watched a good bit of comedy over the last however long I’ve been married. And yes, some of it has been crude and crass and fixated on the most obnoxious abuses of sex and drugs imaginable. But on the other end of the spectrum, I’m a big fan of Garrison Keillor. His “Lake Woebegon” stories are masterpieces humor that doesn’t rely on offending or scandelizing anyone. Plus, he gets how religion and sex actually works.

I have this theory about humor which says that along with just being enjoyable, the primary purpose of humor is to help us learn. Researchers know that when a person is presented with information while they are laughing, they are more likely to accept that information than people who received the same information from an informational or persuasive presentation. Of course, they could have learned the same thing by observing parents with their kids. If you can get a kid to laugh, they are much more willing to admit error or change their minds.

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Playing With Our Lives?

Did you know that all animals play? I knew some did, but hadn’t realized how widespread play is in the animal kingdom:

the existence of animal play is considered something of an intellectual scandal. It’s understudied, and those who do study it are seen as mildly eccentric. As with many vaguely threatening, speculative notions, difficult-to-satisfy criteria are introduced for proving animal play exists, and even when it is acknowledged, the research more often than not cannibalizes its own insights by trying to demonstrate that play must have some long-term survival or reproductive function.

Despite all this, those who do look into the matter are invariably forced to the conclusion that play does exist across the animal universe. And exists not just among such notoriously frivolous creatures as monkeys, dolphins, or puppies, but among such unlikely species as frogs, minnows, salamanders, fiddler crabs, and yes, even ants—which not only engage in frivolous activities as individuals, but also have been observed since the nineteenth century to arrange mock-wars, apparently just for the fun of it. ~ David Graeber*

Aside from just being cool, it also makes me wonder if God’s intention for us doesn’t include a good deal of pleasure. Scripture says that creation is a testimony to God. If play is so widespread that ants do it, then that must reflect something about God’s nature and therefor ours.

In the article I quote above, Dr. Graeber goes on to postulate that play at it’s most basic level may even exist at the quantum level. That even subatomic particles may be chosing their paths and that they may sometimes do it for the sheer pleasure of it.

It’s an axiom of JudeoChristian thought that there is something wrong with humanity. If we learn that play is a driving force in the very foundations of the universe. And if we accept that living things appear to all play. Then, it would appear that our impoverished concept of play and its role in our lives may be one of those things that’s really wrong about us. Who woulda thunk it?

*That quote comes from a delightful article I read recently on the role of play in creation. It’s really long and rather scholarly though. Sample:

What would happen if we proceeded from the reverse perspective and agreed to treat play not as some peculiar anomaly, but as our starting point, a principle already present not just in lobsters and indeed all living creatures, but also on every level where we find what physicists, chemists, and biologists refer to as “self-organizing systems”

If that sentence made your heart sing, you can go read the whole thing here. If you’re a normal human being and that sentence gave you a headache, here’s an awesome video of a whale and dolphin playing: