Religious satire is a form of humor that pokes fun at organized religion, usually with the intent that onlookers change their views about the subject or come to see some larger folly in the belief system being portrayed. It generally uses irony, ridicule, or sarcasm in an attempt to denounce some certain religious practice. Satire is usually considered a literary device, though the meaning of “literary” in this context is usually a bit broader than simply printed books. Some of the most traditional examples occurred in novels and short pamphlets, but the device is common today in films, television programs and nonfiction articles or essays as well. Many popular television shows and films have satirized religion, for instance. In most cases the subject of religion is somewhat sensitive, and even the best intended criticisms of it tend to lead to offense in at least some onlookers. As such, satirists usually need to be prepared for at least some pushback and potentially angered responses — though in many cases this is exactly what they’re hoping to achieve.
Understanding Satire Generally
Satire generally is done in an attempt to expose aspects of a certain topic that are seen by satirists as being foolish or problematic. Almost any facet or institution in human society can be the target, but in most cases the main subject is something that the author or artist sees as problematic. Writers and speakers usually use this device as a way of forcing people to see the perceived foolishness or ridiculousness of something. Jokes that poke fun at religion or mock certain aspects of it aren’t usually considered satire simply by virtue of being humorous. The distinction is nuanced in some cases, but usually comes down to overall intent and larger motivation.
Importance of Intent
In order to qualify as religious satire, a work needs to be primarily intended to denounce, expose, or deride what the satirist sees as foolish or reprehensible in order for people to change their views. Simply striving for a laugh or a knowing smile isn’t usually enough. In this sense, if somebody depicted a religious official as a comical character but didn't intend to make any statement about the religion as a whole, it could not be defined as religious satire. A piece of media only becomes satirical if it makes jokes about an underlying issue with the subject being satirized.
Who Qualifies as a Religious Satirist
In general, only people who have been published or broadcast at some point will be thought of as "satirists." Under the broadest definition, even somebody making a statement in a non-public setting about a virtually irrelevant small aspect of any religion could be classed as a religious satirist. Technically, his or her words or actions would qualify if they used irony, sarcasm, or flat out ridicule to denounce or expose an aspect of religion that the speaker believed to be in some way flawed. Ordinarily, though, the satire will focus on a relatively large aspect of the religion and is often broadcasted or published in the mass media. He goal is usually as much about content as it is about distribution.
Types and Formats
This type of satire can take many different forms, and throughout history it has. Some of the earliest examples targets ancient worship rituals, and were often presented through dramatic reenactments or oral poetry. Written pamphlets and short stories, usually using fictitious names for both the authors and the characters, have also been popular. Most modern satire plays on tenets of the world’s dominant religions, but this isn’t a requirement. As long as the subject is a legitimate religious belief and the intent is to expose something the speaker sees as foolish about it, it can qualify.
Likelihood of Offense
On some level all forms of satire are intended to get reactions out of people and to incite change, but the emotional response is often the highest when religion is the subject. Religion tends to be a sensitive subject and people who are firm adherents of a faith often see attacks on core tenets as deeply personal. Some people have been threatened or even killed for their role in religious satire. On the other hand, satire can bring attention to flawed or damaging practices, bringing about change or improvement. It can be means to opening dialogue between people of differing beliefs, but artists need to be careful to strike the right balance.