Douglas Wilson linked to a blog post recently recapping his experience about seven years ago when he interacted with John Piper regarding the issue of the use and propriety of satire for Christians. Mark Driscoll is going to be speaking at a Desiring God conference coming up and he is particularly known these days for his cheerleading for sarcasm and satire. I know satire is a hard sell for a lot of evangelicals, but as I thought about it, the more I felt that satire is perfectly acceptable for Christians (mature ones preferably) to use.
I’ve read almost all of Flannery O’Connor’s work and for the ininitiated, she almost exclusively tells the stories of folks experiences violent transformations and/or conversions through very violent means. This, coupled with the experiences with real folks in real life, led me to an observation (albeit a pretty obvious one if you think about it) on humanity. When things are going well, no one really feels the need to change. When they are going poorly, they will change whatever it takes to improve things. O’Connor gives us some drastic examples of this in her literature, but I think most anyone can observe this both in their own lives and in the lives of those around them.
And so what does Flannery have to do with satire? Well, I think the basic objective behind satire is to shake up a seemingly positive situation. It also tends to cast things that seem to be dandy in a slightly different light, causing a viewer to see things altogether differently. (Think of Samuel telling the story to David) What satire then can do, in effect, is to move someone who is satisfied with the status quo, thinking things are just fine, and make them realize the gravity of a situation. It could make them realize that things truly are going poorly.
So, all that said, I think that Piper is really taking the difficult position. He thinks you can sell a message of hope to someone who probably doesn’t think they need hope (or change, etc.). He may still advocate stong rebuke of folks, but can you realistically see a particularly stubborn person being moved by such rhetoric?
One final thing. That is the issue of propriety and frequency. Just like any use of strong language, it is stronger the less it is used and weaker the more it is used. When you read Flannery O’Connor cover to cover, her stories don’t seem quite as shocking by the end. You’ve grown accustomed to them. I think the same goes for sarcasm and satire. It should be used in a very calculating manner and for very specific purposes. If it’s not, then you’ll probably wind up sounding like the redneck that simply didn’t get an education and drops f-bombs every other word.