Core Decorum: humor

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Illustration courtesy of Cecilia Lang.

Southern writer Flannery O’Connor writes in “Mystery and Manners” that, “either one is serious about salvation or one is not. It is well to realize that the maximum amount of seriousness admits the maximum amount of comedy. Only if we are secure in our beliefs can we see the comical side of the universe.”

There are two primary ideas in O’Connor’s point. First is the idea that her readers are Christian and second is that those Christians hold salvation and unity with God to be the highest teleological purpose of human beings.

We at the University of Dallas have come together in this community because we believe that education sanctified by the sacraments is a worthwhile means to salvation.

Some of us, especially our professors, are so dedicated to this idea that they have devoted their lives to educating students and cultivating young minds in order to help them become the person that God intended them to be.

If we acknowledge that this understanding of Christianity lies behind O’Connor’s statement, then we can progress to the point of her quotation, which is the importance of humor.

She uses the logical argument of opposites to claim that where there is a maximum amount of seriousness, there exists also the maximum amount of comedy.

True humor relies on the recognition that human beings are fundamentally flawed, and the realization requires both humility and the ability to see human actions from a broader perspective.

Humor, O’Connor claims, also requires us to be secure in our beliefs. If we are confident in our faith, we are able to see the humorous aspects of the world without fear of being shaken from the foundation of our faith.

Once we have established our foundation in the faith and are serious in our pursuit of salvation, we gain the ability to see our actions, especially our flaws, in a humorous light.

The truth about our faith is that God’s mercy is endless, and He forgives us when we do not merit forgiveness. However, a quality of God’s love, which is all good, is that of humor.

If we are open to recognizing it, God shows us every time something does not go the way we intended that we do not have control over every aspect of our lives. Rather than becoming disappointed and despairing, we should recognize that God is neither ignoring our desires nor intentionally causing us pain; rather, He is pointing out, lovingly and humorously, that we are imperfect beings in need of His help.

The ability to recognize the humorous nature of our weaknesses is a gift of which we must take advantage.

Having a humorous outlook on life does not mean that we should make light of important things, but instead, it provides us an opportunity to examine our lives in the broader scope of things, helping us grow both in humility and faith through reliance on God’s grace.

Not only does a proper understanding of humor help us grow in virtue; it also helps us process our suffering.

If we adopt O’Connor’s belief in the importance of humor for living a full life, then we will be more joyful in our daily lives and will have the ability to love others more selflessly in our understanding of our shared human weakness, which will allow us to strengthen each other in our faith along the journey to our salvation.

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