Religious Satire

Religious satire is a form of satire (humor that points out the shortcomings of institutions of power) targeted at religious beliefs. From the earliest times, at least since the plays of Aristophanes in the fourth century BCE, religion has been one of the three primary topics of literary satire, along with politics and sex.

Satire which targets the clergy is a type of political satire, while religious satire is that which targets religious beliefs. It can be the result of agnosticism or atheism, but it can also have its roots in belief itself. According to religious theorist Robert Kantra, in religious satire, man attempts to violate the divine—it is an effort to play God, in whole or in part—whether under the banner of religion or of humanity. Religious satire surfaced during the Renaissance, with works by Chaucer, Erasmus, and Durer.

Religious satire has been criticised by those who feel that sincerely held religious views should not be subject to ridicule. Molière’s play ‘Tartuffe’ (about a hypocrite who feigns religious virtue) was banned in 1664. The 1979 film ‘Monty Python’s Life of Brian’ was initially banned in Ireland and Norway. In an interesting case of life mirroring art, activist groups who protested the film during its release bore striking similarities to some bands of religious zealots within the film itself. Like much religious satire, the intent of the film has been misinterpreted and distorted by protesters. According to the Pythons, ‘Life of Brian’ is not a critique of religion so much as an indictment of the hysteria and bureaucratic excess that often surrounds it.

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