Ironic Iconoclasm: Maintaining a Holy Sense of Humor

 Psychology humor

In her nomination post for the Leibster Award, Hollie of Queen of Query raised a question of me that really got me thinking –

In two words or less, how would you describe your sense of humor?

The first two words that came to my mind were – “Ironic Iconoclasm”.

Then I wondered, “What does that mean?”

This post is my effort to answer that question.

First, irony comes in various forms.  I like how this on-line dictionary defines one aspect of irony –

a pretense of ignorance and of willingness to learn from another assumed in order to make the other’s false conceptions conspicuous by adroit questioning —called also Socratic irony.

I’ve learned this form of irony not so much from the classic Greek philosopher Socrates as from my self-proclaimed Kentuckian father Veston.  When Dad wants to catch someone off-guard with a thought provoking question, he begins with –

Now, I only have a sixth-grade education, so you’ll have to help me understand this…

Dad is actually a high-school graduate who took some college courses and, in his career, received training to work his way up from a basic laborer to a top-wage-earning office worker.

A second aspect of irony is captured in the literary word “sardonic”, which is basically making fun of something (or someone).  Admittedly, this is risky business for anyone (particularly for professing Christians).  When used appropriately, you can effectively cast down idols (human and otherwise).  When used carelessly, you can wind up de-humanizing someone and causing crass offense.

One other aspect of irony relevant in having a holy sense of humor is in noting the incongruity between what actually happens and what is expected to happen.  This form of dramatic irony reveals the limits of human understanding and action.  It is an answered prayer for the Psalmist who cries out –

… let the nations know that they are only human.  (Psalm 9:20b)

As for iconoclasm, it is good to look a little at religious history.  I found this helpful entry in a concise encyclopedia –

In Christianity and Islam, iconoclasm was based on the Mosaic prohibition against making graven images, which were associated with idolatry. The making of portraits of Christ and the saints was opposed in the early Christian church, but icons had become popular in Christian worship by the end of the 6th century, and defenders of icon worship emphasized the symbolic nature of the images. Opposition to icons by the Byzantine emperor Leo III in 726 led to the Iconoclastic Controversy, which continued in the Eastern church for more than a century before icons were again accepted. Statues and portraits of saints and religious figures were also common in the Western church, though some Protestant sects eventually rejected them. Islam still bans all icons, and iconoclasm has played a role in the conflicts between Muslims and Hindus in India.

Iconoclasm can take many forms – from aggressive physical force (i.e. cutting noses off statues, burning paintings), to more influential speech and writing that decries idol worshipping in whatever form it comes.

At its best, ironic iconoclasm is a holy sense of humor.  When not exercised with care (and prayer), however, it can be destructive to spiritual community and damaging to human lives.  My hope is I can exercise this humor effectively in what I write (and say) and when I cross over the line, you will hold me accountable.

(cartoon from

6 thoughts on “Ironic Iconoclasm: Maintaining a Holy Sense of Humor

  1. I would have found this question a difficult one to answer as well, Tony. In one word, I would most probably have gone for “irreverent.” In two, I’d choose “sincerely irreverent.” I think this means we’re at opposite ends of the humour spectrum. But, like you, I can appreciate the humour in the Pavlov graphic.

  2. Hi, i just wanted to squeeze in here that I’ve been neglecting your work because i’ve just got tons of stuff piled over the last 2 weeks, all my energy is going into getting a job. BUT i’m still looking forward to reading it.

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