toilet humour theology

I once sat in a lecture room full of would-be theology students buzzing with a heady mix of anticipation and apprehension. A very wise lecturer stood in front of us and told us to remember that we were creatures as well as being Christians.

There are so many ways that advice has proven significant for me, I hardly know where to start.

But this week I’ve been thinking about that advice in relation to humour — and one oh-so-human brand of humour in particular: toilet humour.

Admit it. You love toilet humour. I love it. We all do — as much as we secretly pretend to be too mature for it or appalled by it as Christians.

Two great examples landed in my RSS reader this week.

The first came courtesy of Mike Bird. Speaking of the humanity of Jesus he serves up this gem: ‘We only believe in the incarnation if we can affirm that the historical person Jesus of Nazareth experienced a physical resurrection after his death and a normal male erection during his life.’

And the second is Mike W’s brilliant exposé of gospel assholes, drawing on the opening scene of The Social Network

It’s great to see contemporary evangelicals carrying the torch of Martin Luther. Not only using toilet humour to communicate gospel truth but, better still, rubbing our noses in our creatureliness…


  1. Hi Chris. I agree of course that there’s a place for affirming the creatureliness of spirituality etc., but I have to say I don’t think jokes such as the first one do any good at all. I suspect that more often than not, a comment like that is as much about covering over shame about one’s own sexual drives—shame, moreover, that I very much doubt is purely a result of a “Greek” discomfort with the body. Although I doubt we would want to go all the way with Augustine on this one (who thought that the uncontrolableness of erections was a result of the fall), I suspect there is an important place for modesty. Augustine at least pushes us to ask whether any of us know what a “normal male erection is”?

    1. Hi Andrew. Thanks for your thoughtful response. I’ve been chewing on it all day. I guess all the usual risks that attend human communication are present in an especially concentrated form in humour!

      I suspect you might be right about the first joke gaining at least some of its resonance from a desire to bury our shame about our disordered drives and affections — although, I had read it more straightforwardly as an affirmation of the genuine humanity of Jesus (using surprising but thoroughly recognisable terms).

      You and Augustine are of course right to make us ask about whether any of us knows what a ‘normal male erection’ is. But I’m not sure I’d be satisfied with an answer that either bears no resemblance to our experience or that exempts Jesus from being tested ‘in every respect … as we are, yet without sin’ (Hebrews 4.15).

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