Hi Lisa, this is a good question and I have seen three versions of it in the last two weeks, including a specific one about memes in the Q&A after a talk by Michael Suderman at UVA. In fact, Cameron and I are just about to record a podcast on this topic! Your question is in good company.
When it comes to memes, their force is in more than the fact that a picture is worth a thousand words. A meme connects a line of thinking with a picture of something seemingly disconnected to really say a lot in a few words. It is the surprising nature of the association that forms the punch line that makes these so funny- and let’s be honest, many of them really are funny.
The part of your question that I really appreciated has to do with processing speed. Can a meme fully capture the nuances of an issue in a way that helps us really think, or are they funny just because they affirm beliefs and ideas that we already hold? I think that your intuition that hitting ‘share’ and moving on doesn’t do justice to fully engaging with most of the ideas that are shared through memes, is exactly right. I once asked a professor a question and he paused and said, “You know Nathan, you’ll probably need to slow down and think about that for about six years.” Six years! Are you kidding me? I want answers in six seconds. The fact is that he is right. As Christians we need to make sure we are seeing the big picture and taking in all the evidence that we can before making snap judgements.
Another good question would be, “Are we confident enough in our views to critically engage without joking?” Laughter helps us get around some of the tension we feel about disagreeing, so humor can actually be a way for us to hide on controversial topics, which isn’t good. In response to the point about the ‘prophet’ I think we should be able to address things head-on, if someone is acting outside the will of God and defaming His glory, then it is actually sad, not funny. Do you know the phrase, “I don’t know whether I should laugh or cry?” I think culturally we trend toward laughing when perhaps grief would be better. That sounds a little heavy, but mourning is as biblical a theme as joy.
I love to laugh and I love making my wife laugh. I actually don’t know anyone who would claim that they don’t enjoy laughing. The fact is though, that what we laugh at does say a lot about us. Perhaps that is the practical take away from your question. I don’t take myself too seriously and I live with really funny people and I hope you have a life like that too. I think as a result of your question, the question we need to be asking ourselves is, “Okay, why did I think that was funny?” Likely it will be harmless, but it is worth checking because the mockers, and slanders, and disrespectful won’t inherit the kingdom of God. May we never delight in others misfortune even if they are people with whom we disagree.
When it comes to Biblical comedy, as long as we aren’t mocking or trivializing the sacred, I personally think there is room for humor. Most of my life (and the platypus) is a testament to the fact that God has a sense of humor. I don’t think I’m really answering your question here on specifics as much as giving questions for us to ask to make sure that what our laughter reveals about us is that we are following Jesus and enjoying the surprises and the complexity of our Father’s world. There are enough hilarious and wholesome things in this world to smile about, that I my advice to you would be, “Laugh away.”