Satire uses exaggeration, irony and ridicule to show us our shortcomings. A satirist distorts the story, which we already know, so that a truth, one not readily evident, can emerge. It’s not easy to write satire when the times are as unpredictable as the weather. History seems to have entered its own sort of warming acceleration so that today’s parody runs the risk of becoming prophecy.
The French satirist Michele Houellebecq was on the cover of Charlie Hebdo, the very week its staff was attacked, because he had once called Islam the stupidest of religions. Yet the faith plays a prominent role in his newest novel Submission (2015). The premise and plot are both simple.
Voters never cease to demand change. So, in the not very distant future of France, the socialist left blocks the rise of the nationalist right by allowing a moderate Islamic party to come to power. France loses some of its secularity, but family values and value-oriented education are championed. Most importantly, there’s still money to be made and careers to be advanced. Islam doesn’t really conquer the Republic. The Republic dies from the exhaustion of the secular project, which seems to find nothing greater to shield or to serve than sex and sales.
Here’s how one academic proposes Islam to a colleague, as each looks for his place in the new France.
Michel Houellebecq is lauded as one of the great authors of France, though all the critics deplore his cynicism. Sarcasm employed against the left leaves it stupefied. But his character is canny in his advice about the Koran. Indeed, the insight is useful for all “People of the Book”: Jews, Christians and Muslims. “Sound and sense can be made one, and so can speak to the world.”
The Scriptures weren’t created to rest in our hands, to lie open before us for consultation, like a document nearly arrived from God. Indeed, the notion of the Scriptures as a ready reference, which played such a prominent role in the Protestant Reformation, wasn’t even possible before the advent of the printing press. A monk might have prayed over the sacred Scriptures in the Middle Ages, like a lover his letters, but Scripture wasn’t consulted by the individual to ascertain if his community was faithful. The ordinary believer didn’t think that he owned a self-evident communique from God.
For countless generations of Christians—Jews and Muslims as well—Scripture was something proclaimed to the people, as it is in both the Book of Nehemiah and the Gospel of Luke. One stands in the assembly of the faithful and professes God’s Word in a way that reorders the world itself. The Word calls the world to judgement. The Word reforms and recreates it. Sound and sense are made one and speak to the world.
Scripture has proven itself rather lethal in the hands of modern men and women of faith, of any faith. Why? If you think the world revolves around you, then the Scriptures you tote and quote will inevitably shrink until they do more than validate your own small world. The word of God, suitably edited, becomes your own mouthpiece. Watch Donald Trump quoting Scripture at Liberty University.
Texts live in communities. They come from communities and speak authentically to those who receive them within the continuity of a living community. Even the Lord Jesus, heard his Scriptures as a faithful Son of Israel. Yes, there’s a place for revolutions and rebellions and reformations. Prophets do arise, but they’re only recognized as prophets because they make the Word to live again, because they bring together sound and sense in the midst of a people.
Nehemiah 8: 2-4a, 5-6, 8-10 1 Corinthians 12: 12-14, 17 Luke 1: 1-4, 14-21