If I ever need a reminder that I am a deeply sinful creature (and I rarely do), I simply recall my attraction to stand-up comedy. I love stand-up comedy, especially comedy that is openly hostile to religion. I don’t know why exactly, probably because, as Christopher Hitchens might generalize, God rest his soul, atheists are so much funnier than Christians.
One of my favorite comedians is Patton Oswalt. You may know him as the voice of Remy in Pixar’s Ratatouille. Well, Patton is also a devoted atheist. Some of his best bits point out the utter absurdity of religion in general and Christianity in particular. Consider, for instance, his examination of Jesus’ “superpowers”:
Terrible. Yet terribly funny. I still laugh every time I think about it or hear the story of the loaves and the fishes.
As Patton makes mercilessly clear, Christianity is foolishness. It is incoherent. It defies common sense and dispenses with logic, justice, and cause-and-effect thinking. Those of us who are reluctant to abandon our common sense, then, are required to mock and reject Christianity or worse, revise Christianity to satisfy our sense of the world. Amidst a sea of sensible Christians, it is refreshing to find someone like Patton Oswalt, who sees Christianity for what it truly is—-a stumbling block to those who seek triumph and foolishness to those who seek wisdom.
Patton Oswalt’s keen diagnoses aren’t limited to religion, though; he also sees humans, and himself, as they truly are: a ridiculous parade of weakness, absurdity, and failure (who are nonetheless occasionally blessed with the kind of inspiration and creativity that Patton’s act exemplifies). It should come as no surprise that he also struggles with depression, a struggle that he mentions frequently in his act.
Yesterday, Thrash Lab released the latest documentary in its “Rituals” series, which profiles artists and the rituals they employ. Jeff Tweedy of Wilco was a previous subject. This time, it was Patton Oswalt.
Most of the documentary focuses on Patton’s rituals and his routine, but, at about the 8:35 mark, Patton begins to talk about his purpose. When he does, he tells us that he is looking for precisely the same things that Christians are looking for: liberation from the self, connection to something bigger, and love and understanding. But at the end of his act, it becomes clear that, despite his success, he hasn’t quite found what he’s looking for—-a point that the filmmaker drives home with a lingering close-up.
If we are honest about who we are, then we realize that we—-weak, ridiculous we—-cannot fix ourselves. Nor can others fix us, either with their laughter or their love. We can only be salvaged by that which seems absurd to us, that which our common sense tells us to reject utterly, that which is completely alien to our way of thinking. Something like, say, a rat who can cook gourmet food.