Religious satire  

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"But if cattle and horses and lions had hands [...]" --Xenophanes

"...religion, politics, and sexuality are the primary stuff of literary satire. Among these sacred targets, matters costive and defecatory play an important part. ... from the earliest times, satirists have utilized scatological and bathroom humor. Aristophanes, always livid and nearly scandalous in his religious, political, and sexual references..." --The Modern Satiric Grotesque and its Traditions by J. R. Clark

This page Religious satire is part of the satire series. Illustration: Traité des trois imposteurs
This page Religious satire is part of the satire series.
Illustration: Traité des trois imposteurs

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Religious satire is a form of satire targeted at religious beliefs. From the earliest times, at least since the plays of Aristophanes, religion has been one of the three primary topics of literary satire, along with politics and sex.

Religious satire can be the result of agnosticism or atheism, but it can also have its roots in belief itself. Religious satire is of all ages, from Lucian in Antiquity to Geoffrey Chaucer, Desiderius Erasmus and Lucas Cranach the Elder in the Renaissance, to Monty Python's Life of Brian in the 20th century.




Ancient satire

Lucian's religious satires include "The Gods in Council" and "Zeus Tragoedus". He also wrote mockingly on the followers of Jesus.

Middle Ages

Medieval satire

A part of Medieval satire, the satire of religion was celebrated in parody masses such as the sermon joyeux and during the risus paschalis.

See also the Speculum Stultorum (Mirror for Fools), 12th c. satire of monks and universities


Renaissance satire, The Reformation and art

During the Renaissance, protestants used satire and parody to ridicule Catholicism. A good example is Martin Luther's anti-Semitic and antipapal pamphlets.

More examples:

17th century

17th century satire


Enlightenment satire

20th century

20th century satire

Reactions, criticism and censorship

Religious satire has been criticised by those who feel that sincerely held religious views should not be subject to ridicule. In some cases religious satire has been censored - for example, Molière's play Tartuffe was banned in 1664.

The film Life of Brian was initially banned in Ireland, Norway, some states of the USA, and some towns and councils of the United Kingdom. In an interesting case of life mirroring art, activist groups who protested the film during its release bore striking similarities to some bands of religious zealots within the film itself. Like much religious satire, the intent of the film has been misinterpreted and distorted by protesters. According to the Pythons, Life of Brian is not a critique of religion so much as an indictment of the hysteria and bureaucratic excess that often surrounds it.

The issue of freedom of speech was hotly debated by the UK Parliament during the passing of the Religious Hatred Bill in January 2006. Critics of the original version of the Bill (such as comedian Rowan Atkinson) feared that satirists could be prosecuted, but an amendment by the House of Lords making it clear that this was not the case was passed - by just one vote.

In 2006, Rachel Bevilacqua, a member of the Church of the SubGenius, known as Rev. Magdalen in the SubGenius hierarchy, lost custody and contact with her son after a district court judge took offense at her participation in the Church's X-Day festival.

Richard Dawkins frequently points out that there is no reason to exclude religion from objective studying as any other social phenomena.


See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Religious satire" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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