Irony the Christ killer: Christ Who deposed Irony

George Weigel wrote a column titled “Easter vs. irony” that appeared in our local Catholic paper and it’s great. It starts out like this:

At the beginning of Lent, I was sent a moving account of the recent funeral procession of a young American soldier, which took place near his hometown in the South.

Here Weigel refers to this emotionally powerful viral email message from 2005.

What follows is a message from Vicki Pierce about her nephew James’ funeral (he was serving our country in Iraq):

“I’m back, it was certainly a quick trip, but I have to also say it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. There is a lot to be said for growing up in a small town in Texas. The service itself was impressive with wonderful flowers and sprays, a portrait of James, his uniform and boots, his awards and ribbons. There was lots of military brass and an eloquent (though inappropriately longwinded) Baptist preacher. There were easily 1000 people at the service, filling the church sanctuary as well as the fellowship hall and spilling out into the parking lot.

However, the most incredible thing was what happened following the service on the way to the cemetery. We went to our cars and drove to the cemetery escorted by at least 10 police cars with lights flashing and some other emergency vehicles, with Texas Rangers handling traffic. Everyone on the road who was not in the procession, pulled over, got out of their cars, and stood silently and respectfully, some put their hands over their hearts.

When we turned off the highway suddenly there were teenage boys along both sides of the street about every 20 feet or so, all holding large American flags on long flag poles, and again with their hands on their hearts. We thought at first it was the Boy Scouts or 4H club or something, but it continued …. for two and a half miles. Hundreds of young people, standing silently on the side of the road with flags. At one point we passed an elementary school, and all the children were outside, shoulder to shoulder holding flags . kindergartners, handicapped, teachers, staff, everyone. Some held signs of love and support. Then came teenage girls and younger boys, all holding flags. Then adults. Then families. All standing silently on the side of the road. No one spoke, not even the very young children.

The military presence, at least two generals, a fist full of colonels, and representatives from every branch of the service, plus the color guard which attended James, and some who served with him … was very impressive and respectful, but the love and pride from this community who had lost one of their own was the most amazing thing I’ve ever been privileged to witness.

I’ve attached some pictures, some are blurry (we were moving), but you can get a small idea of what this was like. Thanks so much for all the prayers and support.

Pictures are included at the very end of this post. Take a look at it to see the sights that Ms. Pierce witnessed that had enough power to turn her email into a viral phenomenon.

Weigel continues:

I forwarded the message and the accompanying photos to a friend, who responded in a most thoughtful way:”There you see a culture untainted by irony. That is exactly the environment in which I was born and lived for my first eighteen years; imagine my surprise when I reached Princeton and discovered higher criticism, debonair nihilism and the enervating paralysis of irony.”

And he brings the discussion of irony into the Easter season.

The Jesus of the Gospels is a figure devoid of irony. […]In his Passion, Jesus confronts a supreme ironist, Pilate, who imagines the question, “What is truth?” to be both clever and a rhetorical show-stopper. The sign Pilate has affixed to the cross — “The King of the Jews” — reeks of irony, as so the taunts of those who wanted a messiah who better fit their understanding of power.

Perhaps the trouble so many highly educated people have in accepting the gift of faith today is that their spiritual faculties have been dulled by the irony in which modern and post-modern high culture abounds. Very little today is what it once was thought to be: what we once regarded as good, we are now taught was base; what we once honored as noble, we are now informed was merely self-serving; what we once thought to be self-sacrifice, we are now told was just self-delusion. Innocence is ignorance; only the ironic sensibility befits a well-educated modern. Or so we are told.

The Danish philosopher Kierkegaard had a rather different view: “Irony,” he wrote, “is an abnormal growth; like the abnormally enlarged liver of the Strasbourg goose, it ends by killing the individual.” Kills, that is spiritually: for irony is no part of that child-like openness with which, Jesus tells us, the Gospel’s invitation to faith must be received. If western culture is dying spiritually, perhaps the pathogen responsible is irony.

On the cross, Jesus is crushed by the weight of irony and cynicism. Easter, then, is God’s answer to the ironic: the New Life first manifest in the Risen Lord is God’s response to the ironic, God’s definitive proclamation that the ironist will not have the last word. In the Church, the Body of Christ which is the Risen Lord’s real presence extended in time and space, we encounter the truth and love than transcend the ironic and let us see things as they really are.

Irony no longer reigns. He is Risen!

Irony, archness, cynicism are ancient ways of thought. They plagued the ancient Greeks just as much as they plague the post-modern thinkers and hippies of today, who are none other than exponents of the Cynical School which has been maintained on life support past its time of brain death.

Irony dwelt in Pilate’s heart and caused him to mock Jesus Christ as the King of the Jews on the cross on which Christ died. Yet Irony could not destroy Christ. Christ and his message overcame Irony, the Christ Killer, and brought the Truth of God’s new covenant to the world. And the clear-eyed knowledge of God’s Truth conveyed in the Christian Church is available to people such as those who lined up by the sides of the road in these pictures.

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Trackposted to The Virtuous Republic, Rosemary’s Thoughts, Adam’s Blog, Right Truth, Leaning Straight Up, Big Dog’s Weblog, Conservative Cat, Adeline and Hazel, D equals S, third world county, DragonLady’s World, The World According to Carl, Pirate’s Cove, The Pink Flamingo, Right Voices, Rosemary’s Thoughts, and Eric’s Writing Corner, thanks to Linkfest Haven Deluxe.

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7 thoughts on “Irony the Christ killer: Christ Who deposed Irony

  1. “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”–Inigo Montoya


    The differences between irony, sarcasm, cynicism and other words frequently conflated with “irony” is much larger than your correspondent and you seem to think. ANd as much as I like and appreciate Kierkegaard (in fact, I modeled my marriage vows after one of his persona’s vignettes), his writing frequently suffers from quotations out of context… and sometimes indifferent (or simply sub-optimal) translations.

    The Irony of the Crucifixion is not in Nero’s mocking sign or sly questioning but that what was displayed for all the world to see as the killing of a troublesome mendicant teacher was in fact the triumph of the Son’s faithful obedience and the Father’s faithful love.

    Paul frequently points out this contradictory and–to “the world–confusing nature of God’s intervention in the world. Jesus himself frequently confounded (and infuriated) his opponents with the paradox of his seeming flouting of religious law while fulfilling its purpose.

    Irony is the juxtaposition os such paradoxical elements. It is not cynicism, nihilism or mocking as Weigel subliterately identifies it. Perhaps he does have a Princeton education, as he implies, but if so, and if he was taught that what he asserts about irony is its nature, then all that tells us is that a Princeton education is for the birds, a big zero with the rim kicked off, because his understanding of the simplest (let alone the more complex) meaning of the word, “irony”.

    He used a snippet from Kierkegaard to “proof text” his misunderstanding of the word. Might I suggest using the entirety of “Fear and Trembling” to counter? In fact, the entire work spends itself upon the irony (which Kierkegaard consistently identifies as paradoxical) of faith. The book’s central biblical text is well known (Abraham’s faithful obedience to God’s order to sacrifice Isaac) and its central message is directly appplicable in coutering Weigel’s misunderstanding of irony.

    Or, a shorter rebuttal:

    5Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
    6Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
    7but made himself nothing,
    taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
    8And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    and became obedient to death—
    even death on a cross!
    9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
    10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
    11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.
    Phil 2:5-11

    Exactly the situational/dramatic irony that so well illustrates the meaning of the word now sadly being lost to subliterate influence by such folks as Weigel, as they pejorate the term and stupidly conflate it with sarcasm, nihilism, etc. Think: the world saw lowly, penniless, and ultimately a condemned criminal on a cross–as the passage says, “nothing”–when Christ was all that AND STILL the Eternal Son.

    The situation “reeks” of holy irony. The petty mocking and sarcasm of Pilate was ironic only in that he did not realize who it was he was mocking. Pilate’s only irony was unconscious.

    Apart from the gross misuse of the word “irony” the quoted material in your post would be quite useful. Unfortunately, its gross misuse of the word renders it greatly less useful in addressing the hollow nature of Academia Nut Fruitcake Bakeries, the Mass Media Podpeople’s Hivemind, politicians *spit* and the myriad of pop culture illiterati and their collective negative influence on us all. (I’m tempted to quote T.S. Eliot here, but you may get the point regardless.)

    Still, as long as I ignored the misuse of “irony” above, I really enjoyed the read.


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  3. Good points, David. I went to Merriam Webster to get the definition of Irony

    \ˈī-rə-nē also ˈī(-ə)r-nē\
    Inflected Form(s):
    plural iro·nies
    Latin ironia, from Greek eirōnia, from eirōn dissembler

    1: a pretense of ignorance and of willingness to learn from another assumed in order to make the other’s false conceptions conspicuous by adroit questioning —called also Socratic irony
    2 a: the use of words to express something other than and especially the opposite of the literal meaning b: a usually humorous or sardonic literary style or form characterized by irony c: an ironic expression or utterance
    3 a (1): incongruity between the actual result of a sequence of events and the normal or expected result (2): an event or result marked by such incongruity b: incongruity between a situation developed in a drama and the accompanying words or actions that is understood by the audience but not by the characters in the play —called also dramatic irony, tragic irony

    It looks to me as if Weigel was referring to meaning #2 (and to the greek root) and you are referring to #1 for Jesus’ teaching M.O. and to #3 for Jesus’ obedience to God. That’s why I identified the irony Weigel spoke of as cynicism in my comments.

    I still believe that cynicism is the soul killer, the Christ-killer, the amoral impulse to follow Thanatos into nihilism. However, I agree with your objection to using the word irony for it. That is too imprecise.

  4. Sorry, beaglescout, but meaning number 2 cited by you above does NOT fit at all with Weigel’s use. Using words to mean the opposite of what they “say” is a literary device used to make clear the actual meaning to those who are paying attention. When used humorously, it fits well with 2(b), but when used (as it often is) in a serious literary passage, even cloaked in humor, it can be piercing. (One almost immediately thinks of the oft-extracted “First, kill all the lawyers” which, when improperly extracted from context loses the irony of Shakespeare’s construction and takes on the character of situational irony noted in the meaning #3 you cite above.

    BTW, while I tied paradox and irony closely together in my comments above (as they rightly ought to be), they are not the same, of course. And my comments about some poor translation of Kierkegaard are not from my firsthand knowledge. My wife has a cousin who, I discovered some years after our marriage, is a well-known Scandanavian Kiergegaard scholar. I gleaned that knowledge of sometimes indifferent translation from his books, to which I repaired from time to time trying to sort out the contradictory writings Kierkegaard did under cover of his various personas.

    I still highly recommend “Fear and Trembling” for a peek at the absurdity of faith (and absurdity that, like Kierkegaard, I feel is essential to my life, an absurdity that is wisdom distilled, “to the world, folly” as the apostle Paul put it).

    I stand firmly by my rejection of Weigel’s use of the term “irony” and do wish he’d re-write his thoughts to use a more proper term, such as your suggested word, cynicism, which would fit his thesis much better.

    Thanks for a thoughtful response.

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  6. My question would be what then is Pilate if not ironic (meaning 2a)?

    In his Passion, Jesus confronts a supreme ironist, Pilate, who imagines the question, “What is truth?” to be both clever and a rhetorical show-stopper.

    Is Pilate a cynic, a sardonicist, a nihilist who cannot identify truth because he confuses it with meaninglessness?

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