An LDS institute teacher once tried to convince me that when Jesus preached the need to stop worrying about a speck of wood in another person's eye when there was an entire sheet of plywood in our own, the Lord was being deliberately satirical. Ha! Right?
Maybe but Matthew 7:5 never made me laugh or even smile. Furthermore, I suspect that there wasn't a single guffaw in the crowd that actually heard Jesus say it.
Other people point to genuinely fatuous behavior among those for whom and by the ancient texts were written and claim it hilarious that people once believed and practiced those things.
While it is funny that a Bronze Age people who believed themselves chosen by God also firmly believed "he that is wounded in the stones, or hath his privy member cut off, shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord." (Deuteronomy 23:1)
You can just imagine how many guys with vasectomies would have to get up and leave church tomorrow. So it is funny. Now.
But people in the time of Deuteronomy were deadly serious about the condition of a guy's junk in church. Get that part of the law wrong and you could find yourself buried under a huge pile of stones of a completely different sort.
Any humor found in ancient scripture was not deliberately penned by the authors, but is rather entirely the result of modern contextualization.
Why isn't there deliberate humor in scripture? After all, most everyone agrees that whatever omniscient being they believe in has a sense of humor. They might even argue that their god has a perfect sense of humor about himself.
OK, probably not the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl. Demanding that a blood-soaked clergy wrench the hearts out of hapless victims to keep the sun in the sky doesn't sound like a happy god.
But Big Q was on to something that every ancient religion seems to have borrowed heavily from — it's easier to correlate human beings by scaring the #@*& out of them than it is by making them laugh.
This isn't something I thought up on my own. Machiavelli wrote it in his 16th-century book "The Prince," an entirely secular commentary on the effectiveness of ruthless government.
But god-fearing prophets had this unscrupulous government plan figured out thousands of years before a ravenous sun god or an Italian diplomat came along. When it comes to human cooperation, a punch line isn't nearly as effective as an actual punch.
You want people to obey? Terrify them. Even better, kill some of them and threaten the survivors.
Pants-wetting terror works better than asking them to cooperate out of love, which — like laughter — is something people do of their own volition rather than because they're told to. Conversely, you can scare them anytime you want.
Since this is entirely the manner in which human beings govern, I never let my guard down when it comes to whose words I'm actually reading in scripture.
Robert Kirby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley. Find his past columns at http://www.sltrib.com/lifestyle/kirby.