If John Bunyan lived today and had a gift for silly-yet-stinging satire, his “Pilgrim’s Progress” might have read a lot like “How to Be a Perfect Christian: Your Comprehensive Guide to Flawless Spiritual Living.”
Or perhaps not.
After all, those 17th-century Puritans were not known for knee-slapping quips.
But co-authors Adam Ford and Kyle Mann sure are, and their “How to Be a Perfect Christian” — along with their hit Christian satire website The Babylon Bee — is spot on in poking fun at religious hypocrisy.
Their “Holiness Progress Tracker 5000” provides a 10-step, tongue-in-cheek record of a self-absorbed pilgrimage to spiritual perfection beginning with Satan, progressing through Judas and Cain to David, St. Paul, Job and John the Baptist to “You & Jesus.”
“See, to become perfect, you need to be baptized in the glorious waters of Christian culture,” they write, “[that] perfectly preserved bubble of everything that made the church awesome in 1950, like gospel quartets, three-piece suits, and pipe organs, with all the good vibes and positive energy of the ’60s.”
In the 21st century, that foundation should, Ford and Mann sardonically suggest, lead the modern American believer out of that boring church where flawed people gather to “know and love [Christ] better, and learn to love others.”
Nice sentiment, the book jibes, but “it’s also completely wrong. Flawed people? Excuse us … but we’re trying to become absolutely perfect here, not hang out with a bunch of messed-up folks. We don’t need that kind of negativity in our lives.”
Time, then, for church shopping, and to “ditch that group of hopeless losers who have been holding you back.” And to do that, just Google “church near me that has cool coffee bar,” or “isn’t weird or stuffy,” or “uses T-shirt cannons.”
Baptists, they write, are of “noble heritage” and have great potlucks, but frown on drinks any stronger than Diet Mountain Dew. Pentecostals “allow you to get drunk, but only on the Holy Spirit. … It’s pretty much ‘Soul Train’ at all times when you’re among a charismatic congregation.”
Ford and Mann go on to explore Presbyterians and other Calvinist, or “Reformed,” denominations (strict, but “cool with beer … as long as it’s a craft microbrew with a high enough alcohol content to put down a mature African elephant”), and Mainline Protestant churches (if you can find one open before it closes “due to bleeding beliefs and declining attendance”), before recommending jumping “right into a nondenominational paradise.”
Even then, make it a megachurch with a “superslick website” and a “beliefs page” that lists U2 lyrics rather than a dogmatic statement of faith; offers streaming video of services for those who find the mere act of getting out of bed on a Sunday a nonstarter; and has myriad “ministries” for “every age level, race, color, creed, nationality, hobby, gender, hair color, and species under the sun.”
“How to Be a Perfect Christian” goes on to mentor the reader in a sort of Worship 101 (“now throw yo hands in the ay-err, and wave ’em like you just don’t cay-err — The Apostle Paul”); Christian authenticity (“never let anyone get close enough to your life to see what a mess it is below the surface”); mastering “Christianese” (“the secret language of the superspiritual”); and flocking to social media by posting Bible study selfies and jumping into bitter online arguments over faith traditions and backgrounds.
The best way to share the gospel effectively is “to totally own your opponents, arguing them into the faith through the sheer brilliance of your intellect,” the book advises. “Lock and load, fellow Christian. Nuke the heathen from orbit.”
The book’s hilarious, often wince-inducing roller-coaster ride through the foibles of self-absorbed faith will be no surprise to fans of Babylon Bee, which Ford founded and launched in March 2016. It provides fake news for the soul — on one hand poking fun at everyone within the American Christian landscape from televangelists, right-wing fundamentalists and megachurch evangelicals to liberal, progressive churches on the other — and boasts nearly 426,000 Facebook followers and almost 100,000 on Twitter.
Ford, a former atheist who underwent a “radical transformation” to faith at age 21 (“No logical explanation for it, other than God reaching out and saving me by his grace”), thought Christians needed to laugh at themselves. Babylon Bee, he decided, would do for believers what The Onion did by lampooning culture and politics more generally.
“Satire is amazing at starting conversations,” Ford told The Salt Lake Tribune. “[We] take something people don’t usually notice or discuss, we contort and exaggerate it, then crack a joke through a loudspeaker … that forces everybody in the room to acknowledge it and talk about it.”
Added Mann: “[Our] satire comes as a natural extension of being Christians living in a world that is not our [spiritual] home, and using our position to point out the absurdity of modern existence apart from Christ.”
Online, the Bee’s headlines alone, even without the accompanying faux article content, produce guffaws and grimaces alike. Consider: “Poll: Evangelical Support for Trump Would Stay Same If He Were Discovered to Be Antichrist,” “Californian Arrested for Concealed Carrying Bible Without Permit,” or one of many hits on a popular prosperity gospel TV/megachurch pastor, “Joel Osteen Sails Luxury Yacht Through Flooded House to Pass Out Copies of ‘Your Best Life Now.’”
Politicians, left and right, are not spared, either. Keeping pace with the real news, there’s this: “CNN Report: Evil Trump Kidnaps Three People from North Korean Paradise.” Not long ago, The Bee proclaimed, “After Two Brief Decades of Deliberation, Democrats Bravely Call for Bill Clinton’s Resignation.”
Still, some people just don’t get it. When in March The Bee ran, “CNN Purchases Industrial-Sized Washing Machine to Spin News Before Publication,” the news and rumor fact-checking site, seemingly oblivious to satire, declared the story “False.”
It got sillier yet. Facebook threatened to demonetize The Bee for publishing fake news, and then apologized.
That didn’t stop a resulting flood of Facebook-targeting satire, including The Bee’s outing of Facebook’s founder as an evil alien — “Zuckerberg Loses Contact Lens During Senate Hearing, Revealing Horrifying Lizard Eye.”
“Satire is not for everyone, and that’s OK,” Mann, a former construction worker who recently went full time as senior editor of The Bee, said in an interview. “[But when] people’s guards are down because they’re laughing … then they are often provoked to think about their tendencies and beliefs.”
The satire will continue, with or without the blessings of a social media giant, Mann stressed. “We’re just going to keep putting out good content, Facebook or no.”