Divine comedy

"You are watching 'The Last Temptation of Christ,'" says the Bravo announcer, and damned if it isn't true. "The Last Temptation of Christ" (and, no, it doesn't refer to the Death by Chocolate dessert at the Jerusalem Bennigan's) was a good movie and the only Bible epic with fashion tips. As Mary Magdalene, Barbara Hershey's balloony collagen lips and henna tattoos were a surprise in 1988. Now they're both hot, making Jesus' little hooker friend quite the trend-setter.

Every time I see old chisel-chinned Willem DeFoe dragging that cross up the hill I think of two things. One, when I rented the movie and the video-store clerk said, "I don't want to ruin it for you, but the guy dies at the end."

And two, the fortune I never made.

You know those brilliant ideas you get that could make you a million dollars if you had any skill or sense? I had one of those once. Using my ex-Catholic status as an excuse for bad taste, I was going to start a line of holy humor products. Temporary stigmatas. Thorny-crown headbands. Water-into-wine coolers.

But the biggest yuk-up was going to be the crucifix toothbrush holder. When I say that, you can just picture it in your mind, can't you? The statuette with a toothbrush in each hand? At the base would be a little inscription: "Fercris-sakes, brush your teeth." Funny and hygienically sound advice. I was going to make a fortune.

Heaven help us

The problem always came with approaching people who knew how to make things like toothbrush holders. Invariably, when starting to explain the idea -- "Well, see, it's a crucifix" -- I would be met either with a blank look or hesitant advice, or I just would not explain the concept because there are only so many times in your life you can hear, "That's terrible," and be looked at like you were a rotten olive the speaker had accidentally sucked off their martini sword.

See, it's been my experience that "holy" and "humor" don't mix, which is why it was a shock to find out that April is Holy Humor Month. I know. You didn't think you'd hear those two words together unless they were spoken by Robin to Batman. But there it is, in Chase's Calendar of Events: April is Holy Humor Month, an invitation to "recognize the healing power of Christian joy, humor and celebration" (although one would imagine any kind of spiritual joy would do). There's even a website, www.joyfulnewsletter.com. Every time I have tried to sign on to this site it says "unknown host." It should at least say "unknown holy host." Or, "In the grave. Back in three days."

It's not really much of a surprise that big laughs aren't the first thing one associates with religion. Look at the crucifix (sans toothbrushes). It's as gruesome an image as has ever come out of Hollywood (yet no one ever seems to protest what it might be doing to the children). Buddha is always grinning, but that is because he's let himself go and can eat all the pie he wants; he's happy, not jokey. The Greek gods showed some wit, but it was mainly of the vengeful, practical-joke variety. They made Narcissus fall in love with his own reflection and die pining away for himself like an idiot. They gave Pasiphae a lust for a barn-yard bull that was so powerful she consummated it and produced a monster baby (and endured what must have been the world's worst childbirth). The only problem with this is the joke is always on the poor hapless human and never the other way around.

Good for the soul

Maybe religion doesn't have a lot of humor because it's about the travel plans of the soul, a subject that believers don't take lightly. The thought of spending the next life as a cow or a dung beetle or a dentist is just too grim for some to snicker over. For others, the idea of spending eternity being tormented by demons is too much like going to work for them to laugh at.

It's kind of too bad that being condemned to hell, having your normal human nature judged and pretending to be nice to everyone all the time doesn't lend itself to belly laughs. Church could benefit from humor, kind of like the Comedy Traffic Schools that took an excruciatingly dull but beneficial experience and made it palatable by using stand-up comics. Benny Hill should replace Benny Hinn (even dead he'd be better). The collection plate should read "Tipping is not a city in China." We could use a Father Groucho saying things like, "This morning I saved a soul in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas I'll never know." With this kind of approach, plus a two-drink minimum and a smoking section, church could even get people like me in there.

Which may be exactly why they leave the humor at the door.

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