Laughter

January 18, 2005 | 31 comments
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Don’t laugh. Especially not on Sunday. The Doctrine and Covenants makes this pretty clear:

And that thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world, thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day . . . And inasmuch as ye do these things with thanksgiving, with cheerful hearts and countenances, not with much laughter, for this is sin, but with a glad heart and a cheerful countenance

We hear this kind of admonition from time to time. For example, in another part of the D & C, we are told to avoid “light speeches . . . all laughter . . . and light-mindedness.” And the same rule seems to be invoked when we hear admonitions to avoid loud laughter, excess laughter, or levity.

What exactly does this rule mean? “All laughter” is a pretty serious limitation. Are we not supposed to have a sense of humor? Is only inappropriate laughter banned? Then why the broad prohibitory statements? (And also, how can we tell the difference between good laughter and bad laughter?). It seems that, despite the statement to avoid “all laughter,” church leaders don’t apply that as written; after all, a good number of general conference talks have a humorous anecdote or two.

So is this a rule that we can just laugh off?

Or is it that this question is no laughing matter?

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31 Responses to Laughter

  1. danithew on January 18, 2005 at 1:02 pm

    Kaimi, if you don’t mind I’ll take the excerpted scripture and show it in the context of other verses that are alongside it.

    Doctrine and Covenants 88:119-121
    119 Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing; and establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God;
    120 That your incomings may be in the name of the Lord; that your outgoings may be in the name of the Lord; that all your salutations may be in the name of the Lord, with uplifted hands unto the Most High.
    121 Therefore, cease from all your light speeches, from all laughter, from all your lustful desires, from all your pride and light-mindedness, and from all your wicked doings.
    122 Appoint among yourselves a teacher, and let not all be spokesmen at once; but let one speak at a time and let all listen unto his sayings, that when all have spoken that all may be edified of all, and that every man may have an equal privilege.

    From what I’ve heard, this instruction about laughter is given in the context of temple worship and the instruction/teaching that is to occur in the school of the prophets. I’m hoping that it isn’t saying all laughter is bad but only that in certain contexts laughter might detract from the spirituality that is expected or required.

  2. Matt Astle on January 18, 2005 at 1:45 pm

    Likewise, your initial scripture exhorts us not to do “these things” with much laughter. Of course, “these things” refers to “go[ing] to the house of prayer and offer[ing] up thy sacraments upon my holy day.” I don’t think the Lord has a problem with laughter in other contexts.

  3. Mark B. on January 18, 2005 at 2:11 pm

    It’s derisive laughter that’s banned. Chortling or chuckling is definitely ok.

  4. Mark B. on January 18, 2005 at 2:11 pm

    It’s derisive laughter that’s banned. Chortling or chuckling is definitely ok.

  5. Mark B. on January 18, 2005 at 2:13 pm

    It’s so blasted cold in my office that I’m shivering and involuntarily double clicking.

  6. Rosalynde Welch on January 18, 2005 at 2:23 pm

    It seems to me that humor is the form of human expression most sensitive to the pressures of history, because it is often dependent on context… just try reading a Ben Jonson humors comedy, if you’re going to take the “human nature never changes” line! Aside from considerations of place mentioned above, I find it wholly plausible that at the time the revelation was given “laughter” performed a different kind of ideological and cultural work, and that the proscription should be read differently today.

  7. Mark B. on January 18, 2005 at 2:45 pm

    Rosalynde just put some intellectual clothing on my comments. Now, if we can just get Randy Moss to remove some of those clothes.

  8. Mike Heninger on January 18, 2005 at 2:51 pm

    Don’t y’all think that “light speeches” might be more of a problem than “all laughter” on the Internet?

    Seriously, what I think is a bigger problem than a few lame jokes in a church meeting, is the mind set of some people that they want to try and control down to the finest detail every aspect of our lives. The spirit of the Pharisee is alive and well in Zion.

  9. Steve Evans on January 18, 2005 at 3:19 pm

    I’d always interpreted this a little more strictly, to mean not to mock sacred things. This meant, in practical terms, that I couldn’t snicker at my companions’ one-piece garments, however goofy.

  10. danithew on January 18, 2005 at 3:21 pm

    I believe the saying “Every joke is a tiny revolution” is attributed to George Orwell. Perhaps that is why in some sacred contexts laughter is considered inappropriate — because laughter often includes a hint of rebellion, dissidence, etc. Still, for that reason, I often think that laughter is a redemption. It relieves us of too much solemnity, mocks arrogance and tyranny, can help to overcome anger …

  11. danithew on January 18, 2005 at 3:42 pm

    Here’s a link to see all forms of laugh as they appear and are used in the scriptural canon:

    http://scriptures.lds.org/query?words=laugh

  12. Frank McIntyre on January 18, 2005 at 4:20 pm

    Danithew’s list above makes me think that the scriptural use of laughter is narrower than our common usage. It is often used, as RW and Mark B note, to refer to scornful laughter. Thus, there may be a distinction between being lighthearted and lightminded.

    Here’s a quote from President Faust about Heber C. Kimball

    “It was said of President Heber C. Kimball (1801–68) that he prayed and conversed with God “as one man talketh with another” (Abr. 3:11). However, “on one occasion, while offering up an earnest appeal in behalf of certain of his fellow creatures, he startled the kneeling circle by bursting into a loud laugh in the very midst of his prayer. Quickly regaining his composure and solemn address, he remarked, apologetically: ‘Lord, it makes me laugh to pray about some people.’”

  13. A Soft Answer on January 18, 2005 at 4:34 pm
  14. Mark B. on January 18, 2005 at 4:45 pm

    Goofy or not, they do provide some helpful insulation against a frozen toilet seat, if carefully arranged.

    Fools mock (or want to, anyway), but they shall mourn. :-)

  15. Steve Evans on January 18, 2005 at 5:03 pm

    Too much information, Mark B., and there’s NO WAY you’ll convince me that the celestial jumper is somehow better than today’s space-age T-shirt & boxer/brief supergarments. Next you’ll try to sell me on older versions of the BoM!

  16. Mark Hansen on January 18, 2005 at 5:32 pm

    The real reason we’re counseled not to laugh in sacrament meetings and other solemn occasions is a closely guarded secret. Still, I’ll let you all in on it.

    The reason is: You don’t want to wake the high councilman!

    MRKH

  17. Kelly Knight on January 18, 2005 at 7:59 pm

    As my son is fond of saying: “The increase of flatulance is directly proportional to the lack of laughter”.

    Seriously, one night I asked this same son to offer our evening family prayer. No more than 6 words came from his lips before I burst into laughter. The rest of the family was not slow to follow. You see, Jedi has a flare for the dramatic, and though he was not intending humor, “Our Father, which art in heaven” sounded more like the voice one might hear on the moviefone recording.

    Family Home Evening is another instance. Actually, it might just be the tool of the devil, for there are many nights where FHE is near impossible to conduct because of the outbreak of laughter.

    On the other hand, does not laughter denote happiness more than sorrow? After all, “men are that they might have joy”, and what better way to demonstrate joy than a really good belly laugh from time to time.

  18. Rosalynde Welch on January 18, 2005 at 8:48 pm

    Kelly, might you be married to a man with the last name “Ryder”? Because then your son would be Jedi Knight-Ryder, and *that* would be funny.

  19. Sumer on January 18, 2005 at 8:58 pm

    Jedi Knight is already pretty dang funny!

    As for knight-rider, well, there are no non-dirty jokes about that. Shame on you, Rosalynde.

  20. Steve Evans on January 18, 2005 at 8:58 pm

    Sumer will kill me for posting that under her name…

  21. a random John on January 18, 2005 at 9:06 pm

    Steve,
    While you’re watching out for Sumer, you’d better watch out for David Hasselhoff too, because he is now going to kill you as well.

  22. Steve Evans on January 18, 2005 at 9:16 pm

    And Elton John’s significant other…

  23. Rosalynde Welch on January 18, 2005 at 9:29 pm

    Steve, will you believe me when I say that I really, truly did not have anything untoward in mind?

  24. Steve Evans on January 18, 2005 at 11:07 pm

    No. I know you, remember?

  25. Rosalynde Welch on January 18, 2005 at 11:44 pm

    Steve, I was perfectly innocent in college, and I will not have you insinuating aspersions on my character here on my own blog. I will provide character references if necessary.

  26. Kaimi on January 18, 2005 at 11:59 pm

    Careful there Steve, that Missouri long-arm statute is pretty bad. Plus, your statement is on the internet, so Rosalynde probably has jurisdiction just about anywhere. Now what were the elements of “false light” again. . . ?

  27. Brian G on January 19, 2005 at 12:08 am

    Rosalynde, Shannon and I would like you to please stop leaving messages on our machine asking us to be character references. Isn’t it enough that we let you buy our slience?

  28. Kelly Knight on January 19, 2005 at 12:23 am

    Actually, my son IS Jedi Knight, and my younger brother is Michael Knight. Even more strange, Michael’s middle name is David, and while he was alive, he was a life guard for the city of San Diego at Mission Beach.

    On top of all of that, while I am the husband in the family and thus did not marry a man named Ryder (whew!), my wife’s nephew’s middle name is Ryder.

    So, all of this is kind of a creepy coincidence, but what are ya gonna do?

  29. Lisa on January 19, 2005 at 2:30 am

    Just rambling here and this could be too obvious, but isn’t laughter (curse words too) directly related to all the things that make us uncomfortable.

    Smelly Bodily functions.
    Sex.
    Religion.
    Social Status.
    Race.

    So flatulance, sex, eternal damnation, bigotry are all things that make us squirm . . . right?

    Laughter is like a coping mechanism we use to difuse the tension we feel when we talk about these things. So thinking about it in that context it makes me wonder if a prohibition on laughter is saying something larger about the way we deal with uncomfortable social issues.

    I can’t help that feel that in many ways laughter is a very healthy coping strategy, so I don’t really know what my point would be . . .

  30. Kelly Knight on January 19, 2005 at 9:09 am

    Lisa,

    While I have taken the lighter side on laughter, you are right. In many ways laughter is a coping mechanism for those who may be crying on the inside. Clowns are often looked at this way.

    On the other hand, I don’t believe that a man with the stature of President Hinckley, who is one of the more truly enjoyable and funny church leaders I have known in my life time, considers a comical statement during worldwide conference inappropriate. Yes, he takes his calling seriously, and seeks at all times to do the will of the Lord. But I laugh along with millions at virtually every conference I attend because he is always quick with wit and wisdom.

    As one said previously, laughter in sacred settings, such as during the sacrament, or in the temple, or during ordinances, would be inappropriate.

    Which brings me to a funny story. While attending a single’s ward many years ago, we made a trip to the temple to do baptisms for the dead. My responsiblity was to participate in the confirmations. Wendy O came in with her list of names, and the first councilor to the bishop, also single, started going down the list. Part way through the names we came upon the last name Pollock, but in his cadence, he pronounced it Polelock, as in the slang for those from Poland. This error was met with a sudden outbreak of laughter to the point that we had to stop the proceedings, leave the room for a few minutes, and then come back.

    Yes, it was totally inappropriate, but at the moment, and looking back, it was truly memorable, and brought a certain amount of joy to our hearts as this close knit group of friends spent time together doing the work of the Lord. And I am certain the Sister Pollock was not terribly offended at the incident; at least I hope she wasn’t…

  31. Sheri Lynn on January 21, 2005 at 2:30 am

    I get a very bad feeling when I hear jokes about Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, or, for that matter, the Adversary.

    In the first two instances there couldn’t possibly be a way of using Their names that is more in vain.

    In the third instance…the being who wants all mankind damned will never a source of humor to me.

    A clean-minded chuckle during a meeting, but not during Sacrament? That, I think, is a good thing, and I believe we were supposed to seek all of those out.