There’s this t-shirt that features three wolves howling at the moon. It’s very mystical, native American-ish, and also kind of corny. It’s not the kind of shirt you’d expect to see being sold in a store like Hot Topic, but at a turquoise and leather craft fair. But there it is. Out of place among all the vintage Nintendo and Tim Burton tees. Why? Because it’s ironic.
The idea of ironic clothing has always baffled me. I’m not sure I get the idea of wearing a t-shirt that you hate as a way of secretly mocking those people who wear the exact same shirt because they like it. Maybe I just stopped being a hipster before it was cool.
Perhaps I’m missing something, but I’m starting to feel like irony is overdone. And when you like something because it’s intentionally or unintentionally ironic, is that really any different than liking it out of some other sense of taste? I once met a kid who was wearing a Christian tee that inserted the word “Jesus” into a Pepsi logo. I didn’t actually like the shirt, but as a good church brat, I wanted to at least support the bravery of wearing such a shirt into public. So I said, “Nice shirt.” He chuckled and told me that he was wearing it to be ironic, and after I walked away, I heard him, very obviously, over-asserting the fact that it was only supposed to be ironic. As if his friends hadn’t noticed he was wearing a Jesus tee until that point.
I could have dumped the irony back on him, I suppose, telling him that my “Nice shirt” was only ironic, and that I didn’t really like his crummy ol’ shirt anyway.
The problem is that irony doesn’t hardly translate into any other arenas. Vegetarians don’t occasionally eat a hamburger to be ironic. Vegans don’t wear fur as an inside joke to other vegans. Christians don’t worship idols out of some kind of mockery to those that do.
Or do they?
Writing in the first century, St. Paul spent a great deal of time trying to teach early Christians, many of whom were converts from other religions, a sense of balance. If he taught about rules, he would rally those who came out of the legalistic system of Pharisaical Judaism. If he preached on grace, he drew about him a circle of former hedonists who were excited about the idea of having their slate wiped clean every morning. As he sought balance, a weird hybrid of the two arose: Christians who celebrated Christ’s eternal grace and forgiveness by indulging in weird and wicked acts so that grace could “abound more.” St. Paul rightly called a group of Roman believers out and said, “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?”
I see something similar still today. Without pointing fingers at any one group, there seems to be this notion that certain believers within a certain denomination, or a certain theological mindset, enjoy greater freedom to sin than the rest of us do, precisely because they understand grace better. The problem is that they then must also jump to the assumption that their theological foundation allows them a greater understanding than was afforded to St. Paul, when he was under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The problem, as I see it, isn’t that grace doesn’t abound. There is always forgiveness. The problem is that no one told your friends that your crazy partying is only ironic, and after a while, maybe it isn’t.
(And speaking of wolves, be sure to check out my novella, GRAVESIGHT.)