Free Inquiry
Appeared in Secular Humanist Bulletin, vol 11 issue 4

The Madman's Speech

by Tim Madigan

The following article is from the Secular Humanist Bulletin, Volume 11, Number 4.

Mad Again

Recently a subscriber sent me a few pages from MAD magazine. It had been many years since I'd seen this particular publication. During my grammar school days I had read it (if you'll pardon the expression) religiously, but I had long since put away childish things.

The excerpt in question was entitled "The Academy for the Radical Religious Right Course Catalogue," and featured dead-on caricatures of Pat Robertson, Phyllis Schlafly, Donald Wildmon, Ralph Reed and the other usual suspects (MAD has always been noted for its outstanding art work). The article begins: "Funda-Mental Institution Department: Why do members of the radical religious right think the way they do? Are they born like that? Did they have a bad accident as a child? A tragic love affair that soured them on the world? The answer is: none of the above! You have to be taught to be so self-righteous and narrow-minded! It takes years of schooling at a highly specialized learning institution! And we've managed to get our grimy little hands on a brochure for such a place." The piece then gives examples of the core curriculum, such as "Philosophy 101 - The Trap of Thinking: This introductory course examines the secular humanism that has infected our culture as demonstrated by rock music, PG-13 rated movies and `Gilligan's Island' reruns (which depict several unmarried men and women alone on a desert island) . . . All enrollees are invited to a special seminar in which the seemingly contradictory theses of supporting capital punishment while fighting to protect the lives of the unborn are empirically justified." There are also hilarious cartoons of House Speaker Newt Gingrich making a surprise appearance at the Academy, hanging Big Bird in effigy, and Pat Robertson wielding the bible in one hand and a wad of money in the other, "speaking on the theological connection between donations and salvation."

This is hard-hitting stuff. I had forgotten just how explicit and unrelenting the satire in MAD could be. But what should one expect from a magazine that proudly bills itself as offering "humor in a jugular vein"? Reading this parody caused me to reconsider the influence MAD must have had on my own worldview. While I like to credit my coming into humanism (and my falling out of Catholicism) to reading such sources as James Joyce, Friedrich Nietzsche and Jean-Paul Sartre, in hindsight it would appear that my voracious explorations of MAD during my parochial school days primed the pump for my apostasy. In MAD, one can truly say that nothing is sacred. This message must have sunk into the deep recesses of my psyche - even as I sat through catechism and confirmation classes, my MAD collection was never far from my side.

If you are interested in knowing more about this wacky and wicked publication, I recommend the book Completely Mad: A History Of The Comic Book And Magazine by Maria Reidelbach (Little, Brown and Company, 1991). Many of the examples given in the work demonstrate MAD's irreverent take on religion, such as its "Religion in America Primer" in issue #153: "The Priest: This is a Catholic priest. His church believes in many things. It believes in miracles. The priest helps Catholics in time of need. He helps them solve business problems, even though he has never been in business. He helps them solve marriage problems, even though he has never been married. He helps them solve sexual problems, even though he has never had sex. Now you know why the Catholic Church believes in miracles!" But the magazine has doesn't only poke fun at Catholicism - it skewers all denominations.

The guiding genius behind MAD was its founder and long-time publisher, the late William M. Gaines. I was not surprised to read in Reidelbach's book that Gaines was an explicit atheist. Gaines may well have been one of the most influential freethinkers of all time - his magazine has always been in the forefront of giving the raspberry to dogmatism wherever it appears. He should take his rightful place in the pantheon of humanist heroes, although I'm sure his first act would be to slip a whoopy cushion under Voltaire's seat. Gaines' motto was "don't take anything too seriously", including satire itself.

Just to prove that MAD is continuing in its non-inspirational ways, I picked up the October 1995 premier issue of Big Bad Mad: A Collection Of Classic Out-Of-Print Mad Paperback Insanity Not Seen In Years! (Big Deal!). It contains a parody of the film Ghostbusters II, and in one panel a priest accosts the Bill Murray character and states "As clergymen, we're against people believing in fantastic nonsense like supernatural superstition", to which Murray replies: "Yeah. You want people to believe in everyday stuff like Noah and the Ark, Jonah and the Whale, and talking serpents with apples!"

So the next time organized religion and superstition has you down, don't get even — get MAD.

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