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Abstract

"Contemporary Russian religious humor continues the tradition of this spiritual and selfsacrificial laughter. The anecdotes that are gathered here make fun not only of religion and its characteristic attributes, but of human imperfections and shortcomings, which manifest themselves in relation to various aspects of worship. Everything is good in moderation, including religious zeal that is not the goal by itself, but the instrument of spiritual and moral development. There is a proverbial saying in Russia—force a fool to pray to God and he will beat his forehead. Many anecdotes portray in a comic light this certain pseudo-piety, the eternal human intention to follow the letter of religion to the detriment of its spirit, while remaining the same stingy, calculating, deceitful, vain, and lustful creatures that care not a bit about their own inner transformation.

Religious anecdotes mock blind imitation of the authorities, literal (and often absurd) interpretation of the Scriptures, inappropriate claims to sainthood, and the insatiable desire to use God and religion in self-interest. Religious humor, therefore, purifies human souls from the filth of intolerance and fanaticism. It awakens respect and compassion toward those people who profess another faith or hold different views and opinions, and belong to diverse races, nations, classes and civilizations. Thus, religious humor teaches us to love and appreciate religion in ourselves and not ourselves in religion—an attitude needed in our contemporary post-Cold War world, stricken by the fever of religious terrorism."

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