Saturday, August 25, 2007



Charlie Chaplin said, "A day without laughter is a day wasted," but there are those who think even a giggle is sinful.

Warren Jeffs, President and Prophet, Seer and Revelator of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), is in custody awaiting trial for a variety of criminal offenses. A few years ago the Salt Lake Tribune newspaper ran a series of articles on the persistence of polygamy within the FLDS, and mentioned that Jeffs tried to ban laughter among his followers:
People have been warned that laughter causes the spirit of God to leak from their bodies, amplifying an obscure tenet in Joseph Smith's Doctrine and Covenants.

"We tried not to laugh," Draper said. "We wondered 'How do we do this? Is there anyone who is going to make it?'"
There are three passages in Smith's Doctrines and Covenants which discourage laughter:Someone who does not laugh is an agelast, from the ancient Greek word ἀγέλαστος. Aelian, Varia Historia 8.13 (tr. N.G. Wilson), mentions some agelasts of ancient times, all of them philosophers:
They say that Anaxagoras of Clazomenae was never seen to laugh or to smile at all. Aristoxenus [fr. 7 W.] too was a determined opponent of laughter, while Heraclitus wept at the whole of human life.

Ἀναξαγόραν τὸν Κλαζομένιόν φασι μὴ γελῶντά ποτε ὀφθῆναι μηδὲ μειδιῶντα τὴν ἀρχήν. λέγουσι δὲ καὶ Ἀριστόξενον τῷ γέλωτι ἀνὰ κράτος πολέμιον γενέσθαι· Ἡράκλειτόν τε, ὅτι πάντα τὰ ἐν τῷ βίῳ ἔκλαεν.
To this list could be added Pythagoras, who never laughed or cried according to Porphyry, Life of Pythagoras 35, cited by Wilson on Varia Historia 3.35, where Aelian states:
There is a story circulating—it again is Athenian—which says that formerly in the Academy laughter was not allowed. They tried to keep the place untouched by arrogance and idleness.

Λόγος δέ τις διαρῥεῖ καὶ οὗτος Ἀττικός, ὃς λέγει πρότερον ἐν Ἀκαδημίᾳ μηδὲ γελάσαι ἐξουσίαν εἶναι· ὕβρει γὰρ καὶ ῥᾳθυμίᾳ ἐπειρῶντο τὸ χωρίον ἄβατον φυλάττειν.
Wilson ad loc. also cites N. Adkin, "The Fathers on Laughter," Orpheus 6 (1985) 149-152, which I have not seen.

Related post: Did Christ Ever Laugh?

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