These words are from Douglas Wilson, my favorite thinker. I have cut a few lines for the sake of brevity; my goal is to retain all the principles. I believe that satire, done well, is one of the most effective weapons for fighting evil. While his words are delivered to a Christian audience, I believe the principles are relevant to all effective satire.
1. A godly satirist should be a member of a worshipping community of orthodox and faithful Christians, and he should live in such a way as to be accountable to others for his words and actions. He should not be the sole judge and arbiter of the words that come from his mouth and keyboard. (Eph. 5:21).
2. A godly satirist should be steeped in the language and categories of Scripture. Spurgeon said of Bunyan that if you pricked him anywhere, his blood would run bibline. It should be the same here (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
3. A godly satirist should have a warm and affectionate relationship with his wife, sons, daughters, mother, and father. No close member of his family should flinch when he walks into the room (Col. 3:19, 21).
4. A godly satirist should be well-educated, well-read in the kind of literature that he is seeking to contribute to. A good ear comes not only from practice, but also from listening long and thoughtfully to those who are gifted and have practiced the same art.
5. A godly satirist should study to learn the quantitative boundary between satire and scurrility, knowing from the outset that there is such a boundary. (Dt. 25:1-3).
6. A godly satirist should study the qualitative difference between satire and scurrility. This is a matter of timbre and tone. No mechanical rules can be set down for it, but it is a very important distinction to make (Heb. 5:14). It is the shrillness or “screech” test.
7. A godly satirist should not be too young. In his Table Talk, Martin Luther once quoted an old instructor of his who had long wondered how St. Jerome, God’s grouch, had ever gotten saved. But old and crotchety men come from somewhere, and where they come from are young men who were promoted too soon and too rapidly (usually because of native intellectual ability) to positions that then go to their heads. Because satire assumes a stance of rhetorical superiority, there is a real snare in it for certain young men.
8. A godly satirist should target lack of proportion, not exhibit lack of proportion (Matt. 23:24).
9. A godly satirist should look carefully (and regularly) at the effect he is having on younger Christians who know him and desire to imitate him (2 Cor. 11:1). Does their imitation of him lead regularly to relational disasters in their lives? If the imitator is becoming more and more like the satirist, is this a matter that causes dismay in all godly observers? Or is it something that encourages them?
10. A godly satirist should have long experience in letting love cover a multitude of sins (1 Pet. 4:8). He should not be the kind of man who consistently gets bad service in restaurants. One of his chief characteristics in his day-to-day living should be his patience (Gal. 5:22). Road rage should be an alien temptation for him.
11. A godly satirist should be courageous. Lawful satire is leveled at targets that know how to defend themselves, and that will defend themselves. As King Lune of Archenland put it, “Never taunt a man save when he is stronger than you: then, as you please.” Lawful satire is a challenge to engage; nothing is more unbecoming than to act surprised when the challenge is received and answered. Don’t start what you are not prepared to finish.
12. A godly satirist should be a man who knows how to humble himself in order to seek forgiveness from others for sins he has committed (Jas. 5:16). If he is too proud to humble himself when he has sinned, then he is too proud for this calling.
13. A godly satirist should not be an angry man. His demeanor should generally be jolly, not angry. Man’s anger does not advance God’s righteousness (Jas. 1:20). Anger, even when it is righteous (Eph. 4:26), is like manna and goes bad overnight (Eph. 4:27). Occasions of anger are appropriate (as Christ’s example shows in Mk. 3:5), but if it is an accurate description of a man’s general demeanor, he should not even think about satire.
14. A godly satirist should not have “little man syndrome,” meaning that he should not employ satire because he has something deep inside to prove, usually to his father. If he is trying to make the little voices in his head go away, he should be aware that the use of satire only enflames them.
15. A godly satirist must be free of all envy. James tells us that truly destructive battles occur within the church because of envy (Jas. 4:1-6). This means that a satirist must be sure in his heart that he is not in any envious way dazzled or bewildered by that which he is attacking.
16. A godly satirist should know the difference between weakness and arrogance, and, as far as possible, reserve his arrows for the latter. No doubt sometimes the former are caught in the crossfire—some simple widow in Israel probably thought that the gold sanctified the altar because her rabbi had told her that.
17. A godly satirist needs to read widely in church history, particularly in ancient disputes. This will dislodge the very provincial notion that the current rules of academic etiquette are somehow binding on all generations of the Church.
18. A godly satirist should not be stuck on one speed (Ecc. 3:1-8). All satire, all the time, would be tolerable for about forty-five minutes. We are to weep with those who weep, laugh with those who laugh, encourage the downcast, rebuke the arrogant and powerful, comfort the afflicted, and (here is where satire can come in) afflict the comfortable.
19. A godly satirist should hate what is evil. The fear of God is not only the beginning of knowledge, but it is also defined as the hatred of evil. “The fear of the LORD is to hate evil: pride, and arrogance, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate” (Prov. 8:14, KJV).
20. A godly satirist should love what is good (Tit. 2:14). He should be motivated by a love that seeks to defend what is noble and right, or weak and defenseless, and not be motivated by a bitterness that seeks to bite and tear (Gal. 5:13-15).