Ship of Fools: Laughing or crying?

The Christian's Guide to Small Arms site shoots straight with World Wide Web users, offering information on safety, ammunition, marksmanship and photos of 40-plus weapons.

Clicking on another icon leads to Bible-study materials arguing that it isn't just "the right, but in fact, the DUTY of Christians to be armed." After all, Jesus told his followers: "But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one."

This site is dead serious. But is it also funny?

Stephen Goddard thinks so. So do the other editors of "Ship of Fools: The Magazine of Christian Unrest," a new "e-zine" based in Liverpool, England. They've included a salute, and an Internet link, to the small-arms site in their "Fruitcake Zone" page - along other sites such as "Live chat with God" and the "Christian Naturists" home page, with its biblical defense of nudism and the obligatory photos.

Goddard couldn't make up this stuff, yet he also knows that one man's satire is another's sacrilege. But humor also can be a sacrament, he said. The online publication has claimed as its patron St. Simeon the Holy Fool, who left his Dead Sea cave to throw nuts at clergy, blow out candles during liturgies, cavort with dancing girls and live on a shockingly bean-intensive diet.

"God uses humor a lot. In the Book of Job he is almost sarcastic," said Goddard, a veteran publicist and former editor of a British magazine for Christian young people called Buzz. "Jesus is not above ridiculing some people's opinions, but he never ridicules people. So we are trying to walk that thin line. We want to hammer things that deserve to be hammered, but we don't want to demean people."

The site - at - opened in April and last month received 10,000 "hits" from readers, including what Goddard said was a rising number of letters and humorous tidbits from the United States. In Britain, the site has received coverage from The Times of London, The Guardian, BBC Radio 1, The Daily Telegraph and the Church Times.

But the Ship of Fools crew received a rockier reception when it contacted a Christian site called The Magazine Rack to request a listing in its guide to 100-plus free online publications. That site's webmaster wrote back to say that he didn't laugh when he examined Ship of Fools.

"To our regret, we were unable to find any social, moral, or redeeming value," said David Parsons. "Instead, we discovered sarcasm. I would like to bring you to remembrance that we are suppose to build up the Church and not destroy it." He also reminded Goddard and company that Jesus once said, "whosoever shall say, 'thou fool,' shall be in danger of hell fire."

Ship of Fools does contain waves of foolish stuff, such as a "Mystery Worshipper" page offering reviews of services in major churches. Coming soon: Christian "urban legends" and outrages from the theological left. Other regular features include:

* Gadgets for God, such as the "Jesus Saves" air freshener, a JC/DC shirt, a Burning Bush necktie, Share the Good Chews snacks, Hot 'n' Holy pepper sauce and lots more.

* John Calvin's Newsround, featuring strange news stories. For example, a Polish computer programmer has created a software package for those preparing for confession. The Ship of Fools crew dubbed this Penance 2.1.

* Signs and Blunders, offering bizarre images from advertisements, church signs, bumper stickers and the world at large. In one Brazilian ad, soccer superstar Ronaldo is posed atop Corcovado Mountain overlooking Rio de Janeiro, taking the place of its famous statue of Jesus.

Goddard stressed that the site's ultimate goal is constructive.

"We are actually very orthodox," he said. "But what we are discovering is that there are lots of people like us. They feel like they are on the fringe of the religious establishment or in the cracks. But they are believers. They are not liberals. They are not secularists. Whether we want to or not, we are ministering to these people by letting them laugh at this crazy world, rather than just cry about it."