Elon Musk loves The Babylon Bee. Will he let the satirical Christian site return to Twitter?

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There may be a lesson in social giant Twitter’s recent troubles.

Don’t mess with The Babylon Bee.

Started as a website to poke fun at the Christian subculture, The Bee’s political satire has come to overshadow its more benevolent Christian humor in recent years, landing the site in hot water with fact checkers and gatekeepers social media, including Twitter.

Twitter suspended Babylon Bee’s account on March 22, after labeling a post about Biden’s transgender administration official Rachel Levine as hateful content. Shortly after, billionaire Elon Musk, a fan of the site, received a text from his ex-wife, Talulah Jane Riley.

“The Babylon Bee has been suspended, it’s crazy!” read the text, which was made audience earlier This year. “Why has everyone become so puritanical? Then Riley suggested Musk buy Twitter and either take it down or “make it radically free speech.”

Musk, who recently bought Twitter for $44 billion and implemented massive layoffs, was a critic of social media censorship long before The Bee’s troubles. But the satirical site’s connection to one of the world’s most powerful men is the latest example of The Bee’s rise from a side project of would-be pastor to conservative powerhouse.

The Bee, modeled similarly to the secular satire site onion, started as the brainchild of Adam Ford, who quit his job in the mid-2010s to start creating web content. Ford’s dream of becoming a pastor had been derailed by panic and the Depression, he told the Washington Post in 2016.

With the help of medication, Ford got better and started writing about faith, first for a webcomic and then in 2016 for The Bee. From the start, the site was a great success, especially with evangelical Christians who appreciated good-natured jokes about weaknesses of church lifewhich at the time attracted more than political jokes.

Among the site’s most memorable early jokes were title “The Holy Spirit is unable to move through the congregation as the fog machine breaks.”

“We barely finished our new song. It was a real train wreck,” a fictional Nashville cult leader reportedly said.

Other early jokes made fun of church committees and prosperity gospel pastors like Joel Osteen, including this headline: “Joel Osteen sails a luxury yacht through flooded Houston to distribute copies of ‘Your Best Life Now’.”

Jon Glass, pastor of Cropwell Baptist Church in Pell City, Ala., enjoyed the church humor at The Bee in its early days, calling it “the kind of sarcasm that hits home and makes you think “Is this what we look like? ‘”

Writer and former pastor Jelani Greenidge was also an early fan of The Bee’s attempts to poke fun at the weird side of evangelical culture. Those early messages, he said, helped Christians laugh at themselves.

“The best satire comes from a place of love,” Greenidge said. That love, he said, seems to be missing these days at The Bee, which Greenidge says seems too focused on confusing politicians and progressive figures conservatives hate.

Current Babylon Bee CEO Seth Dillon, the son of a pastor and former internet marketer who bought a majority stake in The Babylon Bee in 2018, said the site still posts many jokes about the church. But fewer people share them.

“We still make a lot of church jokes – they just don’t go as viral as the other stuff,” he said, as the opportunities for satire in the daily news cycle are endless. He pointed to the repeated satire of Donald Trump’s site – a Trump joke topping The Bee’s “greatest hits” list of pages that got the most traffic – which Dillon called an “outrageous figure” that deserved to be laughed at.

Today, however, the site is best known for its criticism of liberal politicians and what Dillon called the “Waking Mind Virus.” He describes The Bee as a satirical site with a Christian worldview dedicated to poking fun at bad ideas in popular culture.

“We don’t want our audience to feel bad about themselves, like we’re bullying them,” he said. “We want our audience to take bad ideas less seriously.”

Ford remains co-owner of The Bee and also manages “Not the Bee”, which aggregates bizarre headlines, often about progressives.

While The Bee’s website still features a medley of jokes – the twin headlines “A worshiper turned into a pillar of salt after turning to Sound Guy’s glare” and “Satan leads prayer to the Trump Rally” dominated the site on Monday, November 7 – political jokes and prog-culture spades get the most attention, dominating both the site’s “buzzing” list, which tracks trending stories on the site, as well as than The Bee’s greatest hits.

“They do a great job raising awareness of the absurdity that drives so much of our culture,” said Alex MacArthur, software engineer and Bee fan from Nashville, Tenn.

The site’s editors seem particularly obsessed with U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who publishes two dozen articles about the New York Democrat in 2022 alone. For subscribers, who pay between $4.17 and $15 per months for ad-free content and other bonuses, the site offers a list of the top 10 Ocasio-Cortez jokes (“AOC Engaged, Signs Up For $10,000 ‘Tax The Rich’ Toaster,” “AOC cries outside Disney World in dress while reading ‘Groom The Kids’”).

The site ran a number of anti-trans jokes — poking fun at both particular transgender people like Levine and fictional trans people. One of the site’s biggest hits is about a motorcyclist who wins races by “identifying himself as a cyclist”.

The Bee’s satirical forays into culture war issues have won a loyal following — the site draws around 20 million page views a month, Dillon said — and the ire of many.

In addition to the suspension of its Twitter account, The Babylon Bee has been blasted by fact checkers and social media sites for sharing misinformation. It cost the site traffic and money, Dillon said. Even so, The Bee is trying to capitalize on what Dillon called big tech censorship of conservative viewpoints by running ads highlighting its clashes with social media gatekeepers to attract subscribers.

“It helps expose them not just to humorless reprimands,” he said, “but to big tech tyrants.”

Matt Sienkiewicz, chair of Boston College’s communications department and co-author of “It’s Not Funny: How the Right Makes Comedy Work for Themsaid The Babylon Bee is part of a larger and highly successful conservative comedy ecosystem.

But The Bee’s success in promoting “anti-liberal comedy” has come at the cost of stifling Christian satire, according to Sienkiewicz. Fans who came to the site for church humor probably don’t see these jokes anymore because they don’t feed the outrage algorithm or because they’re turned off by politics.

“What no one else can do,” he said, “has been lost.”

Much of today’s humor, he said, is shaped by what he called “clapping” – where people clap because they agree with the person doing the joke, rather than laughing at themselves.

“It may be funny,” he said, “but it loses a bit of joy.”

Sienkiewicz said attempts to label The Bee as disinformation are foolish, as the site is clearly satire. But, he said, The Bee risks falling into a “risk-averse strategy” when it comes to comedy by only telling the jokes its audience will agree with.

“One of the saddest things about the state of American politics,” he said, “is that it makes comedy harder and less interesting.”

Ethan Nicolle, a conservative California writer and Babylon Bee staffer from 2018 to 2022, agrees.

Nicolle, who was creative director of The Bee at the start of his work in editor Kyle Mann’s garage, said he loved working for The Bee and having the chance to poke fun at the state of American culture – some of which he believes is very unhealthy.

“They tell the jokes you’re not supposed to tell,” he said.

Still, he suspects the country’s polarization makes satire more difficult. People are afraid to criticize their own side and don’t want to be friends with anyone from the other side.

“All the joy in life comes from your relationships with others,” Nicolle said. “And canceling another human being because of something political they said doesn’t make sense. And we’re doing it with half the country.

So far, Musk’s takeover of Twitter hasn’t paid off for The Bee – the site’s Twitter account remained suspended in early November. But The Bee staff scored a lengthy in-person interview with Musk, in which he discussed censorship, enduring energy and his own religious background, which included attending Hebrew school and Sunday school in an Anglican church and the belief in “the God of Spinoza.

Musk also said he was a fan of Jesus’ teachings.

“Things like turning the other cheek are very important, as opposed to eye for an eye,” he said. “An eye for an eye makes everyone blind.”

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