Frank Skinner's wise words on the Christian faith

Frank Skinner. (Photo: BBC)

Truth can come from a range of places. In Shakespeare, it's the fool who often has the insight that the main characters lack. In the Old Testament, it's the prophets that proclaim the truth from God's perspective.

Maybe today, we should be listening more to the comedians – to the people who stand back from our day-to-day happenings and see the world from different angles. They can make us laugh, but they can also teach us truths about ourselves that can be distinctly uncomfortable.

Take the new book by comedian, and Catholic, Frank Skinner. It's called 'A Comedian's Prayer Book' (Hodder & Stoughton) and runs to just over a hundred pages. Yet in that thin volume, Skinner – who is very open about his devout Christian faith – poses serious questions for both believers and atheists.

It's far from being a comfortable read, though it never ceases to be amusing and thoughtful.

Setting the scene for the book, Skinner, an award-winning comedian, television and radio host, explains: "Imagine someone on a pilgrimage, stopping at churches, martyr-related tourist spots and sacred wells, while dressed in a medieval jester outfit.

"The intention is serious and completely devout, but the pilgrim just feels more at home in the motley than in sackcloth and ashes. He feels jest is an integral part of who he is and it seems wrong to deny that part."

Skinner sees his role as a comic as integral to this faith, although some 'fellow pilgrims' may be uncomfortable with someone who seems to see humour all around him – and can easily make others laugh.

Yet Frank Skinner raises deep issues in the chapters of this slim volume, including questions that will connect with people both within the Christian faith, and those standing outside.

He describes his prayer life as "a telepathic dip into a long, ongoing conversation with thousands of tabs left open and no helpful 'new readers start here' summaries or simplifications for the neutral observer."

Skinner considers the afterlife and is troubled by concepts of heaven and hell. He asks questions that other Christians have raised through the centuries: "I am promised eternal bliss if I'm a good person, but such bliss, knowing that my mother, or anyone else for that matter smoulders and screams, can only be achieved by an unimaginable amount of callous indifference."

The comedian reflects on Jesus's parable about it being easier for a rich person to enter heaven, than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, and comments: "When I started earning, a lot of me didn't need worrying about anymore, so I had scope to worry about someone else. Money, I think, has made me kinder."

He is also deeply troubled by the Old Testament account of Abraham being asked to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. When Skinner is debating with atheists, he hopes they will not bring up the story.

Frank Skinner's 'prayer book' is on my bookshelf alongside '10 Second Sermons' (Darton, Longman & Todd), written by fellow comedian Milton Jones in 2011. Again, the comedian's quirky view on life brings fresh insights and challenges.

Jones, a master of one-line jokes, describes gossip as "bullying people who are not there," lust as "rehearsing for a play in which you shouldn't have a part" and salvation as "like being returned to the factory settings – but you have to admit there is a factory, and that there could be some settings."

One of my favourites is Jones's description of the Holy Spirit as "a real person you can invite in. But watch out – in time he will go over, pull the fridge from the wall and say 'What's all this mess under here?' But at least he helps clear up."

Both Milton Jones and Frank Skinner are comedians of faith – comedic commentators with a gift of making us see the world with fresh insight. And, as importantly, making us laugh.

They can also be profound and serious.

Frank Skinner takes us into the deep reality of his faith, as he writes of his experience of God and of prayer: "I'm here to confess, to offer myself up for inspection, to shine the light into my own dark corners. But sometimes you intervene. I honestly think you intervene.

"There's no voice, no sudden smell of incense. But somewhere in the swirl of me, you also become present."

Rev Peter Crumpler is a Church of England priest in St Albans, Herts, UK, and the author of 'Responding to Post-truth' (Grove Books).