On Justifying the Use of Ridicule and Mockery

Hey, I KNOW Christians don't like being mocked. I get that. So it's no surprise they would object to it by saying it doesn't cause them to change their minds, that it makes them dig their heels in deeper, and that it just makes them think less of the one doing the mocking. You would expect them to say this. The facts however are different. Ridicule and mockery have been very effective in any cultural war and they will forever be effective and necessary.

Professor Keith Parsons joins with others in advocating ridicule. He advocates this as one response to fundamentalism. He writes:
“A single belly-laugh is worth a thousand syllogisms” said H.L. Mencken. Fundamentalism and fundamentalists should be ridiculed in the media, by comedians, or wherever. You don’t have to worry about fairness, since, as Poe’s Law famously notes, no satire can possibly be more absurd than the real thing. Come on. You just can’t come up with anything more ridiculous than someone who honestly thinks that all human woes stem from an incident in which a talking snake accosted a naked woman in a primeval garden and talked her into eating a piece of fruit. Again, most ridicule would consist of pointedly drawing attention to what they really believe. Nothing could be fairer than that. As a sign admonished on The Simpsons, put the fun back in fundamentalism. Laugh it to death. LINK.
It's not just the so-called "new atheists" like Richard Dawkins, Bill Maher, and PZ Myers who advocate ridicule. I do too (see below). So does Richard Carrier, as does Stephen Law. Keep in mind we don't advocate this as the only response.

There have been some very famous satires in history. Here are five important ones:

1) Aristophanes's Greek comedy The Clouds, portrays Socrates as a buffoon and a deceiver of the young. It was the first comedy "of ideas" and was a contributing factor in the trial and death of Socrates.

2) In 1509 Desiderius Erasmus wrote In Praise of Folly, one of the most notable works of the Renaissance and considered to be a catalyst for the Protestant Reformation. In it Erasmus praises self-deception and madness and proceeds to highlight both with regard to the the abuses of the Roman Catholic Church.

3) In 1729 Jonathan Swift wrote A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People From Being a Burden to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick, where he mocks the English mistreatment of the Irish poor (a subject dear to my heart being of Irish descent). Swift suggests the solution for the impoverished Irish was to sell their children as food to the rich.

4) In 1759 Voltaire's Candide effectively mocked Leibniz's theodicy that "all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds."

5) Thomas Taylor wrote a satire of Mary Wollstonecraft's book A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792). Her book was the first defense of women's rights in Western English literature. She attacked gender oppression and argued for equal educational opportunities, justice, and equality for all humanity. Taylor mocked her ideas with A Vindication of the Rights of Brutes, arguing that if women have rights, then animals also have rights, but that was preposterous to him and to his readers at the time. The irony of Taylor's satire is that he provided some of the first arguments for animal rights that are used today (by those who also condemn his sexism).

Now, does anyone think these satires convinced the people who disagreed, the ones who made the case that was being mocked by these satires? I highly doubt it. I doubt they changed any minds among the ones who thought differently, who knew Socrates personally, who were archbishops in the Catholic Church, who considered the Irish to be garbage, who agreed with Leibniz, or thought women were second rate human beings. These people cannot be convinced by satire, so satire is not written to change their minds. It's written to marginalize them by laughing at them. It persuades people who don't yet have a settled opinion on the issue, in part by using social pressure. No one wants to be a laughingstock. No one wants to be the butt of a joke. If people are laughing at a particular view it pressures the undecided to distance themselves from it. It draws a line in the sand, so to speak. It can also silence people who think otherwise, for they won't want to speak up in a class on behalf of something most others will laugh at.

Isn't using laughter an informal fallacy known as Appealing to Ridicule? It sure is. Shouldn't all intelligent people denounce using an informal fallacy then? Shouldn't they instead take the moral and intellectual high ground? No, not at all. In some ways we just cannot help ourselves since some ideas seem that preposterous. When something cannot be taken seriously it deserves our laughter. We all do it, all of us. Should we hide our laughter so as not to offend? I think not. It's a way to "come out of the closet," so to speak, to let others know they will be laughed at if they espouse certain ideas with a straight face. There is power in social pressure. There is power in numbers.

Ridicule also shows people just how bad we think the case is for something. The worse we think the case is then the more our ridicule shows people what we really think of it. Laughter is an entirely appropriate response to a person who suggests women are inferior to men. That's how bad the case is for sexism. And the more studied a person is on a particular issue then more force that person's ridicule has on others. I'm ridiculed almost daily by believers who are usually ignorant of their own ignorance, so their ridicule shouldn't matter at all. By contrast, I have spent 40 years studying Christianity and my conclusion is that believers who seek to defend it are worth being laughed at. I laugh almost daily when reading something written by one of the top Christian apologists. They remind me of the story of the emperor who has no clothes on, really. I'm not kidding. Been there done that myself. Now I'm wearing clothes. I'm never going back to that nutty nudist camp for the mentally challenged who are all infected with the same virus of the mind.

The use of ridicule can be justified pragmatically. It works well under the right circumstances, depending on the issue and the potential effectiveness of using it. It is best used when the arguments are there to back it up, and when more people agree against the ideas that are being ridiculed. This is what Stephen Law, Richard Carrier and I are saying about the use of ridicule, and we have earned the right to use it because we have produced the arguments. That is, because we know Christianity is a delusion, and since deluded people cannot usually be argued out of their faith because they were never argued into it in the first place, the use of persuasion techniques like ridicule are rationally justifiable. So satire, ridicule and mockery are weapons that should be in our arsenal in this important cultural war of ideas.

Human beings may be so bad at reasoning that persuasion is all that matters. We are not like Spock of Star Trek. Not one is. Far, far, from it. If this even has some modicum degree of truth to it, and I think it does, then that alone justifies the use of mockery. Christians, for instance, are not usually reasoned into their faith. They were persuaded into it. They were persuaded to believe by the circumstances of their upbringing and/or the likability of a significant person in their lives. Based on this human propensity of ours, mockery might actually be more effective than thought, for if they were persuaded into their faith then maybe they can also be persuaded out of it.

Science is the only antidote to this propensity of ours, and science has spoken on matters of faith. Faith is an unreliable process for gaining knowledge. Therefore the Christian faith, qua faith, is a delusion for childish people. Doubt is the adult attitude. Ridicule is both helpful and necessary. Someday in the future people will treat Christianity just like all of the other dead gods and religions are treated today. We mock them. In the future, anyone who learns about Christianity in a history book will mock it like all the other dead religions.

Nothing I've said should lead anyone to think all we need is mockery. Far from it. I will continue reasoning with believers as always. It's just that mockery is effective, necessary, and justifiable in this cultural war. It's one of the weapons we need to change the religious landscape, which is my goal.

If you meet people who think otherwise then send them here to discuss it.