There are those in the Freethought movement who say that atheists should not use ridicule as a tool against religious beliefs. It is offensive to believers and makes more enemies than friends. However, I have always held that ridiculous beliefs are, by definition, worthy of ridicule.
It’s true that it hits some people as too strong, and it does incur occasional reactions that might, in some instances, not help the movement; but it is also capable of making a strong point; of getting through to some people where polite logic does not; like when the believer is so couched in their reflexive reaction to non-belief, that they fall back on their “bumper-sticker” responses and consider them sufficient.
One such use of ridicule is when we point out that biblical marriage is NOT one man and one woman. Betty Bowers (a fictional construct who represents America’s Best Christian) has a wonderful video on this that points out that Biblical Marriage is NOT one man and one woman, as put forward by most Christians. In fact, Biblical marriage can also be:
1) One man, One Woman, and a slave girl.
2) One man, many wives and many concubines.
3) One man, many women and their property (slaves)
4) One man, his many wives and his brother’s widow
5) One man, his many wives as well as any female prisoners of war he might take
6) One man, and a rape victim, where the rapist pays the father of the bride 50 shekels and marries his victim (no matter how many other wives the man already has).
7) One male slave and as many female slaves as the master wants him to marry.
One common thread one notices when looking at the instances where Atheists ridicule religion is that no matter what method of ridicule Atheists uses, it’s usually based on facts about Religion itself, and that the religious beliefs themselves are what makes it so ridiculous. However, that is not the case where religious people ridicule atheists. They generally rely on straw man arguments, which put forward fallacious claims about atheists, and then attack those false claims as if they were true.
Take these two popular internet memes:
Christianity: The belief that some cosmic Jewish Zombie can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically tell him that you accept him as your master, so he can remove an evil force from your soul that is present in humanity because a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat fruit from a magical tree. Every Christian will recognize the veracity of each of these sentences and probably where to find them in the Bible.
The ridiculous Christian ideas are not fabricated by Atheists, they are inherent in the beliefs themselves; they represent resurrection, sin, salvation, prayer, communion, submission to God, Eve’s origins, the Serpent and the Tree of Knowledge. Because of that, it is the beliefs themselves that deserve a measure of ridicule.
The second however misrepresents what atheism is. Atheism is simply the lack of belief in a god, any god, and that is all it is. This definition, not only misrepresents Atheism; but it also goes on to misrepresent modern scientific thought. Physicists and cosmologists may or may not think that something came from nothing, but they will tell you right up front that they don’t know where the initial matter of the universe came from. Also, evolutionary biologists do not believe that we came from dirt (that’s Christianity, remember?). Biologists believe that we came from organic building blocks of nature that were present in the early oceans and ponds, and which have now been found naturally occurring in space.
But my main point about ridicule is no matter how bad the ridicule of religious beliefs is, it’s not as bad as what Religion is doing every single day in America. It’s not as bad as when state and federal congressmen pass laws to circumvent the Constitution in order to place religious icons and messages in our money, government buildings and public schools. It’s not as bad as religious science teachers denouncing evolution as being bad science; all the while pushing their own Biblical Creationism, Intelligent Design, down the throats of every student regardless of their own religious or non-religious beliefs. It’s not as bad as parents refusing medical treatment for their children in favor of prayer and faith-healers. It’s not as bad as the Pope telling AIDs-ridden North Africa that condom use would actually make the AIDs epidemic worse. It’s not as bad as demonizing and alienating homosexuals (and fornicators of all persuasions) to the point of passing laws to have them incarcerated and/or killed (as in Uganda). And it’s not as bad as indoctrinating millions of children into their religion at such an early age that they cannot properly evaluate the claims of those religions, thereby passing these awful, ridiculous beliefs onto yet another generation of unthinking individuals.
Ridicule is not our tool of choice; logic and reason are. However, we cannot leave it out of our arsenal of ideas when confronted with such barbarism as this. I believe that nothing less than the future of mankind hangs in the balance. Politically, we find ourselves in a position where it’s actually possible to lose the Enlightenment if certain ultra-religious factions get power in America, and across the world.
Dominionism, for one, is a Christian-based ideology that says that Christians have to be in charge of the world governments when Christ returns; and some believe that they must help bring about the end of the world. Christianity already has enough money and support to buy elections in many of our states, and do. They wield powerful tools of persuasion in churches, news outlets and TV channels all across America. They put forward political candidates that support their antiquated world-view in every election. And then they (and some of our own) criticize us for using Ridicule against their beliefs? When, I ask you, have they ever refrained from using ridicule against Freethought and Atheism?
When we can make a point successfully using logic, reason and politeness, fine, do so. Start with that position in your arguments by all means. However, the stakes are so high that if that is not enough, then we must use whatever honest rhetorical tools we have to make the other person see how ridiculous faith-based positions are. Provocative images and pointed messages are nothing compared to the damage that Biblical and other supernatural world views are doing to our children, our laws, and our ethics. Societal progress has long been held hostage to these world views, and I say that they have had their day. Now the time has come, with so many already turning from religion, for us to use every rhetorical tool at our disposal to put our planet on the road to compassionate humanism. Not through war, not through acts of violence, but through education and understanding.
If that takes a bit of ridicule, so be it. It’s a hell of a lot better than some of the tools that Religion has used to push their agenda over the ages.