Ridicule mock: to reduce or dismiss the importance or quality of somebody or something in a contemptuous way.

A recent discussion has gotten me thinking more about a certain mindset that seems common in the online atheist community.  The discussion had a lot of bleed-over from a previous discussion, then I was offline for a few days and the conversation dissipated, so I'm throwing this out here.  The mindset that it is justified to ridicule those who have irrational beliefs. The position is rarely amended to it being justified to confront virulent behaviors that emerge from irrational beliefs. Likewise, the claim is rarely amended to simply using irony to highlight the incoherent nature of the beliefs. The claim is most often simply worded that it is justified to ridicule those who have irrational beliefs, with those irrational beliefs most often implied as theistic beliefs.

Over the last year, I have been having more face to face discussions with theists than I have been having online discussions with theists and atheists combined. I have noticed a greater emphasis on mutual respect on both sides in face to face encounters, and while emotions can spike during debate, realistic expectations and a little self-control can keep things from getting out of hand. Respect, realistic expectations, and self-control diminishing online is not a new phenomenon, especially where religion is concerned.

A brief look at irrational beliefs in general show that they have many causes and manifestations. For instance, child development models show that magical thinking is prevalent among preteens, and can easily continue into adolescence. A proponent of ridicule may state that of course children should not be mocked for their irrational beliefs, but that caveat is never a part of their claim.

A given segment of the population is born with developmental disorders, and another segment receives injuries to the brain sometime during their lives. These disorders and injuries can inhibit the ability to think coherently. Again, a proponent of ridicule may be abhorred by the thought of denigrating someone with one of these disorders or injuries, but that caveat is also never included.

Considering theists in particular, many of them are born into families of a particular religious faith, and then spend their formative years receiving indoctrination into that faith. Many atheists understand this all too well as that is a part of their personal experience. Should a person who has been subjected to a lifetime of indoctrination and conditioning be subject to scorn because they are still under it’s effect? Does that conditioning diminish their value as a person, and make them deserving of contempt?

Some theists manage to shake their indoctrination for the most part, but then lapse during a moment of crisis or tragedy. Part of the process often involves a friend or relative who is a believer. It is generally recognized that while religion is a product of little value, it has exceptional marketing behind it and can be tempting to those in emotional turmoil. Do these victims of tragedy who have been taken in deserve ridicule?

I personally know far more theists than atheists, and while some of them are obnoxious and representative of the highly vocal, intolerant breed that we all find offensive, they are in the minority. The majority of believers are what I refer to as ‘check box’ Christians. They live their lives, respect others, and pretty much keep to themselves because they have little or no real personal investment in their religion. They are people who manifest their childhood indoctrination more as a subtle background hum, and check the box indicating their faith on forms that ask that sort of thing. These people can be engaged using tact and respect, or they can be alienated using disrespect and hostility. Have any of these factors been considered when making the claim that they deserve mockery?

As a communication tool, ridicule is negligible at best, and detrimental at worst. The recipient of such behavior commonly becomes defensive if not combative, anger and resentment increase, and meaningful communication dwindles. Third parties often respond unfavorably to someone who uses mockery, and often see the perpetrator as rude, smug, and irrational themselves. At the same time, those third parties can easily turn sympathetic to the victim’s of ridicule. In situations where a third party enjoys the belittling of somebody, what does that say about the personality of that person? Would you really want that person as an ally?

What are the benefits of ridicule beyond giving the perpetrator a sense of superiority, and the occasional observer the sick thrill of seeing somebody humiliated? It does not build rapport or understanding. It disrupts communication, alienates the participants of the exchange, and reflects poorly upon the character of the person committing the act. Is the use of ridicule to dismiss the irrational itself irrational? Imagine the absurdity if those who were seen as irrational for using ridicule were in turn ridiculed for being irrational. Would they be referred to as ‘Riditards’?

In closing, I don’t want people to think that I’m saying I’ve never used ridicule. I have a healthy troll side that I have to fight to keep in check. My thoughts have slowly changed as I have used it, and have seen it used. It is simply my impression that part of living rationally is to evolve and grow as you gain new insight, and to challenge outmoded paradigms. I am also not saying that we should not vigorously oppose virulent behaviors that stem from irrational beliefs. I claim that we should aggressively engage any behavior that degrades another human being. The question I’m asking is whether or not ridicule is an irrational, degrading behavior that should be opposed. Considering the points above, and the array of more effective communication tools available, I would say yes.

Sorry about the length.  I usually end with "just my 2 cents"; this is more like "just my buck fifty".  Take care.

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Comment by Reg The Fronkey Farmer on August 31, 2012 at 10:43am

I will ridicule the belief as I consider that delusional. Theists usually see this as an attack on them personally. I use ridicule (not scorn) so I can get them to challenge the statements they make. When a Theists says he will pray for me I will ask him how long he has been able to communicate directly with the creator of the Universe. Anytime I ask this I am always accused of being disrespectful. I reply with “but you just told me god was the creator of the universe and that prayer is talking to god”. So my question is valid.


I then ask what his voice sounds like. Sometimes I am informed that “When I pray I don’t actually hear his voice but my prayers are still answered”. I keep the ridicule going by asking “So the only voice heard is the one in your mind?”  


When it comes to miracles (as in the Lourdes in earlier post) I will ask “So is it more likely that the natural physical laws of the universe were temporarily suspended by this god you talk about or is it not more likely that there may be another reason for the event happening. Why would your god cure one cancer victim in his eighties and not cure a devout Christian mother of four young children?


Ridicule is an efficient weapon when used correctly. I see it as satire rather than scorn. I never aim to disrespect any individual though as a collective group they can be fair game at times. I have no problem showing my disrespect to those zealots that pollute young minds or deny people the freedom to live without following their rules. They are beyond ridicule.


Of course when we call them irrational we are being subjective to the extent that they also view us as irrational for not believing in their god whose existence is obvious to them. They claim to hate the sin not the sinner. I have no time for the beliefs but I do for the believer if he is up to the challenge of my ridicule.

Comment by Obfuskation on August 31, 2012 at 12:21pm

I don't consider the points you make in your examples as being ridicule.  I look at them as very point driven exchanges.  The fact that the requests for clarification also highlight the baseless nature of their claims seems to be a double-plus.

I have always looked at ridicule as having an inherently disrespectful element to it, where irony or reductio ad absurdium are outside of that realm as tools of communication and logic respectively.  Perhaps the points of contention are coming from variances in interpretation of the definition of the term itself.

Comment by Reg The Fronkey Farmer on August 31, 2012 at 3:32pm

Yes, you have a point. I tend to take people up on what they profess to be the “Real Truth”. I seldom lose my cool in a debate or argument but will be forceful in my attempts to get them to look at things from a different angle. I probably rely more on satire and wit (and my Irish charm!!) to do this. When it comes to religion or astrology or any other woo I will highlight the absurdity of the belief so that the believer of it is compel led to counter as to why he thinks it is not absurd.
An example is the concept of Heaven. When the Theist claims that Jesus could give me eternal life, I ask if I could play golf for the first 100billion years (my idea of hell actually!). I mean if you are going there for infinity then it’s not that long at all really is it?? They now have to challenge this or admit its absurdity. I de-convert many with this type of approach and yes - you are right - it is not really ridicule. However it may be a better approach to help theists see the irrationality of their belief and that it is a delusion.

Comment by James Cox on August 31, 2012 at 9:08pm

I think I still remember my first attempts at talking with an evangelist/theist. I and a few friends from our science club, in HS, went to the local theist tent soul-saving extravagansa! There was an entry point for the prayer meeting and we took position looking for an opening.

I realized that the folks maning the post were very tall, in dark suits, with big hands! We introduced ourselves and started with small talk, then one big guy walked up to me, raised his hand placed it upon my head, and comminced to draw the demons out of me! Since I was only about 15 at the time, I was just a little stunned. My catholic school experience never prepaired me for this! The experience felt like an incredible assault. My friends, who seemed concerned for my mental health, watched the whole thing, and where now wanting to cross examine this guy top to bottom. Sadly, I think I blacked out, and walked home in a daze!

I think I have mostly perfected my tools now, but that first experience was a great example of the degree of M.F. that can be involved....LOL  


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