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.