To kill a mocking bird…….sort of

Hemant Mehta aka The Friendly Atheist, made a video commenting on where the line should be drawn on tolerance for religious practices [1]. The basic conclusion is that as long as it doesn’t harm him or others, he hasn’t got a problem with it. Sounds reasonable, but it’s one of the responses on Twitter that caught my attention:

Well I’m definitely against imprisoning them mistreating them. But they deserve to be treated with ridicule.”

If we look at the dictionary at the definition of ridicule it give us; speech or action intended to cause contemptuous laughter at a person or thing; derision. What specifically would the target of such ridicule be, and in what circumstances? Richard Dawkins outlines what he thinks:

Religion specific claims about the universe which need to be substantiated, and need to be challenged, and, if necessary, need to be ridiculed with contempt.”[2]

One contributor to a humanist website takes it several steps further:

We can’t change unreasonable and intractable minds with reason, but we can ridicule them. And we should. “I’m not talking about politely disagreeing with people when they say, “Thank God,” or whatever. I’m saying we should boisterously and unashamedly make fun of people who invoke religion or mythical beings at every opportunity. We should make them embarrassed that they even opened their mouths. “And if we can’t eliminate their illegitimate thinking, at least we should make them think twice about openly declaring their beliefs in polite company. Put the shoe on the other foot. Make them out to be crazy. Drive them underground. Deny them public office.[3]

The only crime to merit such treatment is holding a belief that they deem to be wrong. Richard Dawkins puts into action his own battle cry when he questioned why a Muslim is employed as a journalist, purely because he’s a Muslim [4]. Looking at the statements, it could be said that one is advocating ridiculing the person and other the belief. This is a distinction some have tried to make the distinction between mocking the beliefs and mocking the person. Due to the nature of faith this is not a distinction that works or can be made. Author and theologian Maggi Dawn commented on my Twitter with the following when I asked if the distinction could be made:

Not if you want to be their friend. Would you mock their tears and say “it’s not you I’m mocking, only your feelings?

The question that comes to mind though is why make the distinction in the first place? Why try to find a way that is a more politically correct and acceptable way to mock (if there is such a thing)? Why not just not mock, even if you’re not friends with them? As Maggi Dawn went on to say:

I have no problem with questioning. Why mock, though? What does it help except the insecurities of the mocker?

People say that there’s a fine line between genuine criticism and ridicule, and it’s hard to judge. I agree to an extent, I’m just not sure if the line really is that fine. Having said that, it is difficult to criticize certain beliefs without mocking them; flat earth, young earth, the royal family being a race of shape shifting alien reptiles. Is a little mocking part of having an open debate? It does seem unavoidable in certain circumstances, but it does seem to come out of a lack of understanding. It certainly shouldn’t be the main tactic in discussions and I do still think that it’s a sign of the person not having a rational argument. Some have made these beliefs such an intrinsic part of their faith that it is impossible to mock/criticize them without mocking the person. Maggi’s response reminded of the scene from Scrubs where Laverne finally loses patience with Dr Cox’s determination to break her faith:

It seems as if Dr. Cox realizes that what he thinks about it doesn’t matter next to the support and strength Laverne takes from it; that that’s what matters in the grand scheme of things.

I’m not saying religion, or indeed atheism, is beyond questioning or criticism, they aren’t. People who act in a manner that’s harming others, should absolutely be called on it and challenged by opposing arguments.If there are aspects that don’t make sense to you, you should absolutely raise them and question them. This goes for religious or non-religious persons. There should be limits though to what is being mocked.

All of this is actually boils down to be quite simple. If you want to be a believer, great. If you want to be an atheist, great. Just don’t be a dick, it’s really simple [5].


[1] http/

[2] http/

[3] http/





2 thoughts on “To kill a mocking bird…….sort of

  1. evidence2hope says:

    This a great example of how to talk about religion without being a dick:

  2. […] When you don’t know them, it’s easier to keep people at a distance and caricature and mock them than it is to make the effort to get to know them I guess. That just doesn’t make for a […]

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