I use many tactics to spread my ideas (and to invite the ideas of others, which influence me greatly).
- One is to tell my story, which presents a kind of compassionate atheism.
- Another is to explore commonalities, which presents a friendly atheism.
- Another is to debate arguments, which presents a rational atheism.
- Another is to simply provide study resources, which presents a curious atheism.
- Another is to criticize and ridicule atheists, which presents a fair atheism.
- Another is to mock the absurdities of religion, which presents an aggressive atheism.
Some have objected to this last tactic, the aggressive atheism. They are disappointed by it.
I can understand that. Nobody likes to be ridiculed. (Well, almost nobody. In certain cases, I like to be ridiculed. So do people who get “roasted.”)
So, what is my defense?
My defense is this: ridicule is a tool that works on certain people at certain times. Socrates (and his modern counterpart, Nassim Taleb) made it his hobby to tease “people who take themselves & the quality of their knowledge too seriously & those who don’t have the courage to sometimes say: I don’t know.” This was an important factor in changing how people think about knowledge, and is still needed.
See, people respond to different stimuli. Some people are reached by personal testimony – Christian evangelists know this better than anyone! Others are reached by rational argument – as Christian apologists know. For some others, you cannot break through their delusion with anything less than a full frontal attack.
In fact, my own Christian delusion was once so deep, mockery is what got through to me.
In my deconversion story, I mention that I’d been listening to an atheist radio show for a few months before my deconversion. Actually, it was that show that is responsible for my conversion from Christianity to freethought, which is the greatest thing that ever happened to me. And it got through to me because it mocked me.
I had heard what friendly atheists had to say. I had read some books about history and logic and comparative religion. And I had been able to shrug it all off. It hadn’t affected my faith too much.
Then, about the same time I started studying the Historical Jesus, I came across that radio show, The Atheist Experience. The host, Matt Dillahunty, takes calls from Christians, and rationally responds to their arguments.
But sometimes, he mocks the absurdity of their beliefs.
And that was what really got through to me. He hit me with a load of bricks, and finally made me realize:
“Holy shit. I actually have an invisible friend who grants me wishes. I actually believe in magic and the power of magical incantations and magical substances. Maybe those things are real but WOAH I’d better look into this.”
Of course, the church had taught me different names for these things, so they didn’t sound so ridiculous. Jesus was my “spiritual companion” who “answers prayers.” I believed in “supernatural power,” and that phrases like “in the name of Jesus” and “Amen” had real power, and that a substance like “anointing oil” was used by God to bring healing. But there it was. I finally admitted that I really had an invisible, wish-granting magical friend.
That didn’t destroy my faith, not by a long shot. But it changed the way I studied things. When I read about the Historical Jesus or the philosophy of religion, I read with the perspective that it was possible I was wrong. And in my case, it took mockery to get me there.
Being mocked changed my life forever, and for the better. Sometimes, ridicule is the only thing that will get through to certain people at certain times. I know, because I was one of those people.
I learned many things from that experience. One was that ridicule can be valuable, though it’s probably not the best tool to use all the time. Another was that it’s not useful to take offense at anything. These days, I openly invite ridicule because I’ve decided the emotional content cannot harm me – either the statements against me contain a grain of useful truth, or do they not.
So that is why I sometimes ridicule believers. But realize, it is only one of many tactics I use, and it’s not my most common tactic, either.