March 3, 2011

When Mockery is Effective

I have grown tired of hearing about how the so-called "new atheists" are too mean, too assertive, or are simply being "dicks." Atheists have been accused of being militant and told to keep quiet for at least as long as there have been atheists. There is nothing new about any of this, and the real question is whether religious beliefs should be treated differently from any other absurd beliefs. Don't mock the religious, they say, you are simply making atheists look bad. I've got news for anyone who still clings to this tired argument: there is little atheists can do to make public perceptions of us more negative than they already are. It is about time we realize that outright mockery, at least in certain circumstances, can be quite effective.

crucifix against vampires

When Fred Phelps and his band of lunatics show up in your town to protest whatever they think will bring them the most attention, you have a few options. You can ignore them and hope they go away. You can try to restrict their right to free expression. Or you can make the funniest sign you can come up with and mock the hell out of them. If anyone could write the book on how to handle the Phelps clan it would be those who organized the counter-protest at Comic-Con. This was mockery at its finest!

As Austin Cline recently put it:
The sad fact is, atheists were not getting positive press and love from the general public before the so-called "new atheists" and their more assertive tactics appeared. Being less assertive and more submissive is no way to promote change and there's absolutely no reason to think that it would make the situation for atheists in America any better.
Again and again, we see examples where mockery - the more absurd the better - works wonders. Those who want to deny us this strategy are missing the boat in a big way. Nobody is claiming that mockery is the only way to respond or that it is all atheists should ever do. But it is a viable and sometimes quite effective tactic.

There are some religious believers out there who happen to be good, honest, hard-working people who mean well and who have little interest in pushing their religion into the public square. I'm not suggesting that we go out of our way to mock them, although I certainly do not consider their beliefs immune from criticism. But the religious extremists who are out there shoving their religious garbage in everyone's face are a different story.

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