Suppose that ridicule and mockery could be shown to make some religious fundamentalists more entrenched in their beliefs. Would that mean that it should be avoided by those of us in the reality-based community? Not necessarily. It depends what one's goal is in ridiculing and mocking the beliefs. It might also depend on whether the religious beliefs in question are public or private.
Suppose one's goal is de-conversion. One aims to reach believers and disabuse them of their religious beliefs. If this is one's goal, the hypothetical finding that ridicule and mockery strengthen fundamentalist religious beliefs would suggest that such methods should be abandoned. We'd want to drop these methods and try different ones, ones that might be more effective.
Public vs. Private Beliefs
And yet, de-conversion is not the primary goal for many atheists (including this one). Instead, our goal involves driving a wedge between private religious beliefs and public policy. That is, we aren't trying to to change one's private religious beliefs as much as we are trying to keep them from influencing policy.
In this context, public beliefs refer to those professed in the public sphere and used as a rationale for policy. The difference between public and private beliefs can be illustrated in the abortion debate by distinguishing between someone being opposed to abortion and therefore deciding not to have one (private) vs. someone being opposed to abortion and trying to make the procedure illegal for everyone (public).
Even if mockery and ridicule entrench private religious beliefs among some fundamentalists, they may be useful in opposing the influence of public religious beliefs. The can help raise awareness and make people think twice before adopting absurd beliefs or in promoting decisions based on absurd beliefs.
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