Saturday, May 21, 2011

To Mock or Not to Mock...

That is the question. And it seems to be a question of the minds of people who were concerned that our "Left Behind" activities would send the wrong message to the public about NOSHA and what we stand for. Are we mocking people and how does that promote respect and harmony? It's a valid question even if you don't feel we are doing anything to be ashamed of. (Which we aren't IMHO.)

A friend of mine, Jim, wrote a very thougtful piece that is worth sharing because it does a very admirable job of explaining what mockery is and how it is an important part of a society that is open and vibrant.
On Mockery:

I’m not surprised that some have reacted negatively here to what they see as ridicule of a particular religion, or of religion in general.  I point out that the real objective of this party is to celebrate our own freedom from fear and superstition.  Since it is impossible to celebrate freedom from fear and superstition without labeling something “fear and superstition,” that might come across to some as ridicule.

That being said, I would amplify Susan G’s quite cogent remarks made earlier in these posts: those who ascribe to the philosophy of Secular Humanism have at least a right, and probably an obligation, to mock religious beliefs of this type.  This party is being organized in reaction to a particular group who loudly proclaim that on May 21st true believers will be Raptured into heaven, an earthquake will shake the whole world, and the dead will rise from their opened graves.  Such ideas deserve mockery at several levels:

*  Most self-identified Christians reject ideas of a literal and physical rapture, bodily resurrection, and Second Coming.  This is not to say it is OK to mock an idea just because it is held by a minority, but to say that even most Christians think this is nonsense.  How much more ridiculous must this seem to outsiders?

* It is ridiculous to believe that one modern-day person, without any special training in ancient cultures or languages can rummage through the Bible, connect disparate passages as he sees fit, choose an obscure and unsupported dating scheme, throw in a dash of numerology, and  on that basis come up with the one true date for the beginning of the End.  Yet this is exactly what Harold Camping and his supporters claim.

* It is ridiculous to believe that this particular date proclaimed for the End is any different from the vast array of failed predictions that precede it.  History is littered with Great Disappointments, and to believe that this prediction is any different from hundreds of other abject failures is gullibility beyond measure.

This is not about anybody’s privately held religious beliefs.  This is about a small but well-funded group who have vigorously sought publicity for their monster-under-the-bed stories, both nation-wide and right here in New Orleans.

Agnostics, atheists, and Secular Humanists have wide and varied opinions on such matters.  But a key point of Secular Humanism, at least for those who ascribe to that philosophy, is that if we want to have better society now and in the future, then we must  leave the supernatural and superstitious behind so we  can apply human logic and human reason to solving our shared problems.  That principle is in direct conflict with the kind of deference to religion a few on this blog think we ought to show.  It is perfectly fair that religious believers had the right to proclaim their ideas to the public.  But it is neither fair nor reasonable for the religious to demand that nobody point out their irrationalities, once they’ve made a public issue of their beliefs. 


  1. Mockery doesn't necessarily intend to promote respect and harmony; it's more of a WTF shout-out when all other attempts at reason fail. We are obliged to draw attention (peaceably)to rationality even if it hurts some feelings.
    "* Most self-identified Christians reject ideas of a literal and physical rapture, bodily resurrection, and Second Coming." I'm not so sure about this...Evangelicals, for the most part, do believe in a literal rapture, Catholic doctrine specifies bodily resurrection (we'll all be 30 again), and both Protestant and Catholics are mostly signed on to the Second Coming.

  2. But attention can be drawn to rationality without hurting someone's feelings as well. The two aren't dependent. If the intent is to do intellectual battle with the zealots, then it is the zealots who are dictating the group's actions (or actually, reactions). It will also attract people who may or may not be impassioned by Humanism but moreso have an axe to grind with organized religion (and then, who knows who or what else). The focus should be on the positive philosophies of humanism and let the religions of the world do their own dirty work, which they are doing a pretty good job of right now.

  3. Minor clarifications:
    The first asterisked item above is saying that Camping's beliefs are a tiny fringe among people who call themselves Christians, and that is true by far. BangZang is correct that Catholic doctrine supports a resurrection of the body, and in fact most denominations do. But this is a surprise to most mainstream Christians, who recite "I believe in the resurrection of the body" each Sunday in church but have no idea what it means because their church never discusses it. Some kind of second coming is believed in by many Christians, but the physical Rapture, Tribulation, then global destruction forwarded by Camping is a minority belief. I would support BangZang by noting that the fundamentalist End Times message gets so much publicity that there are probably many Christians who believe it even though their denomination does not officially support it.

    Varg is quite right that mocking Camping's Rapture prophecy is re-active rather than pro-active. I think there is not only room for both strategies, but a NEED for both as well. Sometimes you just have to be willing to speak truth to power, and Camping's message, actively promoted through a large and well-funded publicity campaign, goes way beyond nuts.

  4. Well, "doing intellectual battle with zealots" is NOT my main intent. Zealots will never change their minds, that's the whole point of their zealotry, that they have such strong faith that nothing will ever sway them. And "intellectual" battle with them is impossible, they do not understand basic tenets of rational discourse. So they are not my intended audience for this sort of thing.

    The audience I think we can actually reach is bystanders, who have doubts, are just starting to critically think, were never that religious in the fist place, or simply haven't yet been converted by the proselytizers. They are the ones who may see the ridicule and think "wow, that really is whack when you think about it, huh?" (There are plenty who didn't believe Camping but still believe in the *idea* of the rapture - they see Camping's mistake simply as picking a date!)

    Now, there are two ways to avoid being made fun of: (1) convince everyone that mocking people is in bad taste, or (2) don't believe/pronounce ludicrous ideas. The zealots will always argue for #1, since they will NEVER go with #2 regardless of whether there is mocking or not. But non-zealots may decide they don't want to be the ridiculous ones in the first place. I thought a commenter (screen name Jadehawk) on Pharyngula put it well: "the point of 'rapture hilarity' is to make it as obvious and clear as possible to as wide an audience as possible that the rapture is ridiculous. At least that's how I feel about it: ridicule is a vaccine against such ideas, and if/when we reach a large enough percentage of people, we'll have herd immunity"

    Certainly, we engage in plenty of rational argument and respectful one-on-one discussion as well, this isn't an either/or situation. But I do believe that ridicule has a useful place as one of the tools in our arsenal, among all the others.


  5. I would agreee that mockery typically will not change a zealot's opinion of their beliefs. What it can do, however, is illustrate to others how silly some beliefs are and help prevent them from spreading. In the most self-aware of people, it will also inspire more critical self reflection if they hold similar or related beliefs.



  6. The mocking and ridicule will almost certainly incite the zealots. I think we can agree on that no? So that's a direct negative recourse to the mocking. It empowers the close-minded and further binds them to their false philosophies via their egos and desperation not to be wrong.

    I also wouldn't utterly write them off with absolutes. That's a bit closed-minded in itself. Humans have made far larger turns in their hearts and minds than the renouncing of some religious ideals. It happens all the time.

    Winning over the bystanders perhaps, but winning them over to what? More mocking and ridicule of ideas they don't like? If mocking and ridicule are the devices used to convince middle-of-the-roaders then they are going to expect to do some mocking and ridicule when they get on board as well. That's where the fun is right? Actually the fun is the freedom of critical thought.

    I think a very large portion of the population already treated the Rapture as ridiculous. How many of that population looked at Secular Humanists as arrogant and not so enamored with human dignity by their mocking and taunting of believers? How many true self-enlightened free thinkers will witness the ridicule and reject its negativity? You may be turning away peaceful, dignified free thinkers for some angry middle-of-the-roaders pissed at religion still because of a nun with a ruler when they were in Catholic school. Is that a fair trade?

    I think it would prudent to not even regard zealotry. They are looking for a fight. To give it to them is to legitimize them. And to put their ideas on the table where the real ideas should be health, love, knowledge and happiness. You don't have to become a monster to fight a monster.

  7. I don't know that our brand of mockery really turns that many people off much. Most of my FB friends/family are actually moderate believers, and they thought the Left Behind party was hilarious! I don't think they would remotely agree that it made us look "monstrous" (that's a rather over-the-top characterization, don't you think?)

    btw, it would be nice if this blog could "remember me on this computer," so one need not sign in every visit.

  8. You're right it wasn't monstrous and that's not what I meant to say with the analogy. What I meant was, there is no need to engage them on their terms. Don't make your very amazing movement into an anti-crusade. There is more to Humanists than just what they aren't.

  9. 3 For what if some did not believe? Will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect? 4 Certainly not! Indeed, let God be true but every man a liar