Over the last few years I’ve repeatedly encountered atheists who are unapologetic about mocking Christians and other “religious” people (i.e. the outgroup). Often they justify this practice by insisting that they are mocking beliefs, not people. The silver lining here is that these folks still sense the need to justify their bad behavior. Other individuals see no need for a defense as they are enthusiastic mockers of people and their beliefs.
If the former group retains a laudable need to justify their behavior, the latter group is at least more intellectually honest: mocking a person’s beliefs is mocking the person. If you’re going to build yourself up by mocking others, at least be honest about what you’re doing.
I first addressed this issue three years ago in an article titled “Mock beliefs, not people“. But given that the practice still persists (incredibly, that article didn’t solve the problem once and for all: I’ve encountered the same justification of mockery twice in the last week) I thought I’d return to the issue.
Here I’ll make two points.
First, mocking the belief a person holds is like mocking the clothing they wear. The belief, like the clothing, is an extension of the person. If you make fun of Mario’s coat, don’t expect that saying “I’m not mocking you Mario. I’m only mocking your coat!” will get any traction. Mario will be offended, and rightly so. The same goes if you proceed to mock Mario’s beliefs.
Second, the more important a belief is to an individual, the more offensive it is to mock that belief. If Ted just happens to be drinking a Budweiser with lunch, you can probably get away with mocking his beer choice. But if he takes annual pilgrimages to the Anheuser-Busch Brewery in St. Louis and keeps a stable of Clydesdales in his back pasture, then making fun of his taste in beer could go sideways very quickly.
The same goes with politics. And many of us have discovered this the hard way over the last couple months as we’ve engaged in some rather strained conversations with family, friends, and colleagues over their voting choices. If you took that disagreement to the next level by mocking your interlocutor’s choice to vote for Donald (or Hillary), you can attest first hand to the fact that mocking voting choices tends to foment offense. And there’s an obvious reason for this: by mocking a person’s voting decision, you’re casting aspersions on their wisdom, values, and vision of the good society. It’s no surprise that they take offense.
Needless to say, the same goes when you mock a person’s religious (or irreligious) beliefs. To mock those beliefs goes to the core of a person’s identity.
To sum up, if you are so insecure in your own identity that you need to mock others, then by all means do so. It’s a free country. Just don’t delude yourself into thinking you’re doing anything other than mocking the person … and polluting the public square of civil discourse while you’re at it.