Mocking Religion

What is the difference between criticizing religious ideas and mocking religion? It is not possible for an atheist to mock God, or for anyone to insult a religion. To an atheist, “God” is only a concept held by followers of a particular religion. It is certainly possible to mock a concept, but it is not possible to mock the being that concept represents, if that being doesn’t exist. It is possible to mock religious teachings, but one can’t really insult a religion. Only a living (or once living) being can be slandered or insulted.

I respect beings, especially human ones.

Recently I have had the privilege of debating aspects of Christian practice with a couple of Roman Catholic, or Catholic-leaning, acquaintances. One of them got a little testy at my attitude toward Communion and the Crucifixion, which he apparently thought was irreverent. I was trying not to be disrespectful, while addressing the issue realistically.

No matter how much you sanitize the practice of Communion, it is still based on the words in the Gospels. I’m sure that when Jesus said, “Eat my flesh,” he didn’t mean it literally. The problem is that when believers take Communion, they do take it that way. They are pretending that the bread is his flesh. They can claim that they are doing it as a metaphor, to reinforce their faith, but they are, in some sense, reenacting the supposed sacrifice. It is a form of ritualized cannibalism. Going along with the use of terms like “holy Eucharist” is enabling. These socially acceptable words let true believers participate in sacred rituals without thinking too much about the real meaning behind those rituals.

church sign - crucifixion

The same can be said for the phrase “Lamb of God.” The Crucifixion is memorialized in the Communion service as a sacrifice on behalf of mankind. Church teaching states that Jesus offered his life as a “sacrificial lamb,” an offering to persuade God to relent and turn his wrath away from man. For centuries, the Jews had made burnt offerings, killing millions of animals to pay the price to the Lord for human shortcomings. Jesus was claimed to be the final payment, a human sacrifice, obviating the need for more animal blood.

Now, of course, I can see why believers would object to terms like “ritualized cannibalism” and “human sacrifice,” and consider their use to be mocking religion. I deliberately chose that phraseology to shake people up and get them out of their old thought patterns. Whether it is mocking or not depends on the viewpoint. To me, the terms are disturbingly accurate.

Mocking religion has been done before.

The Bible provides instances of what may fairly be called mocking. The prime example begins at 1 Kings 18:25, where Elijah mercilessly ridicules the prophets of Baal when their god doesn’t perform. Then, after the “false prophets” learned their lesson, Elijah showed them the mercy and justice of his god by having them all executed. Hey, I’m not mocking, I’m just reporting what the text says! It’s perfectly fine for Elijah to mock other gods, but if others criticize his god they must die.

Mocking religion on buses

Then in Matthew 23:2-35, Jesus lays into the teachers and Pharisees, calling them hypocrites, blind guides, snakes, and whitewashed tombs—pretty on the outside and dead on the inside. These were not worshipers of foreign gods; the teachers and Pharisees belonged to the same religion as Jesus. If even Jesus found mockery to be a useful technique in prying loose false beliefs, perhaps it would be acceptable for nonbelievers as well.

The following almost safe for work video is what I would accept as a biting, but not mean-spirited mockery of miraculous healing, Tim Minchin’s “Thank You God”:

The golden rule: don’t be a jerk.

Your god cannot be mocked, because that particular god doesn’t exist, at least not in the opinions of unbelievers. Religion cannot be insulted, because religions don’t have feelings. On the other hand, people can be mocked and insulted, and there are those who do that, who call believers nasty names and belittle them personally, as if they were defined by their beliefs. I try not to succumb to such temptation. If you catch me doing so, please point it out. You don’t need to be diplomatic; if I need correction, tell me.

True believers are real people, and people can be mistaken. I know, because I was for many years. Holding a ridiculous belief does not make you worthy of ridicule. Belonging to an organization that teaches silly things does not make you a fool, it just means you were misled. Even organizations that do good works can teach some misleading concepts. If you figure out that some of the things your religion teaches are untrue, then face up to that and do whatever needs to be done. If you believe your god is real and powerful, and communicates with humanity, then you shouldn’t need to worry about mere insults and mocking. Let your god do the defending.

 Title image credit: Sojourners.
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6 thoughts on “Mocking Religion

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  1. Wow. I agree with everything you wrote. That rarely happens to me. But as always I do not agree with Mr. Dawkins. I never liked the “Good Lord” that modern Christians *want* to see in the Bible. But that cantankerous, jealous, casually genocidal, totally unfair, and occasionally surprisingly tender and loving chap that’s the main character of the OT? Man, in real life I sure hate him often, but I can’t help but also love and really respect him. And as a character in fiction he sure is one of my all-time favs. You’ve got to love a good villain.

  2. Really? You think of him as the villain in the book of Job? I dunno… Yeah, I guess I see your point, but really… those are valid questions he asks, aren’t they? *If* you consider Him to be the creator of the world and of us people in it – be it through a magical week a few thousand years ago, or through the entire process of nature from the big bang (and for all we know before) to evolution and natural selection (just because a carpenter uses a hammer, doesn’t mean the hammer built the house, right?) – but if you consider Him the creator, who are we to dictate what He does with it or to presume that our well-being ought to be a special consideration in His design?

    I have come to view God more as an artist. Doesn’t a story teller treat his character of roughly? Would the story be better without conflict, tragedy and farcial comedy? Don’t some of the greatest painters use jarring images and contrasts? If all art was of harmony and bucolic frolicing, wouldn’t it be meaningless? Nor morally meaningless, but… well… just… insignificant? Or in music, yes, I love Bach’s harmonies and his grand sense of serenity – and it does reflect the serenity of the mountains and the desert, of the centuries and the dance of the stars – but you need some Schubert, and the Beatles, Rock and Roll, the Rolling Stones, the Smashing Pumpkins, Punk, and Metal to really make all of music rich, don’t you?

    I think Job’s “friends” are the real villains in the story. They try to find a reason for God’s actions. They try to justify Him in human terms. They try to make Him a small and petty ruler, exactly the sort of narrow-minded dictator that modern religious tries to sell as “merciful”.

    I think the whole problem lies in the desire of humans to lie to themselves that God must be good. Where in the world is there a sign. He is glorious, magnificent, beautiful, breathtaking, awesome… like the world. The world is awesome, truly awesome. But it is not good. It doesn’t care how many of us it crushes, casually.

    We were not there when the sea was locked up in its gates, when the world was put onto its pillars, when the stars were given the steps of their dance. We do not command the behemoth or the leviathan. We have been given the unique, undeserved chance to be one fleck of colour, one pixel, one note, one little thread in this grand tapestry. So what if our role is to suffer, and to die? If the alternative is to have no role at all?

  3. I’m not sure why I picked on the book of Job; perhaps because it is a story that’s meaningful to me, one that I interpreted differently at different stages of my life.

    I wasn’t thinking of God’s dramatic response to the foolishness. I had more in mind the opening scene, where he and Satan set the whole thing up as a kind of bet. That’s cold-blooded. From a human perspective, that is.

    That being said, I appreciate your portrayal of God as an artist. I believe you share some of that creativity. And, of course, the whole point of Job is that we can not expect to understand God’s motives.

    Now explain the Flood to me.

    1. Um. God’s a bastard…? No, really, if you see it as a hissy fit, it makes sense. He’s been painting this glorious painting for weeks and weeks. First He thought it’d be His masterpiece. But something is missing. He adds humans, thinking they’d give it drama and energy. And for a while they do. But he keeps messing with it, adding sexual morals, and tweaking and shaping, and it just gets less and less satisfying, until He screams, and drowns it in colour and shouts He’ll never ever make another painting, He’s done, it’s pointless, everything is ruined forever now…. but secretly knowing He doesn’t really mean it, He just has to wallow in rage and self-pity, He gives His brushes and oils to Noah for safekeeping while He’s having His tantrum. Then He sulks for 40 days and nights.

      And once He’s cooled off, He comes back, a bit sheepishly, feeling a bit like an ass. There’s a tearful apology, a mutual “no, no, it was all my fault” by humanity (Noah) and God, God gives humans a bit of jewelry (rainbow) to make up for His tantrum, takes the brushes and oils back (animals, etc.) And does a new painting.

      Ricky Gervais on Noah’s Ark: http://youtu.be/h6omFJhKr6o

  4. Yeah, you’re probably right. Hissy fit. I like Gervais’s take on it, too. “God is not gay. Read the Bible, he hates ’em.” Did you know, research shows that homophobics are more likely to be closeted homosexuals? I don’t know. God’s a bachelor, and he seems to favor men. Just sayin’.

    Regardless of his sexual orientation, he is an interesting character. Not one I would want to meet in real life. He’d likely end up wearing my skin or something.

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