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.
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.
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.