Ridicule Is Not The Most Effective Weapon – Opinion

The often repeated phrase by Thomas Jefferson “ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions.”, is, in my opinion, false. As cherished as such a belief is to many self-proclaimed rationalists, I believe it is, in reality, an entirely irrational response to an entirely irrational claim, or belief. Even the famous Christopher Hitchens has used it,  and stood steadfastly by it. Many atheists and freethinkers are and remain unopposed to the very idea of ridicule.  However, these are my issues with it:


1. Often, what is considered to be “unintelligible” is subjective. Theists consider atheism to be unintelligible,  thus, they ridicule atheism for its apparent “absurdity” to their faith. My only claim is that there is a degree of subjectivity in the concept of “unintelligibility”.  I would think it would be difficult to argue against that  fairly innocuous, and not so controversial claim. Jefferson himself even owned slaves and considered blacks to be inferior.  I would say that further strengthens my first claim.

2. There are many atheists who ridicule without providing any logical reasons whatsoever. Instead, they provide emotional reasons. For instance “I suffered for x reason, god didn’t prevent it, therefore theism is stupid”. I do not see how that follows in a logical fashion. One may argue that in the case of a omnibenevolent god,  that god would have prevented suffering given the quality of omnibenevolence, and a very strong case can be made for that claim (and, without any ridicule whatsoever!). But that doesn’t mean that every possible god is necessarily benevolent, thus
this type of atheist makes the mistake of assuming so.

3. There are many socio-psychological factors involved in religious belief, that are not simply reducible  to a “lack of intelligence”. Any analysis of religious belief of being due to a “lack of intelligence” is  either entirely false, or woefully incomplete. Such socio-psychological factors include social pressure,  conformity (see Asch experiment), obedience (see Milgram experiment), adherence to some “greater good”,  which many atheists would even be willing to sacrifice themselves for, and the intense “spiritual” comfort which religion provides, which according to many religious people cannot be provided elsewhere. Given those factors which  are far more relevant, I would think that ridiculing religious belief for being “stupid” or “idiotic” would not be  entirely effective, and extremely simplistic. Religion is a powerful social structure which has evolved  over thousands of years. It is time we recognize these facts instead of merely assuming that  everyone who is religious, is therefore an idiot of some description, and would be swayed by mere ridicule.

4. Ridicule provides emotional comfort on behalf of those who engage in ridicule. It is, essentially, a form of  mental masturbation and manipulation. It may not necessarily imply that whoever believes in x, must believe in y, or else they are an idiot and there is absolutely no hope for them, but given that many theists first conception of an atheist is “angry” or “cynical”, ridicule only reinforces that stereotype, and gives the impression that atheists are 1. pretentious and 2. manipulative.


5. There are no statistics whatsoever. It would probably be very difficult to even get statistics on this issue. But, whenever there is a claim that one method of doing something is more effective than another method of doing something, on the sociological scale, I would think that statistics would be a very important factor in supporting that claim. Nevertheless, there are still no statistics.

Now, I don’t think there is any way I can stop people from ridiculing religious people if they want to. These  are simply the reasons why I have come to a disagreement with the concept, and I think they are good reasons.  If you disagree please share your opinion in a logical and rational manner. A completely relevant video:


~ by theuncynic on August 12, 2012.

2 Responses to “Ridicule Is Not The Most Effective Weapon – Opinion”

  1. I agree completely, and I think your first four points support your position very well, with the fifth leaving it open either way.

    One more I would add is that ridicule is usually, though not always, substantively wrong – exaggeration and distortion are key parts of comedy to the detriment of accurate insightful criticism. If you say to people in direct debate like “beardy sky daddy” or take a shot at religion in general with a criticism that’s only applicable to western religions, then you are not attacking things that people believe, and your criticism does not rationally address their position, merely rhetorically attacks it. And that’s not a rational way to argue. That’s not what rationalists should support.

    • Thanks for the reply!

      I agree with what you say, in the case of say the Catholic Church harboring pedophiles, ridicule is warranted, or in the case of people killing abortion doctors, extreme situations like that.

      I’ve been told that, in a very condescending manner, because I choose not to engage in ridicule, then I must necessarily be ignorant. The person in question also said this “The larger war is to fight natural evil and encourage a collective humanity where bad ideas get outed as such and are not implemented. But one of the fronts is to identify and quarantine ourselves from sources which are fountains of bad ideas and thus ease the collective’s burden of having to wade through and waste time on scrutinizing the steady stream of bullshit, and free them to validate and impliment those ideas from more reputable sources. Thus branding of idiots that mire us and hold us back becomes important. We are beings with finite time with which to ponder. It is an epic waste to spend that time pondering the babblings of idiots.” The key phrase there is “it is an epic waste” and “natural evil”- is it really natural evil, that someone believes in the existence of a god? Also, it is of course entirely subjective whether or not it would in fact be a waste of time to respond without ridicule. It appears that many people equate responding without ridicule as in some way legitimizing “the enemy’s” position, without giving a second thought to it. It becomes entirely reflexive, then, to ridicule ideas which seem ridiculous, and naturally it then becomes more difficult to resist the habit, the more one continues it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: