New Atheism and the Mocking Critic

New Atheism prides itself on mockery, but in a world so full of hate, is it really the best way to offer a correction?

The art of the debate goes back to the beginning of time. From the first idea conceived, someone has had an objection. Today, the debate between atheism and theism is hotter than ever, each providing arguments, each provoking the listener to choose a side. But a recent movement, most notably led by the atheist Richard Dawkins, has put its feet forward. This movement is most appropriately titled “The New Atheists.” What separates them apart from atheists of old? One comment I noted on another apologetic site said, “The only difference is that we’re coming out of hiding.” This hiding, however, doesn’t mean simply challenging alternative ideas, rather it entails something else. An honesty so far inflated, the art of the discussion/debate has been replaced with the art of mockery.

Since atheists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris began the movement to mock and ridicule religion and the religious “in public,” mockery has become a widely accepted form of criticism amongst new atheists.

But is mockery the best, most effective way to offer a correction? I have my doubts, here’s why.

The first objection to this critic style is, in regards to religion, not all religions are the same. While mockery of the Christian faith will most likely result in a quite rebuttal or the turning of the cheek, religions such as Islam are a far more dangerous game to play. This has become evident in Dawkin’s own words,

There are no Christians, as far as I know, blowing up buildings. I am not aware of any Christian suicide bombers. I am not aware of any major Christian denomination that believes the penalty for apostasy is death. I have mixed feelings about the decline of Christianity, in so far as Christianity might be a bulwark against something worse.

If taken to its conclusion, mockery will always invoke basic human instincts. Hate, anger and frustration, rather than revelation and enlightenment. There are people easily provoked to anger out there; mockers just play a far too dangerous game.

The second objection to the mocking critic would be a question of what does one hope to achieve in the end? When engaging in a debate, we must ask if we’re seeking the winning of the person or the devastation of the person.

There are many beliefs and doctrines I disagree with, but to mock them would be going against Christian doctrine. In Christianity, we often view ideas as unequal, but we always see each other as an equal body. Psalms 133:1 says “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” Likewise, Romans 15:5 says, “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.” Everyone is created equal in the image of God, so when we mock, we aren’t mocking ideas, we are mocking the person who holds them. And in light of Christian doctrine, one is mocking God Himself when ridiculing His followers.

So does that mean one should never call out wrong ideas? No, as it’s great to pin ideas against one another to find what’s true, and to take them to their logical conclusions. But we must be mindful to never rob the person we’re engaging of his/her dignity.

Along with the common aggressive demeanor amongst new atheists comes a lack of understanding of the person. It’s far more interesting to ask why someone believes what they do, rather than to simply disagree and state an error. There are many different reasons people turn to religion. For example, some may include the fear of death (although a post I recently shared by J.S. Park gives good reasons why this is the minority), some may be religious because of family or upbringing, others may be religious for emotional reasons (Ex-Flyleaf vocalist Lacey Sturm for example, how Christianity saved her from suicide), and then there are others such as J. Warner Wallace who are Christians because the evidence points to Christ’s resurrection as historical. To most of these, a simple you’re wrong is not going to solve anything, and mockery will ring hollow at best, and inspire hate or depression at worst.

In the end, I believe Jon Foreman of Switchfoot says it best in the song, “The World You Want.” What you say is your religion, how you say it is your religion, who you love is your religion, how you love is your religion….is this the world you want? You’re making it, every day you’re alive.