In his March 24th talk at the 2012 Reason Rally, popular atheist speaker Richard Dawkins called upon fellow atheists to adopt this tactic toward the religious: “…mock them. Ridicule them. In public... Religion makes specific claims about the universe which need to be substantiated, and need to be challenged, and, if necessary, need to be ridiculed with contempt.”
Dawkins is by no means alone in adopting this strategy. As one internet atheist elaborates:
“If we ever hope to dismantle the dominance that religion has in culture, we must make it unfashionable, uncool, and untenable, especially to the younger generations.
“We can't change unreasonable and intractable minds with reason, but we can ridicule them. And we should.
“I'm not talking about politely disagreeing with people when they say, "Thank God," or whatever. I'm saying we should boisterously and unashamedly make fun of people who invoke religion or mythical beings at every opportunity. We should make them embarrassed that they even opened their mouths.
“And if we can't eliminate their illegitimate thinking, at least we should make them think twice about openly declaring their beliefs in polite company. Put the shoe on the other foot. Make them out to be crazy. Drive them underground. Deny them public office.
“...Join in discussions. Use the herd instinct just like the herd instinct was used to get us into this collective bovine state of mind in the first place.”
This tactic of ridicule is not theoretical. Hundreds of blogs, Twitter feeds, Facebook groups, and websites already exist which serve no other purpose than to dish out sarcasm, cheap shots, ridicule, and abuse toward the religious.
Of course, no one needs to preach the gospel of ridicule to the irreligious. Over a hundred years ago, atheist Mark Twain was embracing the same policy that Dawkins suggests:
“No God and no religion can survive ridicule. No political church, no nobility, no royalty or other fraud, can face ridicule in a fair field, and live.” - Twain, Mark
There is, however, one potential problem with this tactic when it comes to Christianity: it doesn't work. In fact, it fulfills a prophecy of Jesus:
English Standard Version (ESV)
18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.”
Not only did Jesus prophecy that Christians would be hated, but specifically that this hatred would manifest itself in the type of verbal abuse that Dawkins suggests:
English Standard Version (ESV)
11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Jesus commanded Christians to rejoice when shamed or slandered, and the Christians took up that call. In the book of Acts, mere months after Jesus had been crucified, the disciples were arrested for preaching Christianity. They were commanded to stop spreading their teachings, beaten, and released. This was their response:
English Standard Version (ESV)
”Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.”
In fact, the New Testament is filled with encouragement to rejoice under persecution and slander, and for good reason.
In the current day, when Western Civilization has risen to prominence on the back of various Christian traditions, Atheists, who sit currently at a mere 16% of the population, feel a certain persecution complex. They are in the minority. They don’t receive the respect they feel they deserve. It is easy to forget that, at one time, the reverse was true.
Christianity began in Judea where it was hated by the Jews, and spread across the Roman Empire where it was equally hated by the pagan Romans.
“Consequently, to get rid of the report [that he had started the fire], Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular.” (Annals, 15:44)
Tacitus, clearly no fan of the Christians, wrote this around the end of the first century. It would be another 300 years before Christianity would enjoy any kind of relaxation of abuse ladled out by a prominently pagan culture.
While Christianity is at the very least tolerated by the Western culture, in communist countries such as North Korea and China, and in predominantly Muslim countries, Christians continue to be maligned and abused for their beliefs.
As a minority population themselves, Atheists can frequently be seen complaining about the lack of respect and general discouragement they receive from the world around them. If this persecution has not discouraged them from their convictions, it is difficult to see why they think abusing the religious would have that result.
There are three typical tactics of persuasion that have classically been used in order to convince someone of a new position.
The first of these is the “courtroom” tactic, wherein the person builds an argument based on facts and evidence.
The second is the “salesman” tactic, wherein the person attempts to persuade the other person that they somehow need – that they are better off embracing the idea.
The final, and crudest, tactic is that of the schoolyard bully who uses a cocktail of peer pressure and ridicule to goad the unwilling dweeb into reluctant compliance.
The more that one abuses the Christian, the more they confirm that which the Christian already believes based on what the Bible already teaches. This approach has never worked in the past, and it never will. In every sense, it is the worst possible tactic to eliminate Christianity from the scene.