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"Mockery is an important social tool for squelching stupidity. I’ve never seen anyone change his mind because of the power of a superior argument or the acquisition of new facts. But I’ve seen plenty of people change behavior to avoid being mocked."
- Scott Adams

It is the right of everyone to be offended; no one has the right not to be offended.


Speaking of religious mockery... Jesus and Mo rule!


Both the Flying Spaghetti Monster and Kissing Hank's Ass are perspective-changing tools, not just snark. The reason some people dislike those kinds of arguments so much is because they're so powerful.

I tend to follow the Golden Rule and treat the religious with exactly the same respect they show me. Which allows me to have thoughtful conversations with some people and metaphorically kick other folks in the nads.


Greta, if you'd like another great example of mockery (in case you haven't seen it), the Youtube vides of of NonStampCollector [] are some of the funniest mockeries of religion I've ever seen.

John B Hodges

The original author of Kissing Hank's Ass is James Huber, see


After participating in religious debate (in a forum with a large number of particularly rabid fundies), I recently pondered why I meet some religious arguments with sarcasm and irony.

I had to think about it for a while, but I think I got part of it.

Many of the arguments of the religious are patently ludicrous, but they're delivered with the straightest of faces and without the merest hint of irony. To respond to such arguments seriously is to lend them a legitmacy they simply do not merit.

In fact this is part of the disease - religion insists on being taken seriously, treated specially. We're supposed to nod sagely and harrumph something about god being mysterious and such... so we don't think too hard about what was actually just said.

Well, dammit, I won't have it. If a patently ridiculous argument is made to me, I am going to ridicule it.

I will use sarcasm because that is all a ridiculous argument deserves.

Yes, the religious will see that as disrespectful - it is!

I don't respect the arguments of anyone who treats me like an idiot, who can't be bothered to understand that assertion is not argument and that anecdotes are not proof and that "I don't understand" is not evidence.

I do not respect their actions and I will not treat their poor arguments with undeserved poe-facedness. If they want respect, bring some decent arguments. When met with something as stupid as Pascal's wager for the third time in a day, my response will be both sarcastic and brief.

Bruce Gorton

In all social settings I actually find that a bit of humour about religion can relax things a bit.

It is generally a sign of someone being full of themselves if they can't take it, and living in a highly religious country - I find that isn't really the bulk of the religious.

It is just the stupid assholes - who are pretty much universally abhorred, even by the religious.


Thank you so much, Greta, for your very detailed and thoughtful reply!
You highlighted the dilemma that I was struggling with: on the one hand, like efrique said, to maintain a straight face in front of something so stupid it that verges on insane is to give the argument respect it does not deserve, and I was feeling that anger. But on the other hand, what was I trying to accomplish?

I'll tell you the story that prompted my question. My martial arts coach is a religious Jew, who recently started "lishmor negia" -- meaning, he doesn't touch women. For example, he cannot spar with me, or even shake my hand in the end of the class, when we all pass each other in a circle and shake hands. He shakes everyone else's hand, but not mine, because I'm a woman. It bothered me so much that I decided to speak to him and try to talk him out of this -- because I think he's a great person, and I respect him a lot. I thought that I had a chance to persuade him if I explained him to unbelievably offensive this behavior is.

He explained to me that he believes that in the menstrual blood live creatures called "mezikim" -- something like metaphysical bacteria, that cause harm. If he touches a woman in the wrong two weeks of her cycle, he will cause harm to himself as well as to her (and since he obviously doesn't want to know anything about my cycle, he has to avoid touching me at all times.) He then went on to explain that these "mezikim" are everywhere -- especially they like the night, when a person is asleep... Unsurprizingly, these creatures also thrive on anything sex-related; for example, if a man has a wet dream, he has to perform a ritual to ask for forgiveness and protect himself from evil. And so on... in my coach's attempts to find some common ground with me, he asked if I believed in more obvious things -- ghosts, demons, etc. He was astonished to hear a "no" on each one ("What, not even the evil eye?!") And then he took offense at the fact that the corners of my mouth went slightly up when he was telling about the cleansing rituals he has to take after a wet dream.
He said that I was mocking him and that it was wrong and that I offended him.

You understand? On the one hand, yes, I was guilty, I should have kept a straight face, and I'm very sorry. But damn it, if an adult tells us that they believe in Santa Claus or in faeries, are we expected to keep a straight face then, too?! (Btw., by this time I won't be surprized if my coach actually believes in faeries...) If they want us to at least *show* respect to their beliefs, these beliefs must be, I don't know... above kindergarten level?

But I'm wrong, of course. That was just anger speaking -- and in private conversations, anger is unconstructive. I should try harder to keep a straight face next time... especially if I indeed want to persuade someone.

Thank you again for this post!

J. J. Ramsey

efrique: "I will use sarcasm because that is all a ridiculous argument deserves."

Trouble is, any damn fool can use that as an excuse to dismiss any argument, sound or unsound. Just label it "ridiculous" if it feels wrong and move on. Worse, if all you offer is content-free mockery, then your opponents may very well think that you don't have a rational response to offer. Look back at the difference between type 1 and type 2 mockery above.

Robyn Slinger

Ola - what a heartwrenching story! It's not even just that you have to respect these beliefs (which, frankly, are a bit funny). Here they also have the very real and practical consequence of sort of snubbing and offending you. Who is lacking respect here? Are beliefs really respectable when they lead one to behave rudely?

Tim Mills

Awesome post, Greta. Thanks.


Once more you nail the topic with amazing insight and fantastic writing. As a blogger, reading you makes me despair at the drivel I produce as well as aspires me to greater levels.

Thanks for the terrific work.

/fanboi babbling


Ola, so YOU were offending HIM?!?!? OMFG

I think when he said that, my jaw would have hit the floor. And I'd probably actually just SAY that. "You who are publicly snubbing me and treating me as less than human, are offended at ME when I try to take the highest road possible here, to talk to you personally about how much this is hurtful?? YOU are offended at ME?" And because I'm mean like that, I'd look into the legality of his behavior. Sure, he can't be forced to shake your hand, but then he shouldn't shake ANYONE's hand, but instead do a slight bow or something. Is the place he's working religious? An instructor NOT sparring with a student may not be looked kindly on by the establishment either. It'd be like someone trying to be employed as a stripper while insisting on wearing a chador or burka at all times. Some jobs you aren't allowed to do with certain religious beliefs and it doesn't have anything to do with religious discrimination.

But clearly I have less self control than you.


Jemand, I agree with you. That guy was obviously much more rude and offending to Ola, than she ever was to him. But since the motivations for his behavior are religious he expects to get away with his rudeness (and he did) while she is expected to be respectful to a man that not only treated her in such a rude way, but did so because he believes in some silly mythical creatures... That is so twisted...


"Worse, if all you offer is content-free mockery, then your opponents may very well think that you don't have a rational response to offer." -- JJ Ramsey

Sarcasm, properly done, has content. Done well [cf Wilde, Mencken, Twain] it rises to the level of art form.

absent sway

Wow, Ola, you were sorely tested! It sounds like you responded very graciously, given the circumstances, and yours will probably be the best response he gets from someone offended by his new convictions. Unless he isolates himself more and more, he will soon come to expect the confusion and offense this causes in our contemporary society and be forced to grapple with it constantly. This is not so much about his attitude toward women (problematic though the implications are) as it is about a sense of shame he is learning about the body and sex, IMO.

Greta, thank you for another thoughtful post! I would love to add my two cents but you already put it so well that I can't think of anything to add.

Greta Christina

Damn, Ola. Now that I know the whole story... well, let's just say that I have to agree with Jemand. He treated you that way, and then had the nerve to say that you're disrespecting him??? The fact that all you gave him was a slight failure to control a smile, in my book, counts barely at all as mockery... and is way more restrained than he had any right to expect.

If it were me, here's what I think I'd do at this point. I'd find another martial arts trainer, stat. And since this guy doesn't like being made fun of, I'd write him a soberly worded, deadly serious letter explaining why you left. And I'd send a copy of that letter to whatever government agency is in charge of discriminatory business practices (assuming that sex discrimination in business is illegal in your part of the world). And I might also send a copy of that letter to every TV station, radio station, and newspaper in town. He wants serious? Give it to him.

J. J. Ramsey

Thumpalumpacus: "Sarcasm, properly done, has content."

Yes, but the operative words are "properly done," as our host has noted in her blog post above.


In my part of the world (Israel) there is nothing illegal in my coach's behavior. But then, we don't even claim to have a separation of religion and state. Isn't it the same in the US, though? Doesn't religion get a free pass when it comes to discrimination? In the US, if you open, say, a private pottery school, and you don't want to admit women -- can't you just say "that's what my religion tells me to" and get completely away with it?

But I wouldn't want to fight with him over it, anyway. You see, he actually is a very good man. That's what saddens me so much, and that's why it was so important for me to try and talk him out of this crazyness. I already saw him cherry-picking his religion once, when he said about something "No, that's just WRONG, my religion can't really mean it, some rabbis must have gotten it all wrong -- I won't do it". So I thought that if I explain to him just how wrong it is to "lishmor negia", maybe he'll stop doing it, too. But he said that, although his religion usually encourages doubt, on this particular subject it is written specifically that he must not doubt. So he doesn't. (Amazing, right?)
My best shot was when I told him "But if your religion told you not to shake hands with Arabs, would you do it?" He said that he would never accept such a religion -- he's not a racist. "But when it tells you not to shake hands with women..." "No, that's different!" he said, "I respect women and I respect you, but the mezikim will harm both of us if I touch you!"
You see where the problem is? He actually bought all this metaphysical fleas crap. He really believes in it. When he wakes up at night to check on his little daughter and sees that her blanket fell down, he has to rush away and perform some ritual before he can even touch her to tuck her blanket back... you understand? He's afraid to harm her.
So I just cannot be angry with the guy... I feel very sad and sorry for him. He's an example of how religion plays on fear to get into people's minds.

It's also very understandable why he jumped at the slightest opportunity to accuse me of being disrespectful. Because deep down, I'm sure he feels he's doing something wrong. He just thinks he has no choice.

So I stay, despite the fact that his behavior deeply saddens me. I still respect him as a warrior and as a person, and I still can learn a lot from him. The sparring is not so important -- his time is better spent sparring with the advanced students, anyway...


My jaw is dropping, Ola. He's the one who refuses to touch you, because of invisible metaphysical bacteria that live in women, and then he has the nerve to claim that you're being disrespectful? That is astonishingly arrogant. Even if he's a sincere person who's doing this out of a genuine belief in his religion and a real (if misguided) desire not to harm anyone, he ought to at least understand why other people who don't share his beliefs would find it offensive, and not have the temerity to act as though he's the one occupying the moral high ground.

I think his defensive reaction to your smile showcases another important point: Many religious believers, at some level, are themselves aware that their beliefs sound ridiculous. Why else would he react so swiftly, and so angrily, to your (very, very slight) amusement
if it wasn't threatening to reinforce or confirm some feeling that he already held himself?

But of course, they repress that feeling among themselves, by mutual agreement. When we atheists express it openly - when we point out that the emperor has no clothes - it can do a world of good in enlightening people to freethought, if we're just expressing thoughts that they held themselves but were afraid to voice.


So... he's a grown man who expects you to respect his fear of girl cooties? Seriously?
No matter how hard I tried not to, this would make me giggle a bit I'm afraid. I mean, it's different if it's someone who is actually psychotic, but a religious person "believing in" someone else's silly, recycled delusions - that is always pretty amusing. And tragic...

Greta Christina
Isn't it the same in the US, though? Doesn't religion get a free pass when it comes to discrimination? In the US, if you open, say, a private pottery school, and you don't want to admit women -- can't you just say "that's what my religion tells me to" and get completely away with it?

Not really. If you're specifically a religious organization -- a church or a synagogue or something -- then yes, you have a lot of leeway in that regard. And completely private closed clubs are allowed to discriminate if they want (within limits). But if you're just a business that's open to the public and providing service to the public, you're required to offer those services to the public equally and without discrimination. A landlord, for instance, can't refuse to rent to Muslims or Jews, even if he says he's doing so because of his religion. (But obviously, that's different in Israel. And I'm betting that the "letter to the editor" route wouldn't work either, since it sounds like this guy's looniness and biases are shared by a lot of people, and wouldn't cause shock or outrage the way it might here.)

And I can see the spot you're in. If it were me, I'd be trying to find another teacher; but it is hard when you otherwise like and respect the person.

But back to the original topic: Knowing the full story makes me think even more strongly that you are entirely blameless in this. It's not like you pointed and laughed. A slight failure to completely repress a smile is hardly what I would call mockery. I agree with Ebonmuse and others: he got so upset at your half-smile, not because you'd done something genuinely bad, but because on some level he knows that his belief in girl cooties sounds ridiculous, and is ridiculous, and you put a slight crack in his defense against that when you didn't take it entirely seriously. Which is his problem, not yours.


Thank you, everybody, for your support!
Especially thank you, Greta -- your blog gave me the tools to have such conversations. If I ever succeed to convince this particular guy to abandon his irrational beliefs, it will be in large part due to you.


I think humor, especially satire, is the best weapon against bigotry, intolerance, and discrimination. I mean, what is satire, but the real, sometimes hidden truth, exposed for all to see?

That's why I'm such a fan of "The Simpsons," because when they do satire, they do it REALLY well. Remember the episode where Homer was a homophobe? They took every single thing that homophobes fear about gays and lesbians (which they often won't say out loud in polite company) and laid it out in the open for all to see, and the results were hysterical:

"He didn't give you gay, did he?"

"Bart! Where did you get that Hawaiian shirt?"


I wish I had the talent to use satire like that. And unfortunately, the people who need to see their irrational fears left out in the open like that won't see it.


Hell YES! It's good to mock goofy beliefs. Sam Singleton Atheist Evangelist uses satire in his show PATRIARCHS AND PENISES, and the audience hangs on every word while laughing hysterically.


“To criticise a person for their race is manifestly irrational and ridiculous but to criticise their religion - that is a right. That is a freedom. The freedom to criticise ideas - any ideas even if they are sincerely held beliefs - is one of the fundamental freedoms of society. And the law which attempts to say you can criticise or ridicule ideas as long as they are not religious ideas is a very peculiar law indeed. It all points to the promotion of the idea that there should be a right not to be offended. But in my view the right to offend is far more important than any right not to be offended. The right to ridicule is far more important to society than any right not to be ridiculed because one in my view represents openness - and the other represents oppression.”

-Rowan Atkinson

That was penned in response to Britain's recent trouble with their blasphemy laws I believe, but it rings true for criticism with an edge in humour.

You always give me so much to think about and take away from your writing. And this was an important one for me to read as I am often forced upon to feel as though I don't have the right to be critical of religion, especially in a humourous sense. So thankyou.


wait.... he won't touch his LITTLE DAUGHTER, because of metaphysical cooties living in MENSTRUAL BLOOD?

The persons who made this belief up...

Well, sometimes there MIGHT be a use for hell. (I'm joking here... but only a little)


This is a notably Monty Python-heavy post. In addition to the overt references to Pythonia, there are hidden ones as well.

Meanwhile, this is perhaps the most irrelevant comment on this thread.

Uh... Ni! Burma!


Kehoe Pinney, President of the Campaign Against Filth and Blasphemy

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