Should Christians ever mock others' beliefs?


A READER NAMED HELEN made the following excellent and thought-provoking comment after reading "Monkey Business in the Garden of Eden":

I thought your exposé was funny and entertaining but it is more suited to Christians who want to have a laugh and I guess it could help us be stronger in our beliefs. I know my friends who are not Christians wouldn't like it. I don't think it would help them. They are in need of reasoned and logical questions and arguments without the sarcasm. Maybe some people would be helped by it but I think it would more than likely just get them angry. As Christians I think we really need to be out there getting into understanding the way people think - I have a lot of friends who are not Christians - only found them in the last 12 years - prior to this I had few to none - my life revolved around the church and fellow believers. Now working 5 days a week in a cloistered environment I am very grateful that I have found them in a community organisation - but I need not to laugh at them or what they think - I need to take them seriously and respect them.

I wouldn't like to see my grand children becoming so scornful - I have already detected this in one of them - unfortunately that attitude is interpreted as them having been brain washed. I want them to grow up to be gracious and accepting of other people. I want them to understand why other people think and believe as they do.

My response was to feel a sense of shame when it dawned on me that it certainly could come across as ridiculing beliefs sincerely held by others, including some Christians who adhere to the notion of theistic evolution - that is, the belief that God created laws of natural selection and mutation that would lead to the end result we see around us. My purpose in writing the spoof was not to insult anybody but to help strengthen the convictions of those who give God the credit for the spectacular "thing" we call the universe. But Helen had a legitimate point that she beautifully expressed.

I agree wholeheartedly with her belief that Christians should respect others and their beliefs, be sensitive to others' sensitivities, and avoid ridiculing others - it disturbed me to think I had penned an article that might offend and anger anybody unnecessarily, and I am very grateful to her for bringing this matter to our attention. I almost removed the article from the site. But then I started thinking about it a bit more. I tried to analyse the rights and wrongs, pros and cons, wisdom or folly of leaving it up. I have decided to leave it up for the time being, but have added a note to the effect that its primary purpose is to help strengthen the convictions of believers, not to belittle unbelievers. This may be a wrong decision; I'm no fount of all wisdom.

I don't know about you, but I find it can be very challenging trying to figure out God's mind on many ethical questions. Uninformed opinions, including my own, are of no value, and we shouldn't trust them. In all matters of importance we should seek godly wisdom and divine direction. If Jesus Christ were here and we could ask Him what He thinks (His thoughts are always right), what would He say? But He's not; our best guide in deciding between a wise and a foolish course of action is found in the words that He has inspired and recorded for our benefit - Scripture.

The rightness and wrongness of mockery

Where does one begin in trying to determine the value or otherwise of a "little bit of mockery"? Is Dawn to Dusk showing love or hostility towards an unbeliever who might read Monkey Business? Will it help unbelievers turn to God or is it likely to anger them and put a stumblingblock in their way? That question lies at the heart of the matter.

It seems to me you could have a whole spectrum of reactions. Worst reaction would go something like, "Well, if Christians are going to mock my beliefs, I don't want to have anything to do with them." The most positive reaction might be, "Hmm, I see the point; it really does make more sense to believe in intelligent design than in one mighty lucky miraculous accident." Is it worth the risk of turning off some people in the hope that others will be enlightened? I'm not absolutely sure, but I think it is.

Let me put it this way. About the most serious offence any person can commit is to do something that will actually destroy or weaken the faith of a believer, as Jesus said in Matthew 18:6-7:

But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes!

Notice that Jesus warns unbelievers against offending believers, not the other way around! Nowhere does He say anything like, "Listen, believers, you'd better not say anything in such a way that it will antagonise or upset unbelievers". Naturally, since we are to "do unto others as we would have them do unto us", to label those who embrace evolution as "fools" or "rebels" or "doomed", would not be showing love; nobody likes being called a fool. And besides, they are certainly not doomed!

But if our goal is to give God credit for the wonders of Creation and to challenge the thinking of those who don't believe in God but choose belief in the creative power of the Big Bang rather than in divine creation, then we can't really go wrong. We can have great confidence that God stretched out the universe and laid the foundations of the earth. Whether or not it all began with a blinding flash and a rapid expansion from a tiny blob who can say? Surely, whatever we can do to help others come to the same conclusion is"godly".

Believers must remember the wisdom of Proverbs 26:4 ("Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest you also be like him"), and therefore should not uncritically copy the "dirty tricks" of those who preach against divine creation. But neither should they neglect to use any strategy that may ultimately bring glory to God, as long as it doesn't harm another human being. So, the occasional dose of non-malicious parody should not do any harm; would it drive people away from belief in God? After all, anti-creationists have no qualms about using such methods. In his editorial, "'Intelligent Design' as both problem and symptom", Adam Wilkins says this:

. evolutionary biologists are eventually going to have to take on IDM [Intelligent Design Movement] in public debates in town halls, on television, in local newspapers, etc. and expose the lies. Honest, clear refutation, plus a liberal dose of satire should be quite effective (BioEssays, 28.4.2007, p. 328).

Surely what's good for the goose is good for the gander.

Fishers of men

People are different from one another (how's that for a brilliant insight?). With that fact in mind, and remembering that Jesus likened believers to "fishers of men", it seems appropriate to vary one's fishing tackle and bait. Some fish will snub their noses at grasshoppers dangling a couple of feet below the water's surface, but will be irresistibly drawn to a floating mayfly. A slightly mocking spoof may irritate some people, even anger a few, but it may be just the trick to capture the imagination of one or two. Others may be drawn by a gentle, reasoned, point by point presentation. (Which is the approach we try to take most all of the time at Dawn to Dusk.) Bottom line: if God decides to call someone to the truth, He can choose how He will do it. We can put out hook and line, but God guides the fish. And He alone can turn a fish into a sheep. Even though Monkey Business is pitched towards believers to help strengthen their faith, it may have a spin-off benefit for some unbelievers.

The question remains, is mild mockery in the form of an entertaining parody ever acceptable? Or, framing the question another way, should believers studiously purge all sarcasm and "offensiveness" out of their bait and tackle box?

If it is always wrong to mock, or be sarcastic, or "in your face", it would never be condoned in Scripture. But Paul was quite up-front and potentially offensive when he told an idolatrous mob at Lystra that their precious gods, in whom many of them sincerely believed with all their being, were "useless things" (Acts 14:15). Many commentators remark that Paul occasionally used sarcasm in his writings, even to believers, if he felt that it was warranted. And then, of course, you have the king of all mockery passages:

And so it was, at noon, that Elijah mocked them and said, "Cry aloud, for he is a god; either he is meditating, or he is busy, or he is on a journey , or perhaps he is sleeping and must be awakened" (1 Kings 18:27).

Perhaps many of those Elijah mocked knew full well that Baal was just a human invention, but undoubtedly at least some were truly sincere, dedicated devotees.

To me the concept that somehow an infinite number of universes just created themselves and that somehow some chemicals on planet earth organised themselves to form living molecules which gradually clumped together to form unbelievably complex cells that evolved into flowers and dinosaurs and human beings capable of designing computers is just as mockable as Baalism. Western society today seems set on ridiculing belief in an all-powerful, infinitely intelligent and good Creator. One reader of "Monkey Business" wrote, "Just read in the Orange County Register (Southern California), concerning evolution that some of these gentlemen feel that Christians should be put in cages, in zoos.". I have read numerous articles and books that belittle the idea of intelligent design. On and on goes the anti-creation propaganda. Perhaps I am guilty of having a perverse spirit when I feel stirred to answer in like kind. Perhaps I am guilty of ignoring the Proverb that says, "Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest you also be like him" (26:4). Perhaps, perhaps.

On the other hand, just maybe those who smugly deny divine power and wisdom need to face a hard home truth - their cherished belief lends itself beautifully to caricature. It is as worthy of mockery as Baalism. If the idea that Homeobox genes, butterfly wings and life-sustaining nutrient cycles were spawned by a hypermegasuperexplosion rather than being generated and crafted by supreme intelligence doesn't make the perfect butt for derision, then pray tell what does! Just maybe it's O.K. to, "Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes" (Prov. 26:5). (Of course, I'm not suggesting that everybody who believes in evolution is smug or a fool.) We should have nothing but sympathy for those blind from birth, who cannot help their inability to see. But if a blind person denies the existence of light and rainbows because he cannot see them, or an atheist denies the Intelligent Designer because he refuses to accept the plain evidence, let him bear his shame.

I can only hope that "Monkey Business" will help a number of people. I don't believe that it will seriously set back any not-yet followers of Jesus Christ. Most unbelievers who stumble upon it will quickly dismiss it as yet another example of religious extremism and surf off to happier hunting grounds.

Last but not least, I feel "Monkey Business" should stay put if for no other reason than to bring this important issue of how believers should treat the beliefs of non-believers up for discussion. Thanks to Helen for making me think a bit harder about what we publish on this site.

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