Edward Tarte Discusses Whether It’s Okay to Ridicule Religion

[Link to video]

About Edward Tarte

I am age 78, once a Catholic priest for five years (in the 1960's), then a math teacher for 44 years up to the present day. I became an atheist a few years ago. My hobbies are music and chess.

  • roberthughmclean

    Oh Edward, please do! There’s so much mirth to be had from the talking snake right through to munching on the baby jesus wine and cracker nonsense. As a former insider, I’m hoping you know where it’ll really (for want of a better word) hurt. We look forward to your videos and love your focus.

  • Atheist Diva

    I’m just not with the rest of you on this one. I have no desire to publicly mock the beliefs of others unless their beliefs involve hate or destruction.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    Beliefs should be challenged, that’s how they are confirmed. If a belief can’t be challenged, then it is worthless.

    I don’t believe in causing someone discomfort without good reason. And just because I enjoy making fun of them isn’t a good reason.

    But there is a purpose, nay, and obligation to challenge unfounded beliefs. I think the truth is important, and falsehoods are harmful. Certainly there are degrees of harmful. Thinking a cracker somehow becomes flesh is a long ways from thinking that women who are raped must marry their rapist. But the Catholic church holds and promotes a great many ideas that are a lot more harmful than the Eucharist.

  • Edmond

    Father TJ seems like a very nice, respectable man. But I wonder what he would think about Scientology, Koreshanity or Raelism? Many people do, or have, held THESE beliefs “very dear” also.

    How SHOULD we discuss ideas and beliefs that revolve around magic, talking animals, laws of slavery, and food turning into body tissue? If we are expected to show constant respect and deference to these notions, are we simply not ALLOWED to criticize, critique, or debunk?

    If these ideas promote the submission of women, the ostracization of gay people, the protection of child rapists, the discipline of children by beating with rubber tubing, and the reliance on prayer over medical treatment, isn’t ridicule APPROPRIATE?

    I understand Father TJ’s request, and the emotions behind it. But I strongly agree with the commentor that Edward quoted: Step back and LOOK at your beliefs, Father TJ. Some of us can imagine NO other way to regard these beliefs, than with ridicule. We feel the same way about them that we do about Thetans, the planet Kolob, or ancient aliens.

  • Edmond

    Oh! And THANK you, Edward, for ALL of these videos. It helps to have someone who can verbalize so eloquently the feelings we all feel, and it helps to know that religious “insiders” can eventually find objectivity and rationality.

  • http://www.sunstonescafe.com/ Paul Sunstone

    I find myself in substantial agreement with you. I think we have an obligation to ourselves and to others to oppose unfounded and false beliefs. (I would add that, to me, that does not necessarily mean mocking them, but mocking them may be the best tactic in a given set of circumstances.) I think, to the extent that our beliefs are not merely harmless, but can have a negative impact on others, they are free game for opposition.

  • Glasofruix

    You’re all fine then, since most of the mainstream idio..erm religions involve all of the above.

  • Kevin S.

    On the other hand, there are cases of people engaging in deranged behavior over even beliefs that seem on the innocuous end of the scale. For example, there’s the famous P.Z. Myers “cracker incident.” Everybody talks about Myers’ self-documented desecration of a communion wafer, but nobody talks about the incident that inspired it, in which a college student got death threats from Catholic parishoners because he took a wafer out of his mouth to show it to a friend before swallowing it. The lesson I drew from that incident is that if you tell gullible people fairy tales, they will often find a way to become violent in defense of those fantasies, no matter how innocuous they seem in the grand scheme of things.

  • Kevin S.

    As I noted in a comment above, religious people often turn even harmless-seeming beliefs into excuses for hate or destruction.

  • Sarah

    That’s some impressive motivated reasoning/exaggerated memory there. The student didn’t ‘take it from his mouth to show before swallowing it’ he snuck it out of the church and gave/showed it to someone. PZ Myers got death threats after the ‘great desecration’ not the student – who was in trouble with the university which is what enraged PZ.

    I think the lesson of the Elevator incident is that Atheists are not some sort of special magical group where everyone is sweetness and light and incapable of moral failing – which is why comments like “if you tell gullible people fairy tales, they will often find a way to become violent in defense of those fantasies, no matter how innocuous they seem” are basically self-congratulatory nonsense a la – ‘What I’ve learned about the “Other” is that unlike us they are deluded and foolish and will become violent in defence of their foolishness. How very unlike us, the only pure group in History. Please do not look behind the curtain into the Elevator’

  • Kevin S.

    Actually, the student didn’t take the wafer out of the church until after others made a big deal about trying to take it away from him. Here’s the one news account I could find of he story I could still dig up:


    From the article:

    “Cook claims he planned to consume it, but first wanted to show it to a fellow student senator he brought to Mass who was curious about the Catholic faith.

    ‘When I received the Eucharist, my intention was to bring it back to my seat to show him,’ Cook said.’I took about three steps from the woman distributing the Eucharist and someone grabbed the inside of my elbow and blocked the path in front of me. At that point I put it in my mouth so they’d leave me alone and I went back to my seat and I removed it from my mouth.’

    A church leader was watching, confronted Cook and tried to recover the sacred bread. Cook said she crossed the line and that’s why he brought it home with him.

    ‘She came up behind me, grabbed my wrist with her right hand, with her left hand grabbed my fingers and was trying to pry them open to get the Eucharist out of my hand,’ Cook said, adding she wouldn’t immediately take her hands off him despite several requests.”

    Now, about the death threats against the student, I’ve found blog posts mentioning those, but they’re not in the news article, so it’s possible those might not have happened.

    Now, on to the false equivalence. I’ll freely admit that sexism and misogyny happen in both the religious and secular communities. However, if you want to prove that both communities are exactly the same, you might want to dig up a case of atheists reacting to the abuse of certain special inanimate food products with violence.

  • bethelj

    So this is “Tolerate the believer, do not tolerate the belief?” Heh. It’s interesting – in a rather horrifying way – to watch the splintering of society into hostile tribes. Should make for a peaceful, prosperous future for all.

  • Ronlawhouston

    I don’t think you’re alone in that sentiment.

  • Ronlawhouston

    I am rather curious why you feel such a strong need or desire to mock.

  • Art_Vandelay

    I prefer another TJ: “Ridicule is the only weapon against unintelligible positions.”

  • Rain

    Oh he played the “angry at God” card. This is the apologetics equivalent of the famous “nanner nanner boo boo”.

    Atheist: I don’t believe that dumb stuff.
    Apologist: You’re angry at God.
    Atheist: No I’m not.
    Apologist: Yes you are. Nanner nanner boo boo. *sticks out tongue at atheist*

  • lefty

    i love you edward tarte

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    In that case what PZ was protesting wasn’t so much the Eucharist as the aggravated assault of someone else because they didn’t play along. I don’t carry around a Qu’ran just so I can drop it on the ground every time I see a Muslim, but I did participate in draw Muhammad day to push the point that religious prohibitions against drawing people, real or imaginary, are unfounded, ridiculous, and an infringement on our rights.

  • nazani

    I don’t get why the idea of a wafer becoming flesh and blood isn’t viewed with disgust. Yet, people who freak out if their cooked meat has a little pink center seem to be ok with the transmutation.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    the splintering of society into hostile tribes

    We were splintered the first time someone imagined their own god.

  • Bob Carlson

    This discussion reminds me of an occasion about eight years ago when the Catholic couple next door invited us to attend the first communion of their daughter. The kids, all aged 7 and 8, were being asked questions to demonstrate their knowledge of church teaching, and it was apparent that the daughter of the people next door was one of the star pupils in the class. At one point in the ceremony, the priest admonished the children: “Do not question!” Then he turned to the others in the church and, shaking a raised forefinger, repeated the admonition to them. It was a chilling reminder that one’s sense of rationality should have been checked at the door. If a sense of decency requires us to respect that attitude, virtually every religious idea should be held sacred and regarded as off limits for criticism or mockery. It would seem that that is exactly what Father TJ wants, and I think Edward is correct in not respecting that wish.

  • Edmond

    And what if those beliefs involve rewriting legislation which removes scientific teaching from schools in place of creation myths? Or which forces the reliance on biblical definitions of marriage, conception and abstinence? Or which marginalizes and criminalizes innocent citizens?
    Hate and destruction are the EASY targets. There’s no missing them. But religion has many more insidious ways of influencing society, and we need to be sure that we’re calling out bad motivations BEFORE they get enough of a foothold to influence us all.

  • Edmond

    Because religion will find ways to work itself into our civil laws and exert control even over non-believers. If people have bad motivations for insisting that all of society follow the rules of their personal belief systems, then those motivations need to be identified and labeled as the reality-bending myths that they are.
    As a gay man, I’ve experienced mockery at the hands of believers my whole life, all because of some passages in an ancient book which has no understanding of the complexities of the human psyche. And what’s worse is that I’ve had to live under the rules of that belief system whether I subscribe to it or not. No system of magic and myths should have that kind of power over everyone, and it’s about time Christianity was knocked off its high horse.

  • Ronlawhouston

    Thanks for your reply. I really do understand where you’re coming from on this issue. I share your passion in trying to keep religion out of government. I guess my point of disagreement is that since this is a political as well as a legal issue, it requires consensus building. I’m not so certain mockery is conducive to consensus building.

    I guess that’s why I’ve frequently been labeled one of those “accomodationalists.”

  • Ronlawhouston

    We were probably splinted long before that. We were probably splintered on the savannah when two tribes competed over resources. Gods were just a way to justify our tribe.

  • Ronlawhouston

    “I don’t believe in causing someone discomfort without good reason. And
    just because I enjoy making fun of them isn’t a good reason.”

    Dang, what a spoilsport you are. I’m with you on this but sometimes the satire potential is almost too much to resist.

    “But there is a purpose, nay, and obligation to challenge unfounded beliefs.”

    An obligation, really? Are we going to become the belief Nazis? All I can say is this: so many unfounded beliefs, so little time.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    t sometimes the satire potential is almost too much to resist

    Sometimes the temptation overwhelms what I ‘think’ I should do. Unfortunately, when it happens, I don’t have the devil to blame, and have to cop to it myself.

    I do think we have to pick our battles, and obligation comes in at the extreme end.

    A little background: A distant FB friend recently posted something along the lines of “My belief system is big enough for you, is your belief system big enough for me?” I replied “What if my belief system dictates that rape victims should be killed to preserve family honor?” The responses included “morals vary” and “you don’t have to participate to learn”.

    That put me in an anti-accommodationist mood.

  • Ronlawhouston

    Actually you used the technique I’d use – the rhetorical question.

    If you ask me, that much more effective than mockery could ever be.

  • Edmond

    I’m assuming you’re a Christian, so correct me if that’s wrong. But if so, then it’s likely that you see the issue of “religion in government” or “consensus building” from a strictly Christian point of view. As in, “Christians on one side, atheists/secularists on the other”. But, from OUR point of view, Christianity isn’t the only opposing side. As we see it, we have to be vigilant in these issues with regards to encroaching Christianity, as well as Mormonism, Islam, Scientology, the list goes on. Heck, a recent push by Florida’s governor to reinstate school-led prayers actually got support from Satanists, of all people.

    Considering all that, “consensus building” begins to look unnecessary, needlessly complicated, and, yeah… accomodationalist.
    ALSO considering all that, it becomes difficult to draw the line between where mockery is acceptable and where it isn’t. Can we mock Satanists? Moonies? Scientologists? Raelians? The guy down the street who believes leprechauns are taking over the government? If so, then why are more “popular” religions exempt from this mockery? If not, then how does one express their opinion that certain beliefs are ridiculous? Because frankly, many are.

  • Edward Tarte

    Edmond, thank you so much for everything that you have said in these comments.

  • Ibis3

    Because most Catholics don’t actually believe it. They think it’s just a symbol or metaphor, despite the official doctrine.

  • Edmond

    Do itashimashite, my friend! And thanks to people like Hemant (and Matt D, and PZ, and Austin C, and Greta C, and JT, and Richard D, and the late great Chris H) for providing a forum where our OWN unpopular and mockable ideas may thrive! It is SO needed!

    And then I felt bad for singling out Matt, when I also meant everyone who works just as hard as he does, like Russel, Don, Tracie, Martin, Jen, Jeff and everyone else. And everyone else I’ve forgotten, or haven’t learned that I should be reading yet.

    Oh hell, look, now I’ve gone and had too much sake.

  • Ronlawhouston

    Nope not a Christian. I was a long time progressive Christian and finally said, “oh screw it.” Maybe that’s why I still send off Christian vibes.

    Mockery is pretty nuanced. There is a fine line between good satire and obnoxious asshattery. For instance, I’m a big fan of Monty Python’s “Life of Brian.” On the other hand, I’m not at all a fan of PZ Myers and thinks he’s an incorrigible asshole. Where’s the line? It’s pretty fuzzy and hard to draw but there is clearly a line somewhere.

    I do think you’re wrong on consensus building. One of the things the LGBT community has done well in its fight for marriage equality is just that sort of consensus building. Atheist, like any minority, have to gain acceptance. (Yes, I know that’s not fair, just or right, but sometimes reality sucks.) We will gain acceptance by reaching out and not striking back.

  • Karen

    Edward Tarte, you make wonderful videos!

    I try to avoid mocking other people’s religious beliefs unless they affect me or my society. So I’m a real bitch about mocking creationism and historical revisionism, because they affect what’s taught in schools. I get my panties in a twist about anti-LGBT prejudice, religiously-based or not (though it most often is) because I believe in equality. But I’m not about to tell my relatives that the book they believe in and cherish is nothing more than a bunch of bronze-age and iron-age myths; that would change no minds, cause hurt, and make our relationships more difficult. I’m open about my atheism, but when the subject comes up (rarely) I just shrug and say “I don’t believe.”

  • allein

    I was at my friend’s daughter’s baptism last spring and there was a little “children’s moment” during the service (Presbyterian, for the record) where they called all the little kids up to the alter and one of the choir members played a little game with them, during which she basically told them they were all sheep. I was a little disturbed by that.

  • baal

    I’m a-ok with ridiculing that which is in fact ridiculous. Where I get bent out of shape is when folks take, “It’s ok to ridicule some things” as “I should ridicule all the things.” or “I’m not a jerk when I use ridicule because some ridicule is ok.”

    I’m in agreement with Edward’s comments as well.