Saturday, January 27, 2007

Mockery and Reverence

Mockery is destructive.

It does not befit us to mock others. Mockery is the refuge of the weak, the refuge of cowards, those who don't understand the substance of what they denigrate.

Mockery is the way an idiot lashes out at another person. It is a learned attitude. The child does not mock. The child approaches everything with wonder, with curiousity, with the desire to learn, approaches life through the imagination.

Mockery is an illogical, cruel answer to curiousity. It is irreverent, it mocks you for asking the question.

Everything can be learned or taught in a respectful way. Sacred texts especially- whether it be the Torah, the Qu'ran/ Koran or the New Testament, there is value and benefit to be found in it. And it can be learned respectfully.

There is nothing that infuriates me more than when bright young students are taught to mock in answer to ideas or texts they don't understand. This applies to Orthodox Jews being taught to mock other religions; it also applies to college students who are taught biblical criticism in an irreverant manner. I sat in on a brilliant class at the University of Chicago taught by a renowned professor and I was disappointed- not by the material, which focused on source criticism, but by the fact that he was teaching his students to mock sacred texts when the betting is that the majority of them had never even read through the full Bible. But they were misled by their intellectualism into assuming that since this man believed in mockery and laughing, they too ought to act this way.

There is nothing sadder than the death of the mind. This can occur in many different ways and different forums. I hate brainwashing; I hate someone imposing their own ideas upon the fresh young minds of others. But I think I hate mockery more. Mockery kills ideas. It laughs at ideas, traditions, questions- it is not kind to anyone. It is antithetical to curiousity. The curious person who is mocked for asking questions grows red in the face and will perhaps learn not to question aloud again.

Reverence and respect only leads to further learning, alternatively. One can respectfully understand that different sources in the Bible don't match up, that source criticism makes valid points; one may respectfully learn about ideas and opinions different from theirs. I can learn anything so long as it is given over with a clear respect and/ or reverence for the material. If the teacher mocks the ideas of others, it is clear the teacher is not secure in his/her own knowledge.

Kiruv organizations that mock the beliefs of others are destined to failure. Students and scholars who only know how to mock and tear down others rather than build up and create are, as well. The only way to truly learn anything is to understand it, and in order to understand anything, one must be willing to accept the viewpoint and mindset of the other. One must be willing to treat the subject with respect. And after one understands it, then one may hate it or disagree with it or differ from it, but one may not mock.

I cannot respect people who mock others. It disturbs me when I encounter people who know nothing but how to mock. I can't imagine them being intellectually happy and fulfilled. It is one of the things that truly depresses me. Because we could be great- but we won't allow it.

Idiots and fools, this is who we become. The mockers. Leitzanim.

It disgusts me.


Anonymous said...

Reminds me of the time that I was at a large Shabbos meal on the West Side. I said a short dvar torah/story. When I finished, someone mockingly called out "OK everyone, now we're going to break into discussion groups."

Anonymous said...

sad, indeed :(

Anonymous said...

I hear you.

But, lakol zman vaes.

When one has been indocrinated with values and ideologies that were harmful and antithetical to their very nature from a very young age, a phase of mocking those *ideas* (not those who may have been sincere in promulgating them) may be necessary and healing.

Ezzie said...

As we've discussed in the past, IIRC, I think that everything has its time and place. While I think you are correct 99% of the time, I think even mockery has its place on (rare) occasion. For the ideas which are despicable and which debating serve no purpose, mockery helps to keep them from gaining any credence - which can be especially important when one thinks about the easily impressionable.

Anonymous said...

Leitzanus is a bad middah, for sure. Leitzim are a major problem.

But leitzanus for avoda zara is a mitzvah. Yep.

Chana said...


I agree with you.


Megillah 25b. :)

However, it is quite questionable whether Christianity/ Islam is categorized as avodah zarah, hence I say we still treat their sacred texts with respect.

Anonymous said...

I don't know what to say other than that "I agree".

you can't have an intelectual thought out discussion with someone who mocks you or your ideas. An idea that is not treated as legitimate cannot be discussed.

Unfortuantely people are taught to do this to anything that makes them uncomfortable as a way of releasing the tension.

Anonymous said...

While I share your contempt for the use of mockery in the world today, I believe the fault lies in people rather then the notion of mockery itself.
Mockery does have a legitimate place in argumentation. One of the ways in which you refute an argument is to use reductio ad absurdum. You argue that a claim made by your opponent, when taken to its logical conclusion, would force your opponent to consent to a claim that is ridiculous and that “she herself” would never agree to.
Being able to mock is an essential characteristic of having a sense of humor and in the art of satire. One picks up on the element of the ridiculous in others and in oneself and displays it for all to see.
The problem with using mockery as an argument is when you stop respecting your opponents and their ideas. Once that happens then it stops being an argument and starts to be satire. Satire is dangerous once you mistake satire for an argument. Satire requires the creation of a straw person. Anyone can be transformed into a straw person and a straw person is easily destroyed. Arguing against people in this fashion creates the illusion that the straw person is the real individual. This in turn creates a cycle of greater contempt for ones opponent and the fashioning of more and more unrealistic straw persons.

Anonymous said...


Knew I could depend on you for the source!

Big-S Skeptic said...

Mockery kills ideas. It laughs at ideas, traditions, questions- it is not kind to anyone. It is antithetical to curiosity. The curious person who is mocked for asking questions grows red in the face and will perhaps learn not to question aloud again.... Reverence and respect only leads to further learning, alternatively.

Obviously, no one enjoys being made fun of. But mockery nevertheless has considerable value. Mockery punctures pretense, erodes illusion. Sometimes this is not to our liking, especially when the pretense and illusion are flattering to ourselves. But mockery is also crucial to tearing down the false idols that we are so effective at creating. Mockery is the anti-venom for the adoration of power and mindless deference to authority that is part of our inheritance as social animals. Some feelings may indeed get hurt when the child announces that the Emperor has no clothes, but sometimes this is the only way forward. Look at the example of Voltaire and the Church.

For that matter, I think that Islam also will only emerge from the middle ages when a Muslim Voltaire steps forward and speaks the truth about the hyper-pious clerics pretending to know God's plan for the universe. "What a fatuous windbag you are!" ibn Voltaire will yell in the middle of the imam's frothy harangue. Some people in the audience, knowing it in their hearts to be true, will giggle in spite of their fear. Then more. Soon the crowd is laughing. The illusion has dissolved, and the people can see clearly that what is in front of them is not the "Voice of God" but just a guy in a robe getting high on all the attention.

That's the Hollywood version, of course. But in reality the process of "de-sanctification" is much the same, just slower. It would be nice if reverential attitudes could lead humanity inexorably toward "the good," but it's just not the case. Reverential attitudes lead to slavery, eventually. If we didn't have that irreverent soul who says "That's a load of crap" and snaps us out of the daydream, we'd all be in big trouble.

Chana said...

Some feelings may indeed get hurt when the child announces that the Emperor has no clothes, but sometimes this is the only way forward.

But see, this is NOT mockery. The child is announcing a truth, a fact, that everyone else is too scared to see but that is nonetheless so- that the Emperor has NO CLOTHES ON. But the child's aim is not to insult or mock the emperor so much as it is to point out the truth everyone else is trying to erase from their minds.

With regard to Voltaire- his use of hyperbole and satire is excellent. Candide is a masterpiece, I agree. However, as another commentator here brought up, here Voltaire is using mockery responsibly (the same way one could use a reductio ad absurdum argument, Voltaire takes Liebniz's ideas to the extreme and shows us how laughable they are.) He is not using mockery without having full knowledge of the material at hand.

This is in contrast to students who do not even have a basic grasp on the Bible/ texts and yet feel themselves equipped to mock.

I suppose what I mean to say is that one must earn the RIGHT to mock, and responsibly mock, and this takes quite a long time.

Lela Harbinger said...

in my experience mockery is usually an indication of a lack of knowledge and or wisdom. it's an easy way out to explain something away because any other way would just be too bothersome.