Crackers and quakes and talking snakes!
Now PZ Myers has posted what I consider an important essay on just why this is so. I hope that everybody will read it -- it's a real contribution to the battle plan. As Myers sums up:
Religion has at least two weaknesses. One is that it is empirically false, and all of its specific claims are either pointless and unverifiable, or have been falsified. Another, though, that we neglect at a cost of diminished effectiveness, is that it's hilarious. It's a prime target for exposure of religious folly; it's the soft, ticklish underbelly of faith and we need more people to exploit it.
He gives a couple of examples of the two approaches to religion. One such example is the recent occasion when Iranian cleric Kazem Seddiqi declared that earthquakes are caused by women dressing "immodestly". The debater's response to this would have been to collect data about female dress habits and earthquake frequency from various parts of the world, and demonstrate that no such correlation exists (as I pointed out at the time, if Seddiqi's claim were true, Scandinavia and eastern Europe would be the most quake-prone areas of the world, while the Middle East would be the least -- which is decidedly not the case). Such an approach would have been rather ineffective at capturing the attention and imagination of people undecided about religion; it would have belabored a point which was already obvious to any sane person; and it would have dignified a staggeringly moronic claim by at least going through the motions of taking it seriously.
As for the mocker's approach, we all remember what happened:
Jen McCreight did something different: she called for a boobquake, suggesting that women dress immodestly (by Iranian cleric standards) on a specific day, and invite God to smite the planet with earthquakes…a suggestion that would only be made in confidence that Seddiqi's claim was baseless. And it was a phenomenon. Boobquake was picked up by news media around the world, got millions to pay attention, and effectively highlighted the silliness of a religious claim. It was media-savvy and human-psychology-savvy — it used humor, sex, and fun to make a serious point interesting, and led people to look at the science of earthquakes. Did it make hordes of Muslims convert to atheism? Of course not. But it did make an Islamic authority look a bit more ridiculous in the eyes of the world.
The opportunities for ridicule are as vast as the range of stupid and preposterous beliefs and claims that religion presents to the world -- that is to say, essentially limitless. A cracker can be transformed into the flesh of a supernatural being if a man in a funny collar recites certain mumbo-jumbo over it. All humans are born imbued with an evil force because long ago a talking snake persuaded a woman made from a rib to eat fruit from a magic tree. A convicted con man in rural New York state found a stack of golden plates telling the history of an ancient Israelite civilization in North America. A being capable of creating the whole universe is obsessed about the exact details of how humans have sex and whom they have it with, and about the punishment of incorrect behavior. Drawing a picture of a seventh-century Arab merchant is a greater crime than crashing an airplane into a skyscraper full of people. Is there any point at all in trying to debate claims like these? Is it even possible to rationally debate them?
(As it happens, just today I ran across this funny post about the story of Noah, by British blogger "Four Dinners". Go and read it, and ask yourself whether just pointing out the countless logical impossibilities in the Biblical tale would have been even a tenth as effective.)
Mark Twain said that laughter is the greatest weapon the human race has. Let's use it.