A spirit of mockery is the tendency to make fun of others, especially in front of other people.
There are various reasons why we mock others, and all of them revolve around self-love.
We want to be funny. We want to feel superior in some way (smarter, more fashionable, more affluent).
Although playful bantering is a good way to cultivate friendships and blow off stress, there is a time when bantering becomes sinful mockery.
Sometimes we mock others because we despise them or because they hurt us in the past, and we want revenge.
However, it is possible to have a spirit of mockery that is so subtle that we don’t even realize that we have it.
We’re going to explore the type of mockery that is not intentional, but which has roots that are based on lack of charity and pride.
The Spirit of Mockery is a “Tendency” to Mock
Mockery has an underlying layer of derision and contempt for the object of the mockery.
As stated above, the “spirit of mockery” doesn’t refer to mocking once in a while, but it refers to the tendency to mock your fellow man.
St Frances de Sales sees mockery as so harmful, that he says in “An Introduction to the Devout Life“:
“A spirit of mockery is one of the worst imperfections of the mind, and displeases God greatly, so that He has often punished it most severely. Nothing is more hurtful to charity, and still more to devotion, than contempt and derision of our neighbor, and such is inevitably found in mockery. For this reason it has been said that mockery is the greatest insult a man can offer his neighbor, inasmuch as in other offenses he does not altogether cease to respect the person whom he offends, but in this he despises and contemns him”.An Introduction to the Devout Life
But surely, it’s okay to have playful banter and teasing?
It is absolutely okay to play around and tease your friends.
We’re not meant to go about with somber faces all day long.
Striving for sanctity does not mean you can’t have a sense of humor.
However, we have to be careful to not let even playfulness go too far. There is a point where playful laughs become tight smiles.
St Thomas Aquinas says in the Summa Theologiae:
“It belongs to wittiness to utter some slight mockery, not with intent to dishonor or pain the person who is the object of the mockery, but rather with intent to please and amuse: and this may be without sin, if the due circumstances be observed. on the other hand if a man does not shrink from inflicting pain on the object of his witty mockery, so long as he makes others laugh, this is sinful, as stated in the passage quoted.”Summa Theologiae
We’ve all had moments when we wanted to “roast” someone so badly, and weren’t sure if we’d offend the person or not, but took a chance, because the joke was so funny.
St Francis de Sales also addresses this:
“There is a light-hearted talk, full of modest life and gaiety, which the Greeks called Eutrapelia, and which we should call good conversation, by which we may find an innocent and kindly amusement out of the trifling occurrences which human imperfections afford. Only beware of letting this seemly mirth go too far, till it becomes ridicule … This is not the time for grave discussion, but for general conversation and cheerful recreation,”—out of consideration for his courtiers. But, my daughter, let our recreation always be so spent, that we may win all eternity through devotion. “An Introduction to the Devout Life
So the moment that it becomes ridicule, rather than friendly teasing, you’ve crossed into mockery territory.
Whether someone feels mocked or not might be based on temperament
Some people are easily offended and some people never seem to get offended. This is based on temperament.
However, one shouldn’t say, “Well, you need to learn to take a joke”.
This attitude is an example of mockery being against charity.
If you know someone can’t take a joke, then don’t make a joke at her expense.
However, if you’re friends with someone who loves to be teased and to tease back, then you have a lot more leeway.
Seems a simple thing, but sometimes we allow our self-love the pride of place and regret it later.
Signs That The Spirit of Mockery Has Unwittingly Entered Your Conversation
“Ridicule excites mirth at the expense of one’s neighbour; seemly mirth and playful fun never lose sight of a trustful, kindly courtesy, which can wound no one.”An Introduction to the Devout Life.
You can begin to suspect that you have a spirit of mockery if you find these things repeatedly happening when you tease someone::
- The person being teased is not laughing. Even if he smiles, the smile is tight and inflexible. He might actually appear angry. Not everyone is direct enough to say he’s offended, but you can tell by body language, such as stiffening of the body. This is the time to say, something like, “I’m just kidding.” Also, make a note to be careful about teasing that person.
- There is uncomfortable laughter from those who are listening. Let’s be clear. Everyone knows when we hear a joke that is inappropriate and borders on ridicule, so we laugh nervously to lighten the situation and to also signal to the object of the joke that we’re not laughing at him; it’s all in fun.
- Your conscience bothers you. If your conscience bothers you right after you blurt out a joke, this is the time, to say something like, “I’m sorry if I was offensive. I was just joking”. If you cannot bring yourself to do it immediately (best option), then pull her aside and apologize privately.
If most of your jokes involves laughing at someone else, rather than at situations, you can be sure you’ve probably mocked others for a laugh.
We all want people to laugh at our jokes, but if you get great pleasure at others laughing when you make fun of someone, you have to monitor your intentions.
Remember That a Spirit of Mockery Offends God Greatly
If we just stopped to think about how a spirit of mockery offends God – our God — whom we love so much, we would avoid the habit of mocking others as much as possible.
Galatians 6:7 says “Be not deceived, God is not mocked.” (Douay Rheims)
In fact, when we express ridicule for others, we ridicule his maker.
So let’s resolve to be more careful in our banter.
Yes to fun and playful teasing.
No to mockery.
Pursuing Sanctity? Check Out These Books
- The Summa Theologiae – Complete Set, by St Thomas Aquinas
- An Introduction to the Devout Life by St Frances de Sales
- The Spiritual Combat, by Dom Lorenzo Scopuli
- Cultivating Virtue: Self-Mastery with the Saints