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Victimless Crime

I noticed something on the internet today which really appealed to me. It was “International Blasphemy Day”, and was promoted as being “not just a day. It is a movement to dismantle the wall which exists between religion and criticism.”

This was partly prompted by Ireland’s new laws on blasphemy which can impose fines of up to 25,000 Euros. I don’t think those laws have any real meaning because it has been pointed out that they are never likely to be used and exist only because of a requirement of the constitution but I still think its worth trying to eradicate them.

So the objective of the day isn’t really to go around making inane, blasphemous statements like “God sucks” or that sort of stuff, its more for reasoned criticism of religion through the same mechanisms of criticism which everything else is open to.

On a (possibly) related topic, I heard a podcast this morning which discussed a scientific study of the human decision making process. It said a few interesting things, including that everyone has instinctive reactions but some people are better than others at overriding these using reason; sometimes emotional, instinctive reactions work well, especially when there is so much information it can’t be easily managed; and, emotional decisions are the ones which should not be decided using emotional responses.

So that is quite counterintuitive. Decisions involving emotional subjects should be thought about more carefully and logically than others, presumably because its just too easy to make the wrong decision based purely on emotion.

This relates to religion, of course, because that is a very emotional subject and that might explain why people’s decisions and beliefs in that area are so poor (I think I’ll give all my money to this cult, we shouldn’t teach evolution at school, those people who believe in another religion are evil, etc).

So by making people’s attitude to religion more sensible we might be able to strip away some of the really bad stuff and still maintain the better aspects if it. Yes, even as an atheist I think religion does have good points: providing a social center, doing charity work, and maintaining a fascinating historical mythology, for example.

But I think those good points are really nullified by the bad. If religion was open to more rational criticism then the bad points might lose their power. If people realised that there was nothing special about their beliefs then they might be more accepting of others, for example.

So “constructive” blasphemy is important because it continues the recent trend to making religion accountable. And I think religions which react violently to criticism deserve it even more. If millions of people simultaneously blaspheme against these then there’s not a lot they can really do, is there?

When you think about it the idea of blasphemy is pretty silly. If there is no god then its a victimless crime. If there is a god then I kind of think he might have more important things to worry about than what someone is saying about him. In reality having to have blasphemy laws and other ways to dissuade criticism of a god is really just another way to say that god has a fairly pathetic, weak personality and can ‘t look after himself!

Of course, no one likes to have their cherished beliefs criticised, but really they should welcome this. Another finding of the study I mentioned above is that the best way to decide whether an idea is a good one is to deliberately look for things that are wrong with it. This is very similar to the scientific method where new ideas only survive if they can withstand criticism from experts.

So I’m not saying let’s go out there and make inane, offensive remarks about religion and I’m not saying we should do away with religion completely. What I am saying is let’s get far more critical about religion and see if we can make it better through a process of fair criticism which is already acceptable any other areas of life. That kind of blasphemy is good!

If you are interested, International Blasphemy Day is 30 September 2009 and the web site is www.blasphemyday.com, alternatively you could take the Blasphemy Challenge at www.blasphemychallenge.com.

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