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Blasphemy Revisited

I must have been a bit preoccupied at the end of last month because I seem to have missed International Blasphemy Day! I’m always happy to make the effort to offer a bit of blasphemy for a good cause but I was out of town on holiday at the time and I must have just missed it. I have added a reminder to my phone for next year though!

I remember last time I blogged on the subject there was some discussion around what blasphemy really is so I should start with my definition here. According to the dictionary it is “the act or offense of speaking sacrilegiously about God or sacred things; profane talk”. Sacrilege is “violation or misuse of what is regarded as sacred” and profanity is “relating or devoted to that which is not sacred or biblical; secular rather than religious” or “not respectful of orthodox religious practice; irreverent”.

None of these suggest deliberate offense (despite the word being used in an alternative context in the definition) although lack of respect is mentioned. So really blasphemy is just the act of saying something that a religious authority doesn’t like. This could be a thoughtful criticism similar to what Socrates was persecuted for (according to the stories we have anyway) or a humorous but pointed criticism like the famous Danish cartoons. It could also be a robust criticism of religion in a similar way to how politics is criticised.

But what about respect? Don’t believers deserve respect? What about supernatural entities or ideas? Well I think all people deserve some respect but you can’t really respect someone by treating their ideas as off limits for criticism. That is very condescending in my opinion and quite the opposite to respect. What about a god? Does he/she/it deserve respect? Well some, I guess, even if the perspon making the criticism doesn’t think the entity really exists, but no more than other concepts which can be criticised without fear of reprisals. And the same applies to ideas. Religious ideas should get the same respect (or lack of respect) as other ideas. If they have real merit they will survive, otherwise they probably weren’t really worth preserving anyway.

So I think blasphemy is not only OK, its a duty of all free thinking, intelligent people. Of course those people should expect criticism of their ideas (such as atheism) in return and should be prepared to defend them. Very few atheists are too worried about criticism of atheism, maybe because most of them welcome reasoned debate and are confident their worldview is defensible.

So blasphemy laws are really just an admission that religion is weak. As far as I know all successful religions have had them at one time or another in some form, although most have backed away from the idea as modern liberal democracies have taken over from political systems based on religious control.

That seems to have happened almost everywhere except in the Islamic world and that has unfortunately lead to the rise of Islam. Muslims don’t seem to be outstandingly successful in a free competition of ideas and beliefs but threatening anyone who disagrees with them with death, like some Islamic countries do, is a sure way to force people into servitude.

So, although I tend to be most critical of Christianity in my blog posts, I think I would prefer to blaspheme against Islam, just because they take the idea so seriously. OK, so here’s my (potentially blasphemous) thoughts: although I know there are many good people who are Muslims and that there are some aspects to the belief which are undeniably positive, I think Islam is basically a system of mind control based around a non-existant god and has no place in the modern world. I think that is sufficiently blasphemous but I’m sure I could do a lot better if I really tried!

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