Q: Atheists are others are protesting a new law in Ireland, under which a person can be found guilty of blasphemy if “he or she publishes or utters matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion.” The penalty is a fine of up to about $35,000. Should Ireland or any nation have a law against blasphemy?
I’m certainly no fan of that old time religion, but I do prefer that old time blasphemy to the new version that purports to be more tolerant. The old kind criminalized critiques of the one True religion, with a capital T. The new Irish kind criminalizes critiques of any religion.
Those of us who point out that emperors of all religions have no clothes continue to be considered blasphemous by any standard. But what are we to do about those poor believers required by their religion to blaspheme against other religions? Those who believe that the New Testament is to be taken literally blaspheme against Jews when they recite Mathew 27:25: “The blood of Jesus will be on all Jews and on their children.” Those who endorse the First Commandment, “You should not have any gods but Yahweh,” are blaspheming against those who promote Jesus, Allah, or one of the 7000 other god candidates. In fact, I’m blaspheming against Orthodox Jews by violating the Third Commandment, the one against taking the Lord’s name in vain. Technically, I should only write G-d.
By such criteria, I doubt there’s a writer on this panel who’s not a blasphemer. But wait, there’s an out! You are only guilty of blasphemy when thin-skinned religionists display bad manners. The crime of blasphemy has little to do with what you say, and lots to do with how others feel: so insulted and outraged by it that they want you silenced and punished. In other words, those uncivil libertarians opposed to free speech determine what is blasphemy.
Who among us believes that every Sunday people literally eat the body and drink the blood of Jesus Christ, that the angel Moroni led Joseph Smith to a magic stone which helped him translate gold plates from Egyptian hieroglyphics into English, and that the Qur’an was given to Muhammad by the angel Gabriel? Some may believe one of these stories, but nobody believes all three. Everyone thinks at least two of these three religious stories are foolish. And speaking of foolish, I’ve often been given a biblical explanation from Psalm 14:1 for why I am: “The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God.” I’m not outraged by such a comment, but I would be outraged were someone punished for telling me what they believed to be true. Atheists don’t insist on the right not to be insulted, just on the right to be treated as others.
Many new religions sprang from blaspheming old religions, from questioning or criticizing the “sacred.” The dominant religion in this country was a protest religion, reflected in its name, Protestant. If I said we would be better off if we had no sacred cows, that could be construed as a criticism of the Hindu religion. And if I said that blasphemy shouldn’t be punished because it’s a victimless crime, well that, too, could be considered blasphemous.