I was intrigued to read a recent comment by harleyman in which he references some of my preacher brother's (Pastor Mike's) latest fulminations against "blasphemy" and insinuating I am lax because I refuse to control the content of comments on this blog. It perhaps escaped my brother's attention that: a) this blog is intended to promote free speech not circumscribe or delimit it artificially, and b) I have never, ever accepted the validity of the "blasphemy" concept.
In a word, blasphemy is phony. There is no such thing, it is made up merely to provide special protective cover to religious beliefs and ideas- which if forced to stand alone and compete freely in the idea marketplace, would likely fall under their own absurd weight.
Given this, the invocation of the charge of "blasphemy" to protect religions is scurrilous. It presumes that religious belief itself merits protection but not believers. It effectively places the belief ABOVE humans! But what truly needs to be protected is not this false belief that blasphemy is real, but rather that anyone has the right to express any belief he or she so wishes.
If some of my commentators on this blog express beliefs that are radical (to Pastor Mike) or inveigh drastically against his own, that is their right. It isn't his business to try to remove it or entice me to clamp down (like he does) and censor their expression. If they believe that all King James bibles need to be burned up, then so be it. Given how god-awful (in terms of historical fact) the KJV bible is, and how bereft of value, one can understand the belief that it needs to be consigned to flames. (Not that I would do it. I happen to think the KJV bible is one of the finest works of English literature, but so is Camelot, the Legend of King Arthur. )
One of the most salient and compelling references to the perversity of religious faith was rendered by Sam Harris in his superb book, The End of Faith (pp. 65-66):
"Faith is what credulity becomes when it finally achieves escape velocity from the constraints of terrestrial discourse – constraints like reasonableness, internal coherence, civility and candor…
In the absence of evidence, to the highest place in the hierarchy of human virtues goes ignorance – the true coinage of the realm (e.g. John 20:29): “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed”. And so every child is instructed that it is at the very least – an option - if not a scared duty, to disregard the facts of the world out of deference to the God who lurks in his mother’s and father’s imaginations..
This is the very same faith that will not stoop to reason when it has no good reason to believe….
This proves that these beliefs are not born of any examination of the world or the world of their experience. It appears that even the Holocaust did not lead Jews to doubt the existence of an omnipotent and benevolent God. If having half of your people delivered to the furnace does not count as evidence against the notion that an all-powerful God is looking after your interests, it seems reasonable to assume that nothing could"
Now, if nothing else, the holocaust ought to have shown once and for all that no ‘super Being’ exists other than as a phantasm in the imaginations of the weak-minded – those unable to face the reality of a purposeless cosmos on their own. A cosmic “Santa” if you will. But my umbrage doesn't inhere with such folk, but rather those who use religious belief like a cudgel to bash and seek to intimidate all others into THEIR fold. And they are then given all manner of respect in the press, in the wider culture and especially kowtowed to in the political realm.
As Harris points out, the fact we give any credence at all to such institutional madness, shows our civilization is headed for a new Dark Age – wherein reason’s light will finally be dimmed.
If this is indeed a threat, as I believe, then it surely is a monumental mistake to include a clause prohibiting the "defamation of religion" in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights - which for 60 years has otherwise provided a sound framework for a number of international agreements protecting the world's civil, economic and political life.
However, establishing a provision or resolution against the defamation of religion is inimical to the cause of establishing human rights. It doesn't even take a genius here to realize that it is wide open to abuse of power, especially in fundamentlist Islamic states which already are over the top with their "Sharia" laws (e.g. ordering females to be whipped 75 times if they are unmarried and found in the company of males).
Forget the whipping punishments, and the fact that recently in the Kingdom of Saud they were applied against a 72-year old lady, just consider the potential for suppression of ordinary dissent under "blasphemy" prohibitions such as Pastor Mike wants established on this blog. They also inveigh against a citizen's right to express legitimate criticism of practices and laws that may be in drastic violation of human rights. (Such as people in Saudi Arabia protesting the whipping of the 72-year old, or more recently in a Taliban-occupied region of Pakistan, thousands protesting the whipping of a 17 year old girl).
IF indeed, people are exercised about verbal abuse hurled at their religions or beliefs, they can exact justice by appealing to regular civil courts. If there is a law against the harsh criticism they have seen, let them use it, or their lawyers, to halt it. If not, there is no need to appeal to specious blasphemy rot and canards.
It is high time people understand that no one has any absolute right not to be offended. And those who don't grasp that have no business mounting defenses invoking the irrelevant, nonsense issue of "blasphemy". This is simply a blatant excuse to censor those who would legitimately criticize an aspect of a religion, while leaving the worst purveyors of religious mulch untouched..