Two cheers for blasphemy
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?
Blasphemy is critical to religious sentiment. Without blasphemy there is nothing holy.
To turn offense into illegality is just a terrible, pernicious idea.
Who determines what is blasphemous? Obviously to enforce a law it must be a secular court. Do we wish to give judges authority over what is and is not blasphemous?
Can one blaspheme one religion but not another? What if I say wicked, disreputable things about witches, or the sun, or the Nile? Shall I be brought up on charges?
For any country to enact a blasphemy law is to invite the depredations of the medieval world to reach its benighted claw out and score the modern body politic. If we have learned anything about religion in the thousands of years of its operation, it is that religion does its best work away from the governmental wheel. Secular courts are not the place to enforce a purely religious standard or law.
If religions wish to be taken seriously, they must take themselves seriously. As a firm believer in God and my own religious tradition, I stand arm and arm with the atheists of Ireland. There are several decent responses to blasphemy: dismissal, anger, rebuttal, love, delicacy, perhaps even a punch in the nose. One that should have no place in the modern world is to take the matter to court. God's dignity is way beyond the need for legal defense. As an alternative to prosecution, religious people should take it upon themselves to act in a way that validates what they claim about God.
January 5, 2010; 2:29 PM ET
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