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Sep 30 2009

Blasphemy Day International: Can I get a Hell-Fucking-Yeah!?!?!

Yes, dear readers, I am aware of the fact that the concept of blasphemy encompasses much more than using words that are considered offensive by some. At least the title might keep some of those with delicate sensibilities from invading my space for a few moments.

Ideas Don't Need Rights: People Do. The Campaign for Free Expression: Protect Dissent

Today is Blasphemy Day! Blasphemy Day International is a volunteer-coordinated campaign administered by the Center for Inquiry as part of its Campaign for Free Expression. The Campaign for Free Expression is a CFI initiative to focus efforts and attention on one of the most crucial components of freethought: the right of individuals to express their viewpoints, opinions, and beliefs about all subjects—especially religion.

[For those of you following on FaceBook, please be advised that because of inherent limitations of groups on FaceBook, Blasphemy Day International has moved from their group to a page.]

I wrote briefly about Blasphemy Day when I mocked Bill Donohue of the Catholic League a couple days ago. He’s certainly not the only one who has been upset about the mere idea that people would want to be considered blasphemers, but you can find more of them than you can shake a stick at if you look hard enough.

Why would atheists care about blasphemy?

I gave up Catholicism over thirty years ago, so I’m basically an apostate. Because I never actually had faith means that I’m not really even an apostate, though. What I am is an atheist. [Don't give me any of that “You're really an agnostic!” bullshit either. I'm sick of hearing it, you pedantic twats.] The Catholic Church might still consider me to be one of them, keeping my name on a membership list somewhere (if only to bolster their own claims of membership numbers—fucking liars!), but as I do not recognize their authority in any case, I don’t really have any connection with them whatsoever. Adherents of most religions (not all, but most) would probably refer to me as an infidel—one who has no faith.

If I am an atheist, why would blasphemy even matter to me in the first place? Since I don’t follow any religion, surely I couldn’t be seen as a blasphemer. Religions which even recognize the term blasphemy within their tenets, do not care if the person who utters words offensive to their deity are members of their particular sect or not. Anyone who dares to show contempt for their god or gods is a blasphemer, and deserves to be punished accordingly. I guess I can count myself and my friend Jason among the many blasphemers who ‘deserve’ that punishment, particularly today.

Who would decide whether or not what a person said or did was actually blasphemy? Who would decide the punishment? Where does this type of thing actually happen? Blasphemy laws exist in many countries today, and are still actively enforced. In many Islamic countries, blasphemy is punishable by death. That’s right: no matter what your religion, if you take the name of Allah in vain while in Pakistan, you’re likely to become shorter by about a head.

Don’t get the idea that it’s only the Islamic countries where such things go on. In Ireland, for example, blasphemy is prohibited by the constitution. If convicted, you could be facing a fine of up to €25,000. A controversial law was enacted on 9 July 2009 making blasphemous libel a crime for any material that might fit this description:

…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; and he or she intends, by the publication of the matter concerned, to cause such outrage.

I guess it’s a good thing I don’t write my blog from Ireland.

Don’t tell me that a lot of fundamentalist or evangelical Christians wouldn’t like to see the same done to those who they consider blasphemers. There’s a problem with that in the United States, though. The Supreme Court case Joseph Burstyn, Inc. v. Wilson, 343 U.S. 495 (1952), while ostensibly dealing with motion picture censorship, has effectively rid the US of enforceable laws against blasphemy or sacrilege.

But who decides what is blasphemous or sacreligious? It’s a lot like determining if something is offensive. The way some people think, anything that they happen to find offensive is officially offensive. The same goes for blasphemy, et al. If I smash my thumb while closing the door to my car, I am likely to utter what many would consider to be a blaphemous epithet. Is this an official act of blasphemy? Should I be ticketed and fined (or worse) for such behavior? In some jurisdictions I’m quite sure that I would be.

Even members of the same religion cannot agree on what exactly is blasphemy. In Luke 12:10, blaspheming the Holy Spirit is said to be an unforgivable sin. However, there is dispute over what form this blasphemy may take and whether it qualifies as blasphemy in the conventional sense. And what’s with the concept of a sin being ‘unforgivable’ in the first place? I thought that all sins would be fogiven? Silly Christians can never make up their minds.

The Catholic Encyclopedia has a lengthy (and rather dry) entry for blasphemy. I have doubts that evangelical Christians would agree on all of the finer points. That’s one of the reasons why there is so much debate. Who gets the final say in what is blasphemy? Who’s religion is right?

But why should I worry about such things if I don’t live in one of those countries, and I don’t plan on visiting there, etc.? What if I’m a religious person anyway, and I don’t intend to blaspheme my own god or anyone else’s? Do you believe in free speech? If your answer is ‘yes’, then you should worry.

Not all speech is, or should be, Free Speech

Free speech is something that most of us in the United States take very much for granted. Free speech is one of the foundations of our great country. It does have its limitations, however. There are special exceptions to what kinds of speech are protected. Obscenity is not protected. What is considered obscene? Look it up. Speech that presents imminent lawless action is not protected. [This is the falsely yelling "Fire!" in a crowded movie theater type of speech.] Restriction exist for some types of commercial speech, which is why we don’t see television advertisements for cigarettes any more, among other examples. There are limits on libel and slander which have been upheld by the Supreme Court. The Court’s definition of libel was narrowed a bit with the case of Hustler Magazine v. Falwell. The government may censor speech when the speech is its own. Fighting words are words or phrases that are likely to induce the listener to get into a fight. Because our society in general is less sensitive to words, this exception is no longer used very often.

What about hate speech? Much that people would call hate speech would fall under the category of fighting words. As I mentioned above, that exception is rarely used these days. Restrictions on hate speech have been generally overturned by the courts. Speech which some people would call hate speech cannot generally be targeted for its content, but it may be targeted in other ways. If it involves speech which is already beyond the First Amendment’s protection, like incitement to immediate violence or defamation, it is already restricted on that basis. However, even if the speech encourages illegal violence, it would qualify as criminal only if the threat of violence is imminent.

But isn’t that horrible? Why should “hate groups” be able to get away with calling people vile names, and saying that certain groups of people should be exterminated, etc.? That’s the other edge of the sword that is free speech. Free speech includes speech that you disagree with, no matter how vile, reprehensible, or disgusting you think it might be. [Obscenity is a special case which must meet special requirements. See link above.]

Unfortunately, in my opinion, most other countries disagree with this interpretation of hate speech. Even more unfortunate is the fact that religious groups have taken great steps to insure that speech which they consider to be abusive or insulting to their religion can be classified as hate speech.

Simply targeting blasphemers with hate speech legislation is not their primary goal. Their primary goal is to give themselves legal justification to practice their own particular forms of hatred, bigotry, racism, sexism, etc. with impunity. They want to be certain that no one is allowed to criticize their religion. They want legal means to enforce the idea that religion is special.

Do you know what that is? That’s placing the laws of a religion above the laws of man. That’s what so many of the religious right say is already true, isn’t it? I frequently hear from Christians that “God’s Law” always trumps “Man’s Law”. I guess that only applies when it’s their god. Allah’s law doesn’t measure up for them. But if you legislate against blasphemy, you agree to place the laws of all gods above man’s laws.

Imagine that blasphemy is considered hate speech everywhere on earth. The next time that Amnesty International mentions a religious group’s reprehensible practice of so-called “honor killing”, that group steps up and files a claim against Amnesty International on hate speech grounds. Amnesty International is sanctioned for their blatant disregard of the fine sensibilities of the people who were only practicing their long-held religious beliefs. The deaths of the young women were tragic, but such actions are protected by international law. Speaking out against it is not.

Does that sound like a place where Free Speech exists at all?

Ideas Don’t Have Rights: People Do

In 1948, the United Nations approved the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It represents the first global expression of rights to which all human beings are entitled. Go ahead and click over there to the United Nations’ web site and read the text.

Would you like to guess who criticizes the UDHR? I’m not talking about minor quibbles like the Libertarians have about property rights and forceful extraction by taxation. I’m talking about criticizing basic human rights that we all should share. Conservative Muslims.

In 1982, Said Rajaie-Khorassani, Iranian representative to the United Nations, said that the UDHR was “a secular understanding of the Judeo-Christian tradition”, and that it could not be implemented by Muslims without transgressing Shari’ah (Islamic religious law).

The Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) was formed in 1969 by leaders of Muslim nations who wished to “preserve Islamic social and economic values; promote solidarity amongst member states; increase cooperation in social, economic, cultural, scientific, and political areas; uphold international peace and security; and advance education, particularly in the fields of science and technology.

The Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam (CDHRI) is a declaration of the member states of the OIC, which provides an overview on the Islamic perspective on human rights, and affirms Islamic Shari’ah as its sole source. It was adopted in 1990 by 45 foreign ministers of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference to serve as a guidance for the member states in the matters of human rights. Do you see what they did there? They made their holy law the sole source of their perspective on human rights.

They also expect everyone, not just fellow Muslims, to respect their religious law. Conservative Muslim states continue to attempt to have it adopted by the United Nations Human Rights Council. Though criticism has been harsh (even from liberal Muslims), the OIC has made successful inroads in these attempts.

If you are supporting any attempts to restrict the ability of people to blaspheme, you are supporting the restriction of human rights. If you think your god or gods deserve special protection from the vile language used by us infidels, you are supporting the restriction of human rights. If you support the restriction of speech which might insult your religious views, you are supporting the restriction of human rights.

In closing, I would like to add more of my own blasphemy, in the spirit of Blasphemy Day International. If this isn’t enough for you, stop by again some other time. I’m sure I can come up with something offensive for you.

  • Inanna was a pushover bitch.
  • Fuck Yahweh in the ass.
  • Anubis eats his own feces.
  • Allah can lick my sweaty testicles.
  • The Holy Spirit you felt? That was me farting.
  • Ganesh should shove his trunk all the way up his ass.
  • Mary Magdalene gives good head (or so Jesus tells me).
  • Venus was a fucking whore. I’m talking both hands and still able to clap.
  • Muhammed was an illiterate fuck who wouldn’t know god from his own ass.
  • Woden was a pussy. I wiped my dick on him while he was hanging from that tree.
  • Tlaloc was an idiot. I fucked Chalchiuhtlicue while he was sleeping off his three day drunken binge.
  • St Francis liked animals. I’m talking bestiality here, folks. He was a donkey-fucker.

I don’t know about you, but that certainly makes me feel blasphemously serene.

4 pings

  1. Lousy Canuck » Blasphemy Day International!

    [...] right reeciprocally, has a hell of a lot more on this topic over at Relatively Unrelated, where he discusses some of the finer points regarding the difference between hate speech, obscenity, unprotected speech, and blasphemy, and a [...]

  2. Blasphemy Day | Tangled Up in Blue Guy

    [...] at Relatively Unrelated: If I am an atheist, why would blasphemy even matter to me in the first place? Since I don’t [...]

  3. Happy Blasphemy Day! : CyberLizard’s Collection

    [...] buddies Jason and Dan both express (much better than I) the importance of what, to some, might seem to be a silly and [...]

  4. Lousy Canuck » Other blasphemers celebrating yesterday

    [...] DanJ at RelativelyUnrelated Julie at Attempts at Rational Behavior Mike Haubrich at Tangled Up in Blue Guy Stephanie Zvan at Almost Diamonds Greg Laden at Greg Laden’s Blog PZ Myers at Pharyngula Jen McCreig at Blag Hag (who also represented at Purdue University!) leguru at Stupid Evil Bastard American Atheists at atheists.org even Jesus and Mo themselves get into the spirit Penn Jillette on Youtube (though those of us outside the USA will now have to circumvent Youtube’s country filters, as Crackle Media has decided the world consists of the USA.) [...]

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