As one axe-wielding religious maniac tries to kill a blasphemous cartoonist, atheists in Ireland are organising a campaign against the new blasphemy law over there.
In Ireland, where the government presumably considers itself fairly enlightened and rational, those convicted of the crime of blasphemy face a possible fine of €25,000. I suppose taking money off blasphemers is indeed more liberal than the punishment preferred by Islamists – i.e. taking the disbelievers’ heads off with an axe! – but the entire concept of a blasphemy law is a humiliation for humanity and has no place in the 21st century.
All sensible religious folk appreciate that the doctrines they follow originated as heresy. Every religion was once as wacky as Scientology. Of course, the instinct to protect our deeply held beliefs from vilification is something we all possess, but it is ridiculous and dangerous to try to use the law to silence critics.
Anyway, people ‘of faith’ should have more, well, faith in the righteousness of their individual religious views. Relying on the state’s authority for shielding your beliefs from the sacrilegious is surely a sign of weakness. Plus, we all have an interest in maintaining freedom of speech. Blasphemy laws should be opposed by anyone who values an open, tolerant society where differing views are welcomed.
This issue is far from abstract. As well as the potential for criminal prosecution in Ireland, various regimes around the world (usually Islamist inclined) are attempting to curtail free speech through imposing special protections for religion. Pakistan seems to have been inspired by the wording of the Irish blasphemy law when it suggested something similar at the United Nations.
Blasphemy laws encourage reactionary governments to place even greater controls over what their citizens think. They also give succour to the religious fundamentalists who won’t be satisfied until we all believe whatever nonsense it is that they believe and who think they are justified in trying to murder a cartoonist who pokes fun at one aspect of their belief system.
Shame on the Irish government (currently composed of the right-wing Fianna Fail Party and the Greens) for having this law on the books. It would be nice if the Irish Labour Party did the right thing and voiced more opposition to this.
The campaign group Atheist Ireland has published some classic blasphemous quotes to draw attention to the silliness of the law. As a simple act of solidarity, and because copying and pasting is very easy to do, here are some of the best:
Jesus Christ, when asked if he was the son of God, in Matthew 26:64: “Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.” According to the Christian Bible, the Jewish chief priests and elders and council deemed this statement by Jesus to be blasphemous, and they sentenced Jesus to death for saying it.
Frank Zappa, 1989: “If you want to get together in any exclusive situation and have people love you, fine – but to hang all this desperate sociology on the idea of The Cloud-Guy who has The Big Book, who knows if you’ve been bad or good – and cares about any of it – to hang it all on that, folks, is the chimpanzee part of the brain working.”
Salman Rushdie, 1990: “The idea of the sacred is quite simply one of the most conservative notions in any culture, because it seeks to turn other ideas – uncertainty, progress, change – into crimes.” In 1989, Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran issued a fatwa ordering Muslims to kill Rushdie because of blasphemous passages in Rushdie’s novel The Satanic Verses.
Christopher Hitchens in God is not Great, 2007: “There is some question as to whether Islam is a separate religion at all… Islam when examined is not much more than a rather obvious and ill-arranged set of plagiarisms, helping itself from earlier books and traditions as occasion appeared to require… It makes immense claims for itself, invokes prostrate submission or ‘surrender’ as a maxim to its adherents, and demands deference and respect from nonbelievers into the bargain. There is nothing-absolutely nothing-in its teachings that can even begin to justify such arrogance and presumption.”
Bjork, 1995: “I do not believe in religion, but if I had to choose one it would be Buddhism. It seems more livable, closer to men… I’ve been reading about reincarnation, and the Buddhists say we come back as animals and they refer to them as lesser beings. Well, animals aren’t lesser beings, they’re just like us. So I say fuck the Buddhists.”