This morning I learned that today is International Blasphemy Day. According to Wikipedia, it is an annual tradition that began in 2009. The date was set to coincide with the publishing of the cartoons of Muhammad by a Danish newspaper back in 2005. As you may recall, the resulting violence led to hundreds of deaths.
Blasphemy laws still exist in a handful of Middle Eastern countries, European ones, and even in parts of the United States. However, they aren’t really enforced in this country since the 1952 Supreme Court case which ruled these laws are a violation of free speech.
Personally I believe that every religion (or lack thereof) should be examined and questioned. After all, there are a multitude of religions out there professing to be the correct path for salvation. Given their competing and even contradictory claims, they can’t all be right.
When you come right down to it, it isn’t hard to say that most religions would be considered blasphemous to adherents of another. There are Jews who consider Christians blasphemous for their beliefs and Muslims who similarly condemn Hindus. And I’m sure we all have an atheist friend or two (or at least know of one) who thinks the whole matter of religion is just downright silly, who can’t understand why anyone would follow ancient texts or pray to some unseen deity. These days we hear a lot about the barbarism of ISIS, how they butcher Christians, Muslims, and others who don’t adhere to their strict religious standards.
And what about the long struggle amongst differing denominations and sects? The multitude of historical wars between the Catholics and Protestants as well as Shia and Sunni? How much blood has been spilled, property confiscated, and liberty stolen as a result of these conflicts? Each sought to impose their religion upon the unwilling masses, each punishing the other for what it perceives as blasphemy.
I’m sure that my fellow Christians will remember that even Jesus himself was condemned for blasphemy by the Jewish leaders of his day (example Mark 14:55-63) which ultimately led to his execution. Although we believe it fulfilled God’s plan for humanity, can we declare the actions of the Jewish and Roman authorities just?
For those who support local, state, national, or even UN imposed blasphemy laws, what sort should we enact? Should they be Christian? Or Muslim? Should they protect the image of Muhammad? Jesus? Moses? The pope? Or how about our head of state or other government officials? Should we imprison or kill those who say that there is no god? Or that there is but one god? Or those who worship a million gods? How about punishing those who work on the wrong day? But what is that day? Is Sunday? Or Saturday? Or perhaps some other day of the week? Are you starting to see the problem?
Drawing on the picture at the beginning of this article, there are some people in this country who choose to believe in and even worship a man in a red suit who supposedly brings presents to good children on December 25th. If another person declares that the man in red doesn’t exist, should that statement be considered blasphemous to his faithful devotees?
Delving further, when crafting anti-blasphemy laws, whose definition of blasphemy ought we use? Should it be the will of the majority? Do minorities have rights too? What happens if the makeup of the country changes and some new religion becomes dominant? Should this new group be allowed to impose its wishes upon those previously in power? After all, such is the nature of a true and pure democracy, isn’t it?
Nevertheless, with all of these thoughts in mind, I have to say that I find it sad that we celebrate something called Blasphemy Day. Just because we may or may not hold to the same religion as our neighbor, that doesn’t mean that we ought to delight in demeaning his or her beliefs. There is nothing wrong with questioning religion, even our own, but outright mocking of a person for his or her faith is another matter.
One legitimate purpose of the state is the ability to allow me, you, or anyone else the freedom to practice (or not to practice) his or her own religious beliefs so long as doing so does not infringe upon our neighbors to do likewise. Ideally, blasphemy laws have no place in a free society but neither does something called Blasphemy Day. At least that is my $.02.