Dear believers: Blasphemy is good for you


A review of The Future of Blasphemy Speaking of the Sacred in an Age of Human Rights

by Austin Dacey



Near the end of this bracingly provocative and forcefully argued book, Austin Dacey quotes a dictum of Nietzsche’s: “And ever again the human race will from time to time decree: ‘There is something one is absolutely forbidden henceforth to laugh at.’” Reading this, I couldn’t help thinking of Monty Python’s Life of Brian, the 1979 film comedy. Featuring a young Jewish man who is mistaken for the Messiah, the film was condemned by a variety of religious groups and banned from being shown in a number of British cities. Though some attacked it as blasphemous, the film actually belongs in a genre of iconoclastic satire. But there can be no doubt that it offended the sensitivities of many believers, and for that reason alone it would be practically impossible to make anything like it today.

In a twist that illustrates how religion continues to be at the heart of public debate, what was once punished as blasphemy is now being condemned as a violation of human rights. As Dacey writes succinctly, “Blasphemy has been reframed within the secular idiom of respect for persons.” Understood in the past as disrespect for the Deity, blasphemy has been turned into a lack of respect for human beings. The European Court of Human Rights has asserted a universal “right to respect for religious feelings,” while the United Nations has condemned anything that could be categorized as “advocacy of religious hatred.” We have reached a state of affairs in which acts that used to be defined as sacrilege against God are being criminalized as disrespect for humanity.

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Written By: John Gray
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  1. All blasphemy laws are indication of cowardice of religious believers since they cannot meet valid criticism.

  2. What clearer evidence could we need that faith is not true belief than the insistence on the need to persecute the blasphemer?  Why should confident belief need the protection of mortal man’s rules?  How little faith can preachers have in their flock if they need to shield them so from disrespect and ridicule?  And what could be more blasphemous than the concept of blasphemy itself?  A deity that takes offence?  A deity that needs men to tell others of that offence?  A deity that punishes offence?  Such a deity would show very human traits, very human imperfections, and so cannot be the perfect being insisted on by doctrine: the idea of blasphemy is heresy.  Blasphemy is the desperate tool of the weak of faith, unable to trust their own faith and that of others, seeing the house of cards that can tumble at the slightest hint of dissent.  

  3. “The ECHR has asserted a universal “right to respect for religious feelings,””That is a right I for one will not be exercising.   If I think a person is wrong, I will tell them so, and I will be delighted to debate any evidence they (religious people) may wish to present is support of their limited understanding of the universe.

  4. A point made often by Hitch: do we also have to respect the people who believe that white people are superior to black people? Can’t we call them racists? Would we be hurting their feelings?

    Some scientists claim that hydrogen, because it is so plentiful, is the basic building block of the universe. I dispute that. I say there is more stupidity than hydrogen, and that is the basic building block of the universe.Frank Zappa

  5. Great article this!

    One wonders who the powers are that plan such strategic barriers to reason as pollutant throughout humanity? It’s no accident, of that we can be certain!

    I’m reasonably confident (though confidence is hardly a feeling it rewards one with unless one is in on the action) that myth is seen by all authority as the knockout clincher punch over all revolution and democratic process due it relenting to an invisible, everlasting figurehead to whom they can claim allegiance and so reinforce their own station, generation after generation.

     In a sense, if one represents such placebo powers as “god”, voting is never an option to rid one and ones network of “clubs” of their multi generational privileges. It’s kinda “Whato Jeeves?” on a worldwide scale and we’ll all have a laugh in the clubhouse about what a load of credulous slaves the rest of humanity provide us, with obvious concessions for those who do very well for “The cause”.

    I’m pretty damned sure, for example, that the majority of those conveying these parameters on humanity think it complete bull shit, but essential bullshit!!! It keeps the grass growing, the maids milking and the markets booming.

    Essentially, by god, use god to fertilise the furrows of the brows of the masses and see how green is their grass for the taking. What pasture!!! 

    And let not an interfering anyone deny us this green and pleasant land!

    Masonic, or Messianic, it all adds up to an old recipe for the haves and the have nots to keep right on being what they were born to, as near as damn it, – bar the odds of a gamble doing for them one way or the other.

    This is why god is going nowhere, if you’ll excuse the punn. He’s the shit in the meadow and always will be!

    How green is the grass in your neighbourhood?

  6. Well said (as usual). I’d add that the insistence on the need to persecute the (so-called) blasphemer is damned good evidence of a god who either can’t stand up for himself or who doesn’t exist.

  7. It depends on the definition of “respect.” To whatever degree I feel it is good manners to respect someone else I, none the less, feel no need to respect ideas that I can show are unfounded or just plain wrong. There may be some contexts in which I will say, “I disagree with your beliefs” in place of, “Your beliefs are wrong.” In such cases I may be showing more respect for the person, or just acknowledging that I don’t have evidence to rule out their beliefs, but am not persuaded because they have not presented affirmative evidence, either.

    I am not sure where the line should be drawn, but I am sure that any society in which you are forbidden to ask for evidence, is in big trouble.

  8. Isn’t this more along the old lines of, “Eat your small portion and ask for no more, Oliver.” Whip at the ready?

  9.  All this redefining by the religious of what is blasphemy and what is respect for their favorite delusion will not shut up enough of us to make a difference anyway.

  10. Why is it not OK to offend religious people (and saying anything they don’t agree with is offensive to them) But it’s ok for Religious people to offend Atheists? I find it extremely offensive when religious family members post bible quotes all over my facebook page, but the moment I express my offense I have now offended the religious with my “attack” on their religion?

  11. There are two different meanings of the verb “respect”, and in discussions like these the word is often used ambiguously.  Meaning #1 is to pay heed to or acknowledge, for example to respect national borders.  Meaning #2 is to regard with deference, or hold in esteem, or refrain from offending.

    It is clearly the second meaning that is at issue here (we would be foolish not to pay heed to the existence of religion), and if indeed the European Court of Human Rights has asserted a universal “right to respect for religious feelings” then it has placed an unwarrantable burden on me.  I see no reason why I should not be allowed to disrespect many religious feelings, just as I disrespect many political feelings.

    Religious people often deliberately confuse the two meanings of “respect” in order to gain concessions from their opponents, and we need to be both aware of those meanings and articulate about pointing out their differences.

  12. The true heart of the religious true believer can be summed up thus:-

    I feel a prat when you criticise my sincerely held beliefs by pointing out their vapid stupidity and ignorance.  I don’t have a better argument but I do have laws which I will resort to in an effort to silence you and I only regret that I no longer have legal recourse to more persuasive methods to silence you and other non-believers* permanently.  Although my god is all powerful and will ultimately judge us all I feel in the interim that I must expedite the process by persecuting and killing anyone who disagrees with my ideas about god and has the gall to criticise them.

    *This includes the inhuman scum seduced by other religions and whose stupid beliefs are barely discernible from my own, but because your rules are different you must also die.

    In response:

    Dear true believer, it is because your infinite stupidity is not restricted to innocuous hocus pocus on a Sunday that we have to take a stance against you.  This doesn’t involve murderous assaults on your person but we restrict expressions of our incredulity to a raised eyebrow or laughter or a satirical gesture. We actually value your ideas as exemplars of conspicuously bad thinking. However you do see don’t you that were it not for the fact that your wierd ideas have got out of hand to the extent that they affect our laws, our lives and our geopolitical world so disastrously we would be able to ignore you completely and leave you to contemplate your bogeyman.

  13. I noticed that many (men) tend to make references to  The Life of Brian as much as references are made to The Godfather. I think it’s time I check this movie out.

  14. Slaps head. You’ve lived this long and haven’t seen LOB? Boy are you in for a treat. After you have seen it, watch the great interview with Malcolm Muggerage and Bish Stockwell with John Cleese and Michael Palin. It’s on You Tube somewhere.

    Got it,

  15. maybe we need go back a step and enshrine in law who is responsible for an individual’s emotions regardless of their belief.

    as long as there are laws restricting freedoms of expression on the grounds of “respect” then we are expected to be the guardians of each others mental states. furthermore if an individual is deemd not responsible for their own mental state then they must be deemed not responsible for their own actions and therefore must not be considered free to be allowed to think or act for themselves.

    therefore, any nation which has laws against blasphemy has effectively declared itself a lunatic asylum at best, a high security prison at worst.

  16. I don’t think it’s particularly a mans film. I’ve never heard anyone say they didn’t like it. And that includes religious friends.

  17. It is of course the ultimate irony, that those preaching hate towards members of other religions, making outrageous claims about the morality of atheists, rubbishing valid scientific research where this refutes their mythology, and generally, with the (Dunning-Kruger) confidence derived from utter ignorance, then posturing with airs of authority, as intellectual and moral  superiors to everyone else,

    that they should follow up by DEMANDING respect for this comically incompetent, indefensible, arrogant, position!

  18. I don’t go along with the idea that we should not take offence, that taking offence is somehow against the principles of rationalism.  We are creatures of emotion, and emotion such as offence can be a powerful driving force for good if we take care to understand why we are offended.  I take offence at the use of Bible quotes as a form of argument.  I also take offence when priests in fine robes preach of the virtue of poverty.  I take offence when I hear that the Church of England considers the rights of women to be equal in their church to be a matter for debate.  There are plenty of good reasons to be offended by faith.  Stephen Fry has said that saying you are offended is simply a whine, that it serves no purpose.  He’s wrong.  Saying you are offended can be about expressing your right to be emotional, to be passionate, to have a sense of justice.  What matters is having a good reason to be offended, and being able to explain that reason.  The feeling of offence alone is not enough.  

    Rationalism can be calm, but it need not be.  No-one expressed better the justification for offence about faith and the feeling of being offended by faith than the late and deeply missed Christopher Hitchens.

  19. The inability to be laughed at is the entire basis of the power of most religious establishments. Beneath the genuine horror of the Spanish Inquisition, there really was a sort of Cardinal Ximines ‘ nobody expects……..’ type attitude that would be utterly comical had it not been real. Yet the entire Spanish Inquisition could have been defeated if everyone had just had the temerity to laugh at it.

    We really have to take all steps to prevent the institutionalising of the ‘seriousness’ of people’s beliefs. Of course there is a time and a place for everything, and laughing at someone’s funeral is probably not funny…….but we should generically be able to laugh at death, gods, creeds, etc. I can’t think of a more basic right.

  20. I am pretty sure there is at least one Christian who believes that the odds of the god Jehovah existing are better than the odds of winning the Lotomax. They are terrified of this sadistic old ghost and are terrified of offending him.

    One way to convince them this is an imaginary fear is blasphemy.  Show them you are unafraid to say things this old goat would find infuriating, and if he existed, worth a thunderbolt or two.

    The main way people lose fear is by watching other people showing no fear.  

    Being polite and refusing to tweak Jehovah’s beard, makes it look like you are afraid of him too.
    Further we should not pretend to respect that which we do not.  It is dishonest, and fools boobs who do respect it, into thinking everyone does. e.g. the Pope, bloody crackers, Leviticus…

    One horse-laugh is worth ten thousand syllogisms. It is not only more effective; it is also vastly more intelligent.
    ~ Henry Louis Mencken 1880-09-12 1956-01-29

  21. I agree. The notion of the great God of the entire frikin universe of trillions upon trillions of galaxies being ‘offended’ by the antics of a mere hominid on some speck of dust in an irrelevant backwater in the middle of nowhere……is itself blasphemous. The mere suggestion that a humble critter made from dust is capable of thinking a thought that might in any conceivable manner inconvenience the Supreme Being…..well…how dare anyone suggest such a thing is possible. It’s blasphemy to suggest God is that weak !

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