Irish atheists are set to challenge the new blasphemy law in court, if necessary. It’s going to be interesting.
If I were to tell you that I sincerely believe that my invisible, all-seeing, everywhere-at-once friend (the one who takes a benign interest in everything I do) is real, would you believe me? Maybe you would, but maybe you wouldnâ€™t believe he or she is real, only that I believe he or she is real. You might humour me, for the sake of a friendship or a quiet life, as long as this imaginary friend didnâ€™t start interfering in your life. When I say â€œinterferingâ€, of course an imaginary friend canâ€™t do anything, but I might try to interfere in your life because (as I might tell you, for your own good) I care about you, and my imaginary friend would like to be your friend too, if you could believe in him, her or it.
You might think I was bonkers if this imaginary friend started dictating my behaviour. Lonely children have imaginary friends, but they usually grow out of them. If adults have invisible friends like Chief Sitting Bull, the spirit guide who attends sÃ©ances, you might think that thereâ€™s some trickery involved â€“ thereâ€™s usually a fee for sÃ©ances. If adults hear voices, itâ€™s usually because theyâ€™re mentally ill, and with the right medication, the voices are hushed. Most people who have an imaginary friend never actually hear or see him, her or it. Other people, the enlightened ones with the fancy dress, will tell them about this invisible deity:
Immortal, invisible, God only wise
In light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
Most blessÃ¨d, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
Almighty, victorious, thy great Name we praise.
â€œGod only wiseâ€? Sounds like Walter Smith had trouble getting his hymn to rhyme.
Praisingâ€™s fine, as long as Iâ€™m not expected to join in. Itâ€™s when people start making threats I get cross. For example, in the Bible it says:
But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me (Luke, 19:27).
Thatâ€™s not nice, is it? The Qurâ€™an is full of similar threats, such as:
As for the unbelievers, neither their riches nor their children will in the least save them from God’s judgment. They shall become fuel for the Fire (3:10).
As an unbeliever, Iâ€™m not in the slightest bit worried about â€œthe Fireâ€, but I do worry about the increasing number of zealots who are keen to slay people like me. Recently, in conversation with a couple of religious friends, I said, â€œEither you believe or you donâ€™t,â€ and they said it wasnâ€™t as simple as that; doubt is, apparently, experienced by many of the faithful. Maybe thatâ€™s one of the reasons why so many zealots are so keen to ban blasphemy â€“ they donâ€™t want any doubters, dithering on the brink, to see that poking fun at religion or being rude about it isnâ€™t any worse than poking fun at politicians, or being rude about anyone with a tendency to make absurd pronouncements. God does nothing to unbelievers – no lightening strikes, or anything. It’s just God’s self-appointed enforcers who do the nasty stuff – the maiming and the slaying.
If you have to defend your opinions and ideas with the force of law, even with capital punishment, are they really worth defending? Surely, if youâ€™re confident that youâ€™re right, it shouldnâ€™t matter what anyone says about what you believe. You may feel annoyed, you may be angry, but, as my mum used to tell me, â€œSticks and stones may break my bones, but names may never hurt me.â€ Words are just words. Challenge them with more words. Donâ€™t seek to punish people you disagree with. What matters is what people do, not what they say. I don’t much care for the sort of things that a lot of religious people do, like spending my taxes.
What does “blasphemy” mean, anyway? It’s “irreverent talk about God or sacred things”. That covers a lot, doesn’t it? What does “irreverent” mean? It means “disrespectful”, and that means “lack of respect or courtesy”. It’s all so vague. What it boils down to is anything that a sensitive religious person doesn’t like, or anything that upsets him or her. Some people are easily upset, so, again, the notion of blasphemy covers a lot. It really doesn’t make sense to have a law that involves punishing people for upsetting other people. I get quite upset about being told I shall go to hell because I don’t believe in a sky fairy, not because I believe there is such a place, but because the people who tell me this clearly think I’m worthless.
So, Irish Atheists, if you don’t win the fight to scrap the stupid law they’ve brought in over there, so soon after we got rid of blasphemy on this side of the Irish Sea, the old jokes about stupid Irishmen will come back to haunt you. And if the Islamic States who want to make the defamation of religion a crime at UN level succeed, we’ll all be in big trouble.
It only seems right to end with a bit of blasphemy:
So youâ€™re gonna live in paradise,
With a ten-foot cock and a few hundred virgins,
So youâ€™re gonna sacrifice your life,
For a shot at the greener grass,
And when the Lord comes down with his shiny rod of judgment,
Heâ€™s gonna kick my heathen ass.
Tim Minchin, Ten-foot Cock and a Few Hundred Virgins, 2005