Irish Blasphemy Law – feckin stupid

In a baffling display of religious idiocy, Ireland decided in the middle of 2009 to backslide into territory normally occupied by medieval theocracies such as Saudi Arabi. How exactly? By making it illegal to blaspheme – that is, by making it a crime to express thoughts which are disparaging of or offensive toward religion. Yes, in fecking Ireland, a country which knows – which should know anyway – almost better than any other Western country the torment of religiously-based violence and division.

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How this came to pass in Ireland, which is considered a Silicon Valley of the EU and has suffered more than its fair share of pain at the hands of religious fanatics, is beyond me. Nonetheless, there it is in black & white: have a crack at faith and you’ll pay the price:

…publishing or uttering matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters sacred by any religion, thereby intentionally causing outrage among a substantial number of adherents of that religion, with some defences permitted

… is now a criminal offence, punishable by a fine of up to €25,000.var pageTracker = _gat._getTracker(“UA-5094406-1”); pageTracker._initData(); pageTracker._trackPageview();

That’s around $40,000 AUD. What the feck?

Fortunately, Irish atheists, being both Irish and atheists, aren’t going to stand for it. Atheist Ireland has compiled and published a list of twenty five blasphemous quotes in order to test the law, presumably metaphorically bare their arses at those who got it enacted as well as show just how unenforceable and vacuous the whole thing is. The list features quotes from people you may expect such as Frank Zappa, Mark Twain, Salman Rushdie & Richard Dawkins. However, my favourites are the first three on the list:

1. 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.

2. Jesus Christ, talking to Jews about their God, in John 8:44: “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him.” This is one of several chapters in the Christian Bible that can give a scriptural foundation to Christian anti-Semitism. The first part of John 8, the story of “whoever is without sin cast the first stone”, was not in the original version, but was added centuries later. The original John 8 is a debate between Jesus and some Jews. In brief, Jesus calls the Jews who disbelieve him sons of the Devil, the Jews try to stone him, and Jesus runs away and hides.

3. Muhammad, quoted in Hadith of Bukhari, Vol 1 Book 8 Hadith 427: “May Allah curse the Jews and Christians for they built the places of worship at the graves of their prophets.” This quote is attributed to Muhammad on his death-bed as a warning to Muslims not to copy this practice of the Jews and Christians. It is one of several passages in the Koran and in Hadith that can give a scriptural foundation to Islamic anti-Semitism, including the assertion in Sura 5:60 that Allah cursed Jews and turned some of them into apes and swine.

Without a great deal of effort, it’s easy to imagine that Muslims and Christians are the two religious groups most likely to throw tantrums over perceived blasphemy. Christian groups are constantly whining about nasty things people say or do on telly or being forced to not evangelise at work. Groups of shouty Muslims across the globe seem to enjoy rioting and burning effigies and trying to murder people at the drop of a hint, in order to prove to the world how peaceful Islam is (what is it about religious adherence that kills peoples’ ability to perceive irony?). Therefore, it is with great relish that I read those first three blasphemies. If the figureheads of the two religions most likely to get shitty at a bit of dissent were themselves blasphemers by the standards of other religions, it shows straight away the problems inherent in a blasphemy law – for whom is the law and against whom will it be levelled? What kind of defences against blasphemy charges will be permitted? My biggest worry: are stand-up comedians going to be subject by the Blasphemy Law? If so, Ross Noble will never play another gig in Ireland and Dara O’Brien will have to leave the country – in fact, so will most Irish comedians that I’ve heard of.

So what exactly is my problem? Shouldn’t we be respectful of other peoples’ views and philosophies and points of view? Well, in a word, hell no. We should respect peoples’ rights to think and believe what they want, as well as their rights to attempt to convince others to think and believe the same way (within reason). But if your point of view is that someone else’s point of view is silly, backward, dangerous, superstitious, divisive or just plain nonsense, you should have a right to say so. Nobody should have the right to not be offended if someone disagrees with them or even ridicules their point of view. No mere point of view or opinion or belief should be protected by the law and nobody should be threatened by the law for disagreeing or even ridiculing a point of view.

Imagine if Ireland or any other nation applied this law to other kinds of beliefs, such as political or social. Imagine if it was illegal to criticise the party in power or voice disapproval of the leader? Well, in Myanmar, Thailand, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and an armful of other nations ruled by unpleasant, insecure, paranoid military, religious or totalitarian regimes, this is precisely the case. But because this new Irish law protects religion, it’s okay. Because it’s peoples’ faith being discussed, other peoples’ opinions on it are subject, more or less, to state approval. In free nations, all other beliefs on other subjects are open to discussion and even heated argument. Political discussions, philosophical, economical – these are all fair game whether in the public arena or just down at the pub. But for some reason, when it comes to religion, we can’t talk about it like grownups – we have to lower our voices and affect an air of respect and deference. As soon as someone mentions God we have to stop arguing, stop debating, stop voicing our displeasure and disagreement. We have to bow and scrape and show respect to religious leaders – not just the normal respect you’d show any other person, but a special brand of respect where you walk on eggshells and tiptoe around difficult questions. In other words, we have to bloody well coddle people because they hold a particular opinion.

Well, bollocks. Be religious if you want. Believe whatever gets you through the night – I sure do (and not all of it’s completely rational either). But if your faith is so weak or your god so insecure or your beliefs so dependent on the approval of others that you need the state to legislate to prevent your feelings from getting hurt or to punish those who offend you, perhaps you need to re-evaluate why you subscribe to that faith to begin with. If you believe in a god that created the universe and judges all humankind, surely neither you or that god should need the protection of a mere human construct like the law. Surely you answer to a higher authority – surely the mere disagreement or even flat-out condemnation of your faith shouldn’t trouble you if you believe you have the keys to The Kingdom. But if it does – and if you really & truly need the law to make people to show respect to your beliefs or just shut up – then perhaps your faith isn’t all you crack it up to be.