Why we need blasphemy

Pat Condell, in one of his wonderfully cranky YouTube rants, opined that the Danes (I think it was the Danes) were probably wondering what the hell had happened to their free country since Islam showed up. The idea that freedom should surrender without a fight to religious fundamentalism of any kind, but especially that which has only fear and violence to support itself, is disgusting. And craven laws like that passed in Ireland, which naively strip away basic rights out of the fear of even a little bit of violence, merely give the fundamentalists what they want: a culture of oppression which is the only kind of culture where fundamentalism can thrive.

Now from Denmark comes word that a Somali terrorist has been shot (to which I say “Good,” and the PC crowd can flame away all they like) and wounded attempting to break into the home of cartoonist Kurt Westergaard, who was responsible for some of the controversial Mohammed cartoons that caused such a stink some years ago. The man’s goal was, of course, not to sit down over coffee with Westergaard to offer constructive critiques and rebuttals to his work, but to murder him, which is of course a perfectly rational response to a cartoon.

Once more with feeling: if your religion cannot stand up to a fucking cartoon, it ain’t the cartoon that has the problem.

I have spoken to a number of atheists who, with the very best of intentions, have naively asserted that the best thing to do when faced with the violence of radical religious extremists is to sit down, shut up, and not get them riled, because really, we don’t want anyone to get hurt, do we? That they cannot see how this cowardice and capitulation gives religious lunatics the power over us they wanted all along never ceases to amaze me. And does anyone actually think that, by appeasing them once in this way, they’ll be satisfied and decide they can stop shooting and bombing and whatever else it is sky-daddy has told them to do this week, “peace” be upon him? Let’s do that as a multiple choice question: A) No; B) No; C) Hell no!; D) What, are you stupid? Once they know that a tiny bit of fear is all it takes to control you, then they’ll just keep demanding and threatening more and more, until you’re afraid to wipe your tender bottom without their divine mandate.

People, what we need is more blasphemy, more anger and more outrage in the face of this lunacy. Religious extremists are the cockroaches in the kitchen, and only the light of reason will send them scurrying to hide. Belief systems propped up by violence are ones that have already failed. No respect should be given them. So pick up your pens, cartoonists, and blaspheme your butts off! And if they turn up at your door, well…shoot first. If they really think they’re the only ones out there to be feared, they obviously haven’t heard Matt Groening’s dictum: “It is unwise to annoy a cartoonist!”

Happy 2010, everyone! Unless you’re Irish, in which case, happy 1410!

You know, today is a really great day. Seriously. Here in Austin the weather could not be more perfect, unless it were raining money. And I’m in a terrific mood, bursting with optimism. No, really, I’m not being sarcastic. I just feel good, and it feels good to feel good, so I think I’ll just go on feeling good for as long as it feels good.

You know what cannot even dampen my mood? The fact that Ireland’s preposterous blasphemy law goes into effect today. That’s the one that fines you €25,000 — which comes to $35,971.25 according to XE.com’s currency converter — if you say or publish anything that’s “grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion.” So I guess “There’s nae God ya fookin gormless gobshites!” probably qualifies.

This doesn’t dampen my mood because I find it hilarious. It makes me think that if I could do one thing other than what I’m doing today, which is enjoying the lovely weather in my hometown with my dogs, it would be to walk boldly down the streets of downtown Dublin wearing my “Jesus Did It For The Chicks!” T-shirt. How Ireland thinks it will avoid becoming the subject of international ridicule with this stupidity is beyond me. Hell, they’ll have to block a good chunk of BBC comedy programming right off the bat, unless the government plans to arrest and fine itself. And oh yes, I’m quite sure that the awesome crowd at Atheist Ireland is going to take this ball and run with it!

The spectacle of a Western nation suddenly behaving like some Christian version of Yemen and taking a bold step back towards medieval theocracy like this as we move into the second decade of Century 21, for Christ’s sake (oops!), is, to me, nothing short of riotously funny. Especially when, in the last week, the international news has been full of reports of the Irish Catholic Church’s own shielding-the-pedo-priests scandal.

All in all, a day to make an atheist very, very happy indeed. Happy Blasphemous New Year, everyone! And oh yes, Irish Catholics? Hint: if your religion cannot stand up to free speech, the problem is not with free speech.


Addendum: Well, it’s hit the news big time, so we’ll see how things go.

A Blasphemy Against Humanity

The Austin American-Statesman yesterday ran a New York Times editorial by Nicholas D. Kristof. It began:

“Karachi, Pakistan–Afterward, they comforted each other with the blasphemy: ‘It was God’s will.'”

So, how could I not be intrigued, especially because most Christians I know have a vague notion of god as all-powerful, all-knowing, and the creator of all things, that would make the phrase “it was god’s will” a logically inescapable conclusion and necessary description of any event occurring in this universe. I had the feeling that whatever Kristof would describe would be absolutely within the realm of this “god’s will”–according to the model of god most believers seem to put forward. But I wanted to see for myself, so I read on.

Not surprisingly, I was correct. The story is about the family politics of a pregnant woman’s husband–and the politics of many women’s families in this region. The $3.75 ride to a hospital was considered far too extravagant when the time came for the baby to arrive. Lest your sympathies get the better of you, one aunt said that if the family had known the child was going to be a boy (which it was), they’d have paid far more for the cab fare. It was less a question of poverty than one of concern. No the family is not well off, but their logic was that it was silly to waste money on a hospital.

While the article was more about a misogynistic society (which I feel sure a fundamentalist religion based on the great “He” doesn’t help), I kept looking for the “blasphemy” in the statement about god’s will. After the child dies (the mother lives), the mother is devastated, and the father says, “It is God’s will. There is nothing we can do.”

I agree with Kristof’s call of “bullshit” on this one. But where is the blasphemy if I were to call myself a believer? As a nonbeliever, I want to call this one blasphemy against humanity, if there can be such a thing. Certainly it was our will for this child to die–humanity’s will. It could have been avoided by human intervention. It was not necessary in a purely human world without gods. But the child died. And humans are responsible. To say that what humans do and allow–whether good or bad–has anything to do with gods is a blasphemy against our own species. But it’s no blasphemy against god. If god is what people claim god is in many cases, it’s a reality–a truth–to call any event “god’s will.”

Did god create everything–a universe where we cannot escape cause and effect? If so, this child’s death was written into the “stars” (if you will) the moment the singularity popped, or the moment he spoke it all here 6,000 years ago. If he didn’t create it, he’s off the hook. If he did, he killed this child as surely as the child’s own family.

Does god know everything? Did he know what he was doing? Does he understand the universe or not? If he built it and had so little understanding of what he was doing, he’s off the hook in much the same way a mentally challenged person might be off the hook for a double-homocide. He still caused the harm; he’s just too irresponsible to be held accountable for what he caused. If god built it and understood it–this god has no excuse. He actually produced the universe in such a way that this child would die, and either did not care, or meant it to be so.

Does god have the power to alter anything in this universe or impact human events? If god was aware of this child’s plight, and was able to intervene, but did not, then he’s just as guilty as the family members (ironically it was the men in the family) who felt the hospital was the best place for this mother, but did nothing to enforce their preference. If there is a god who is aware, cares at all, and can help, who does not, then this child’s death was as much that god’s choice as the family’s.

Is it blasphemy to say god is not the creator? God is retarded–as gods go? Or that god lacks the power (is too castrated) to intervene in our lives?

Does our society truly embrace a god that keeps players safe at sporting events, but can’t be expected to help a woman in difficult labor to be healthy and well and have a live baby in the end? It sure looks that way.

When I say “god did not create the universe,” or “there is no god that is all powerful and gives a care,” or “there is no god that knows everything”–or “there is no god,” I’m sure to be lambasted by Christians everywhere for my arrogance and, well, blasphemy. They may not call it “blasphemy” much in these times, but that’s what it is and why it offends so many believers to say such things.

Who gets to say what is blasphemy in the world of believers? To many, It’s blasphemy to claim god doesn’t have his finger on the pulse of the whole universe, as Kristof implies. But to Kristof, when one injustice occurs, it’s blasphemy to say god had any knowledge or power to alter events. What sort of ineffectual god does Kristof imagine, I wonder? I have to think he imagines something, because he brought up the “god’s will” phrase twice in a small article, and called it a blasphemy both times; and the story itself had precious little to do with gods, and everything to do with humans and human society.

I wish he would have clarified it was only a blasphemy to humanity, and could not possible be a blasphemy for any god model that would matter in this universe. I wish Kristof would have explained what he means by “god.” But he did neither, unfortunately. But I think, disappointed as it makes me, he meant it in the same ludicrous apologetic way we hear it used all the time: With god all things are possible, but, somehow, helping an infant, unable to help itself, was way too much to ask–way beyond god’s scope.

It’s called having your cake and eating it, too. And it’s logically impossible. But try telling that to someone who’s been sufficiently indoctrinated. If that is really what Kristof meant, he’s as guilty as holding to irrational, unhelpful beliefs as the culture he’s writing to criticize. Like many Christians, he would be promoting that it’s OK to devote some part of one’s worldview to a logically inconsistent, impossible god who helps us not at all–and credit that god with all things good while blaming humans for all things evil. And that sort of hosed up religious belief is a part of the foundation that ultimately killed this child of a Muslim world, isn’t it?

Perhaps instead of writing about gods and blasphemies, he should have “kept it real” and just said, “People could have helped this child. People did not. Dragging god into this as a ‘will’ or a victim of ‘blasphemy,’ helps us not at all. It adds nothing to this equation that can only possibly examine what people can do, what they did/did not do, and what other people could have/might have done to impact the reasons for these poor choices and tragic outcomes.” And if I can add, reasons like holding to irrational beliefs about women and gods that led to this child’s death.

I’m not sure how much impact a writer like Kristof can have in cutting the rope of irrationality that holds these people to unhealthy decisions, while he’s involved in actually braiding more of that same rope. It’s not reasonable to condemn real-world injustices that are the result of a god model I personally support.

I can’t know that Kristof doesn’t have some minority deistic ideology. But I can know that many people reading what he wrote–and he would know this as well–are interpreting it as, “That’s right, my loving creator-of-all-things, all knowing, all powerful god would never allow something like this; how dare anyone blame this evil on god.” It would escape them that the fact that this event actually occurred should be evidence that, if their god model exists, it would and did allow such an event–and therefore becomes logically inconsistent and, tah-dah, nonexistent. But I will almost guarantee you that hundreds of
thousands read his column, held this model of god, and condemned this “blasphemy” in like manner. They want their cake, but they want to eat it, too. And that’s impossible. And the scariest part is that no matter how much you try to explain that eating the cake will result in the cake being gone, they will insist that you are the one who simply does not get it.

To some, unfortunately not so small degree, it truly is a mad world.

Ray is preaching my stuff!

I just checked the latest post from Ray Comfort and submitted the following response. I’m doubtful that he’ll post it and I’m very doubtful that we’ll ever have any sort of dialog…but, darn it, I just can’t stop trying. I guess I’m a bit more masochistic than I thought.

For those that don’t want to read Ray’s post, the short version is: the OT and NT gods are the same, righteous, perfect and equally stern in their pure justice. This version has only a single change…I’ve actually provided the link to the wiki, as I can pretty much do whatever I want to do here. :)

Thanks, Ray…for (almost) preaching the very sermon I’ve been preaching for years.

So many Christians (and many non-Christians) dismiss the Old Testament view of God in favor of the cheek-turning compassion of the New Testament version. The mistakenly think that the NT version is better, softer or more kind.

There’s just one tiny area where we disagree (actually, there are several beyond this, but I’m only addressing the comparison)…you think the OT and NT versions are equally good, righteous and perfect. I don’t.

While some non-believers might agree with you, but opt for ‘equally bad’ as the appropriate description, I simply don’t agree. The NT doctrine is far worse.

Your cartoonish oversimplification of the wages of OT sin being “Hell” is not consistent with Jewish tradition and not Biblically supported without anachronistic reinterpretation of the OT. The very understanding of death and what happens after death is rather nebulous in the OT and much more vivid in the NT. This renders the NT version of God far worse than the OT version – because the immoral doctrines of original sin is compounded by the unjust concept of eternal punishment for finite ‘sins’ (though you’ll probably point out that sins against a God are necessarily infinite…that’s just a convenient interpretation that isn’t supported theologically, logically or Biblically).

The idea that it is just to punish people for their thoughts, doubts or disbelief is a perversion of any reasonable concept of justice. The system is further polluted by the claim that it rewards belief, regardless of, or in preference to action.

While you’ll find this sad, possibly offensive and may even refuse to publish it, I have no problem at all asserting that my moral values are superior to those of any character in the Bible, including the various characterizations of God. In fact, I’d argue that the God of the Bible may be one of the least moral characters in that entire collection of ancient writings.

When you sacrifice your humanity, your decency and your rational sense of justice in order to claim that the tyrannical acts of a more powerful being are intrinsically just, appealing to the banality of ‘might makes right’ – you’ve lost the battle.

The Euthyphro dilemma begins to make this point about fiat-morality…but it’s worth extending.

If you’re so impressed with the Sermon on the Mount, I’d be curious to hear your take on my response to it.

Human Race to Islam: Please F.O. and die

Much as I find right-wing jargon to be mindlessly jingoistic and childishly reactionary, they were onto something when they coined the term “Islamofascism.” Here are two reports of the oppressive, totalitarian practices of this depraved religion in action.

  1. Dog walking banned in Riyadh on the grounds it leads to flirting and, possibly, cooties. Here’s something boggling to contemplate about Islamist states. Most totalitarian regimes are run by angry, lonely little pricks who spend their working days in offices thinking up ways to keep people from being happy, ever. But bring Islam into the picture, and your list of “harmless fun activities magically morphed into arrestable offenses” suddenly includes having a pet and meeting girls. And I suppose I would find the concept of an actual division of law enforcement named The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice more laughable — let alone the idea that walking your dog could possibly be something anyone would be demented enough to consider a vice of any kind — if it weren’t for the very eerie likelihood that there are Dominionist Christians in this country who are smacking their foreheads and saying, “D’oh! Why didn’t we think of that?”
  2. White Europeans continue to prove themselves complete pussies when confronted with the spectre of pissed-off guys with beards. (And allow me to forestall enraged replies from white Europeans who aren’t afraid to stand up to Islamist incursions upon your rights, and are embarrassed by those in your cultures, official or unofficial, who let fear conquer them: by all means, feel welcome to sound off in the comments.)

    The thing that radical, Great-Satan-hating Islamofascists have learned all too effectively is that nothing scares citizens of (what said citizens like to think are) free Western democracies than the idea that a Muslim is primed to go batshit bombthrowing crazy at the drop of a hat. Confession time: when I was a younger and callow chap, I was in a psychologically abusive relationship with a woman whose tool of control was her temper. I never knew what I might say to cause her to go off like a fragmentation grenade, and so I said very little, even on days which seemed perfectly normal and on which no argument had yet ensued. Everything could be perfectly pleasant, then I could make some innocuous statement about nothing in particular, and within seconds I’d find myself being screamed at, at window rattling volumes. It was, shall we say, an unpleasant period of my life.

    Islamists like to use a similar tool of control to stifle freedom — free speech, criticism of their beliefs or their politics, artistic expression — in countries that, remarkably, aren’t Islamist theocracies and in which they’re even minorities in the population. Ever since 9/11, the new normal has been that anything could drive a Muslim into a homicidal rage at any moment, and you don’t have any clue what it is, so it’s better not to take chances. Okay, so that may be a stereotype that the vast majority of non-batshit-bombthrowing-crazy Muslims resent, but it’s certainly proven useful to the real agitators among them.

    The latest victim is a novel, The Jewel of the Medina, by debut writer Sherry Jones, which was slated for publication in the UK weeks from now, only to be pulled at the eleventh hour due to fears that the subject matter — the protagonist is one of Mohammed’s child brides — would lead to a Satanic Verses fatwa redux. Isn’t it convenient for Islamists that they no longer even have to fight the “War on Terror” any more? The West just hands it to them.

    Remarkably, the person who sounded the klaxon of fear regarding Jones’s book was not only a Westerner, but a college professor from UT-Austin, Denise Spellberg. Professor, you’re a disgrace to our town. Just like that, all that was needed was the teeniest, tiniest fear that the book might “incite acts of violence by a small radical segment,” and presto, bye bye freedom of expression and speech!

    Okay, so Jones’s novel does sound like lurid crap, in the few excerpts that have appeared online. But if it’s going to be denied publication, at least do so for the right reasons.

I’m with Pat Condell on this one. I see no reason to be respectful or tolerant towards a religion that condones “honor killings” and thinks walking your fuckmothering dog is some kind of threat to civilization itself. This kind of barbarism earns no respect, none, not even a smidgen. And I also stand with old Ben Franklin, whose famous line about how folks who are willing to surrender a little freedom in exchange for a little security don’t deserve either resonates today more than it ever has in history. So, in the spirit of fair play, and as a sop to all those whiny Christians who like to throw the “you only attack us because you’re too scared to go after Muslims” line at us, allow me proudly to strike this blow for freedom!

Now if you’ll pardon me, my dogs want their walkies.

Blasphemy is, as they say, a victimless crime

Over in the UK, the population may be predominately non-religious, or at least indifferent to religion, in stark opposition to the way Americans can’t seem to get enough of the stuff. But it’s only been this week that the House of Lords* voted to strike down the nation’s laws against blasphemy. Nice of them to recognize it isn’t 1437 any more. Unless you’ve got a fascistic, Talibanoid theocracy going on, having blasphemy laws in a modern enlightened culture is like attaching a carburetor to your pyjamas: pointless and utterly silly.

Of course, some people are upset at learning the Middle Ages ended long ago.

Prominent Christian activist Baroness O’Cathain launched a blistering attack on the amendment, with particular fury aimed at Evan Harris. Lady O’Cathain maintained that abolition of blasphemy would unleash a torrent of abuse towards Christians.

Huh. I thought blasphemy was defined as making insulting or disrespectful remarks critical of gods, not their followers. As far as hate crimes against the religious are concerned, the UK has its Racial and Religious Hatred Act, a piece of legislation that makes it an offense to incite deliberate violence and hatred towards a person or group of people based on their race or creed. (I know it’s a law that feels problematic from a free speech standpoint, but the wording of it does try to make it clear that it’s only an offense when there’s clear intent to incite harm. I imagine it’s only a matter of time before it’s actually put to the test in the courts. After all, where’s the line between saying something like “Somebody ought to do something about those damn [insert minority here],” and “Kill the [minority]!”?)

One gets the impression that Baroness O’Cathain is merely troubled by the idea of anyone’s criticizing belief at all. As Tracie pointed out a couple of posts ago, it can be awfully hard for atheists to engage Christians in conversation about belief, simply because the minute you make one statement that’s even the tiniest bit snarky (like comparing their god belief to unicorn belief), many of them are so thin-skinned they’ll storm off in a huff right there. Not surprisingly, Dawkins and The God Delusion came up quite a bit in the House debates. The simple fact that atheist books exist, and are actually finding an audience, is enough for some Christians to think they’re suffering “a torrent of abuse.”

Well, let’s talk abuse. What about the people in the past who were actually the targets of the blasphemy laws in question? Ol’ Wikipedia tells me that the last guy to be prosecuted under the laws was John William Gott in 1921, who was sentenced to nine months’ hard labor simply for publishing pamphlets making fun of Christianity and Jesus. So Christians got their knickers in a twist because Gott snarked on their imaginary friend, and he got nine months breaking rocks. Call me crazy, but I consider that pretty damn torrential abuse. “Hey,” you might say, “that was 87 years ago.” Yeah, but I’m sure it still sucked for him.

Anyway, it was clearly time to get rid of the laws, because they were irrelevant and never used anyway. And as for Christian fears of persecution, again, I never cease to be amazed at these. Check your Yellow Pages and see how many pages it takes to list the churches in your city. Go to any bookstore in the US, and see how many shelves are swallowed up by the Religion category. Only Borders that I know of delineates a section to “Atheism and Agnosticism” within that category, and that section usually only amounts to about two or three shelves, as opposed to the fifty or so shelves devoted to Bibles, apologetics, and the usual twaddle from fundies like LaHaye and Strobel and Colson and their camp. But to many Christians, those two shelves for atheism are two too many, and amount to a horrifying all-out assault on their precious faith.

Cry me a river.


* I had to note my favorite comment about this on Richard Dawkins’ site:

Dear Britain, what the hell is a “house of lords”?? Signed, the 21st century.