John McCain on AIDS: “Gee, I Never Thought About That!” »« Come For the Atheism, Stay For the Sex! (Or Come For the Sex, Stay For the Atheism!)

Greta Christina Takes the Blasphemy Challenge

“Truly I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.”

BibleThis is from the Bible. Mark 3:28-29. It’s not from the Old Testament; it’s not from Paul, or someone else interpreting Jesus’s words. It’s the words of Jesus himself. It’s not late in the narrative, either, when some scholars argue Jesus was starting to lose it. And I’m not quoting from the beautiful-but-wildly-inaccurate King James translation, either; I’m quoting from the Revised Standard.

As far as I can tell, it says what it says. According to Jesus, as quoted in the Gospels, there is one sin that will not be forgiven, one sin that is eternal — blaspheming against the Holy Spirit.

Demons(FYI, here’s the context for the quote: Jesus has been casting out demons, and the scribes respond by saying “He is possessed by Beelzebub, and by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.” [Mark 3:22] Jesus replies by asking “How can Satan cast out Satan?” [Mark 3:23], talks in that vein for a bit… and then lets loose with the “never has forgiveness/guilty of an eternal sin” stuff; “for they had said, ‘He has an unclean spirit.'” [Mark 3:30] In other words, they’d denied that the Holy Spirit was how the demons had been cast out, and had said it was Satan instead.)

I’ve actually read a fair amount of the Bible. I was a religion major, for goodness’ sake. But until recently, I somehow managed to miss this bit. And obviously, it’s not a verse that gets much attention called to it… what with it totally contradicting the central message of Christianity.

RrsbadgeSo some people have put together this Website (boy, do I love the early 21st century — of course some people have put together a Website) called The Blasphemy Challenge. On it, they’re encouraging people to deny the Holy Spirit, videotape themselves doing it… and post the videos on YouTube. (And I say yet again: I love this century.)

It’s become kind of a big deal. There’ve been news reports about it, including on Nightline, and hundreds of people have made these videos.

Here’s mine. (Click the link, or else view it below the fold.)

MagdaleneIt’s a little hard to explain exactly why I wanted to do this. But I like this weird little virus. It calls attention to the absurdity of trying to take the every word of the Bible (or any text) as literal truth. It calls attention to a pretty serious contradiction in what is supposedly the central message of Christianity — namely, that Jesus was born and died to forgive our sins, and that all sins are forgivable. (BTW, can I just ask — why blasphemy? Why not murder, or torture, or genocide? Why is blaspheming against the Holy Spirit the one unforgivable sin?) It’s creating more visibility for atheism — especially among young people, who are apparently taking to this thing in droves — and thus it’s helping take away the free ride that religion has been getting for so long in the marketplace of ideas. And it’s providing an outlet for atheists to come out, and to see they’re not alone.

DvdBesides, I think it’s just funny. I love that, in exchange for denying the Holy Spirit and thus damning your soul eternally, the Website owners will send you a free DVD. It’s possibly the cheapest offer I’ve ever been given for my soul. How could I possibly pass it up? It’s hilarious.

Oh, and a quick explanation as to why I’m bundled up and hunched over and looking like I’m freezing my ass of: The video was taken in Chicago, in February. Long story.

Comments

  1. says

    I like the smell of leather better than I like Christianity. That religion makes so little sense to me that I find it very hard to believe it makes sense to anyone. Why is anyone a Christian, Greta? What’s the attraction?

  2. says

    “Why is anyone a Christian, Greta? What’s the attraction?”
    I think the Christians who visit the blog (some of whom are my dear friends) can probably answer that better than I can.

  3. says

    Maybe I should add that I’m genuinely curious — and have been for a long time — why anyone is attracted to Christianity. I am not, however, interested in arguing with anyone over their reasons for being attracted to Christianity. I just want to know: I’m a religious voyeur.

  4. says

    One thing I’ve never understood and I genuinely wish to understand. Some (perhaps most?) atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, whatever have yous genuinely don’t care if other people don’t have faith or not. You yourself stated that you’re one of them. You have theist friends and support them. I’m a spiritual agnostic and I support both my theist and non-theist friends in equal amounts (but will debate them both and make both sides question some of their beliefs/non-beliefs)
    So why do so many atheist/non-theist sites have such inflammatory statements against theists and theism? Like RationalResponders.com (from your picture above) states that theism is a mind disorder.
    Yet, if someone stated that atheism was a mind disorder, atheists would (rightfully) have a hissy fit. I understand the desire to make such strong statements… in a world that makes you feel so alone, it’s easy to say things that are very strong as a form of defense and making one’s self feel better. But I’d expect atheists to be better than that. They often times denounce the horrible things done in the name of theism (and, once again, rightfully so), but they’re saying horrible things themselves about theism and theists. One would think that they’d try to set a better example.
    (And on a related aside, it always saddens me when I see non-theists fighting against theism when really the problem is with fundamentalism.)
    Oh, and I want to say good for you for your video! You have every right to denounce Christianity, spirituality and theism as strikes you as truth in your heart! I especially like what you put in about people teaching their children their religion as truth.

  5. says

    Actually, I have a friend who was raised w/o a religion who has since gone on her own spiritual path and has incorporated Judaism and Christianity into it. She described herself as trying to avoid Christianity but in the end not being able to. And I know she was talking about in a mystical, spiritual way instead of a “guilted out by Fundies” kind of way. Her boyfriend is a staunch atheist (she tried the atheism thing and found it didn’t work for her). She’d be an excellent person to be able to explain the appeal of Christianity.
    Her LiveJournal is http://devvieish.livejournal.com/

  6. says

    “So why do so many atheist/non-theist sites have such inflammatory statements against theists and theism?”
    As Monty Python said about sheep jumping out of trees: A fair question, and one that in recent weeks has been much on my mind.
    I think the short answer is that a lot of atheists are angry.
    And while I don’t always support the ways that anger gets expressed or the places and people it gets aimed at (and in fact have spoken out saying just that), I think a lot of the anger is justified, and I’m very sympathetic to it.
    The subject of atheist anger is kind of a big one, and I don’t think I have space to get into it here in a comment. (I’m actually planning to do a whole post about it.) But here’s one of the things I do want to say:
    I think right now, the atheist movement is kind of where the gay movement or the women’s movement were in the early ’70s, or where the AIDS activist movement was in the early and mid ’80s. It’s a movement of people just coming to a realization about themselves, and just beginning to come out of the closets and into the streets (or rather, because this is the early 21st century, the blogs). A lot of the movement is focused simply on visibility, of the “We exist, dammit — stop ignoring us, stop telling lies about us, stop treating us as second-class citizens” variety. And a lot of the energy of the movement is driven by anger.
    And while I don’t think that’s ultimately where we want to be — and while I am trying to be one of the voices of calm and compassion in the movement — I think that, historically speaking, maybe this is where the movement needs to be right now. I mean, where would the gay movement be today without the Stonewall Riots? Anger over injustice is a problematic weapon, but it’s also a damn powerful one, and it may be a necessary one.
    Okay. I clearly need to do a full post about this soon.

  7. Chris S says

    Well, it’s funny, but as a site devoted to atheism, I’m not too impressed. Following that vein, one should combine it with a video of you eating a bacon cheeseburger(covers Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism), drinking a Budweiser (Islam and general common sense), and disrespecting Mother Earth while turning widdershins (because if you’re going to be a real atheist, you can’t give pagans a free pass either).
    That will show all those theists that you’re unaffected their silly beliefs.

  8. says

    I’m not sure I agree, Chris.
    I don’t think the main point of the Blasphemy Challenge is “I don’t share your beliefs, and so here’s a video of me violating them.” I think the main point is to demonstrate a powerful and troubling contradiction within the central text that the faith is based on.
    Besides, none of the other religions you mentioned has nearly the same level of cultural and political power in this country that Christianity does. So standing up in public and saying, “I don’t share this belief,” doesn’t have the same impact with Judaism or Hinduism or Wicca that it does with Christianity. Not in this country, anyway.
    (Oh, BTW — Thanks so much for the link to the NY Times article! It’s fascinating, and I hope to find time to do a whole posting about it soon.)

  9. Laura Deal says

    I apologize in advance if this is too long and too full of parenthetical asides, but if I keep waiting until I have time to write and edit this perfectly I’m going to wind up posting something really bitchy out of frustration, so here goes:
    Greta, all YOU were doing was standing out in public saying “I don’t share this belief” but have you checked out what is being said by the people you are standing with. “The Holy Ghost rapes Children” Seriously…this is beyond immature and disrespectful. The site itself had misrepresented the quote from the bible (you didn’t…they way you present it is fair and accurate, but the “Rational” folks are adding all kinds of stuff about hell and damnation that not only isn’t in the passage, but isn’t anywhere in the Old or New Testament (except maybe the book of Revelations, I must admit that I’m pretty ignorant of what is in that book for the same reason that I couldn’t tell you the plot of Night of the Living Dead- that kind of stuff gives me nightmares and I therefore avoid it.
    I don’t really get the point of this whole challenge. I totally get wanting to stand up and saying “We’re here, we’re atheists, get over it.” No problem, as long as you allow me my right to believe, which you personally do, I fully stand up for your right to have your atheistic view. I also understand anger at what the theocrats and religious right are doing to our country and our educational system. I’m pissed off about it too. They are taking something I believe in and twisting it into something it isn’t and using it to destroy what it should stand for.
    But this does nothing to fight what they are doing. In fact I think it helps their cause. Because frankly if this shit kind of pisses ME off (I don’t like my beliefs treated as a joke or a mental illness or a sign of my stupidity and while I know that is not your intention and what you said in your video didn’t insult me.. the group you are standing with does just that…. and they mean to…they want to piss me off…so yay them….they may never be wise but they get to be clever) and I think I”m more open to dialogue with atheists and agnostics that the average Christian (hey some of my best friends are…) it is not winning over anyone who doesn’t respect you now.
    So I’m thinking next school board election (and that’s where the real fight is right now and it’s not Christians vs Athiests it’s people (many of them people of Faith BTW) who believe in separation of Church and State and teaching children science vs people who either out of fear and ignorance or desire for political power want to discredit science and dismantle the public school system. ) the fundie theocratic puppets of the right are going to use these YouTube videos (not yours…you neglected to be hateful so you won’t make the cut) in their campaigns to convince people that we need MORE prayer in school and much less science because look at what our permissive society has produced.
    OK so you have to lose some battles to win others but what is this “Challenge” battling? An obscure passage that I have never heard used to attack anyone. It’s not even like the guys at football games are holding up signs saying “Mark 3:28-29″
    If you want to argue that the Bible contradicts itself, go for it, because it does. Non- fundamentalist Christians get that. So if you’re trying to convince anyone you must be trying to convince the fundies. No offense but if I think this “Challenge” is sophomoric at best and really rude an offensive at worst, I don’t think any fundies are going to be converted to your way of thinking.
    I know that you want to stand and be counted, I and I think you should stand up and I think people should count you, but I think you could have found a better place to stand than with this group. Of course their founder thinks I should be in a mental institution so maybe I’m not being objective because I tend not to like people who want to put me in a strait jacket.
    If you want to fight the fundie theocrats, find a scientist running for a school board in the Bible Belt and send him $10-$20. There are lots of websites that can help you find these folks (the internet is good for lots of things) Write about them on your blog and ask everyone to send $10-20 to one of the candidates. Post about them on Daily Kos and you can raise a shit load of money for a lot of candidates. This will actually work to bring science back into the school room and help create truly “Rational” thinkers down the line. The people running for School Board…. THEY are the ones facing a real challenge and I truly respect them for it.

  10. Jane Shaffer says

    Greta, I think it was brave of you to make a public stand and claim your atheism. The “Rational Response” folks seem to be pretty juvenile, but I know you aren’t, so perhaps your video will help encourage a truly rational response. Also, to properly blaspheme, you have to be abusive. Perhaps Rational Response is just trying to ensure the damnation of their souls? I have to say that I think you’ll have to try harder.
    Paul, I am a Christian because of a journey of faith that began with a visit to the Parthenon in Athens when I was 8. Let me explain. I was raised Episcopalian and I believed in God…and fairies…and ghosts…and monsters under my bed. I didn’t *get* it, though, until that trip to Greece. There, I had a moment of blissful satori – everything seemed sublimely simple. The experience left me with a feeling of warmth, love, the knowledge that God exists and that my little meat brain cannot comprehend such vastness and complexity for more than the briefest of moments.
    I had parents who allowed me to pursue my own spiritual quest, while sharing their own journies with me. We went to church and the essence of the teachings of Christianity felt right to me. If I had been raised in India, I might have been quite comfortable as a Hindu or a Buddhist.
    I don’t spend much time worrying about why I’m here. I’m pretty certain it’s to experience life in this form and to give others the freedom to do the same. I just hope I make God laugh sometimes.
    I believe that God is omniscient, omnipresent, all-powerful, and serene. A judgmental, unforgiving God has never made sense to me. I think Jesus was God made man and the New Testament shows that he was prone to bouts of righteous indignation when pushed too far. Mark 3:30 says, “For they had said, ‘He has an unclean spirit.'” This sounds to me like Jesus was pissed off at being called evil while he was busy casting out demons.

  11. says

    Just letting you know, Laura: I’m not ignoring you. I’m composing a reply. It’s just taking a while — it’s long, and I want to be really careful to get the tone right.

  12. Chris S says

    Greta,
    I picked those examples off the top of my head. I share a good deal of Laura’s thoughts, though I wasn’t sure how to phrase it. I think understanding is being impeded by a lack of clarity or definitions. You object to the cultural power of Christianity, most specifically fundamentalist Christianity (if that’s a fair summary). I’m really ticked at fundamentalism myself.
    You give that objection the name Atheism. This is where I lose you.
    To me Atheism is the belief that there is no God, or a positive non belief in any religious system at all. Simply objecting to Fundamentalism is to my mind is not Atheism. Atheism is a wider rejection of all religions.
    I think of it as such. I really don’t like the Bush Administration. I think they are the worse Administration ever. Furthermore, if I look close enough, I can find something disagreeable with every Administration, Democrat or Republican since George Washington. But that doesn’t mean it’s valid to say that I think Democracy is a harmful concept that should be abandoned. Those Administrations are instances of democracies, but their shortcomings (and every significant human undertaking has shortcomings)do not invalidate the general concept.
    By the same coin, whatever the contradictions and shortfalls of any particular religion, doesn’t necessarily disprove the existance of a God or prove the religion as a whole is useless or worse.

  13. Laura Deal says

    Chris, I agree with your analogy, but Greta isn’t saying she became an Atheist because of Bush and the Fundies. I think she is saying the reason she wants to stand up an publicly declare she is an Atheist is because of Bush and the Fundies. Ironically, they are the same reason I started standing up and publicly declaring myself a Christian. It seems this Admin makes people stand up and yell something. For me, a lot of the time it’s “Go back to Texas you stupid Fucks!” but that seems less productive so I try and focus on working to get new people into office and pointing out that not every Christian believes what Bush believes. Some of us have the idea that we are supposed to help the poor and be peacemakers and not throw stones. In fact many of us believe that Bush makes Jesus weep all over again.
    And Greta, don’t worry I wasn’t expecting a quick and easy reply. I’ve been not posting in several recent threads on this and related topics because I kept writing and re writing and by the time my epics were halfway finished two more threads were up. That’s why I just posted something this time even if it still felt a bit garbled. These are the times that try people’s souls and it’s no wonder that religion, which has always been a complicated issue to discuss, has become more so.

  14. says

    “You object to the cultural power of Christianity, most specifically fundamentalist Christianity (if that’s a fair summary)… You give that objection the name Atheism.”
    Huh-uh. That’s not it. I’m not an atheist because I object to fundamentalist Christianity. I’m an atheist because I don’t believe in God. The two are related, but they’re not the same at all.
    “To me Atheism is the belief that there is no God…”
    This may seem like a nitpicky semantic point, but I think it’s an important one. “Believing that there is no God” is not the same as “not believing in God.” The first is a positive, certain opinion. The second isn’t (or isn’t necessarily). And while the first may be how you define atheism, it isn’t how I define it, and it isn’t how most atheists I know define it. The second — the opinion that God, while not disproven, is extraordinarily unlikely — describes me much better, as well as most atheists I know.
    And the question of whether belief in God is (on the whole) harmful, helpful, or neutral… I think that’s completely different from the question of whether God exists. Myself, I think the first question is very much open at this point… and for me, the second one isn’t, at least in any practical sense. Like I said in my video, I think God is theoretically possible, but I think Zeus is theoretically possible, too. And I think both are equally unlikely — unlikely enough for me to be able to discount, as much as I’d discount any non-disprovable but extremely unlikely hypothesis.
    But that’s a separate issue from whether religion is, or often is, harmful. Let me put it this way: If it weren’t for fundamentalism, etc., I’d still probably be an atheist… but I probably wouldn’t be blogging about it nearly as much. :-)

  15. says

    Oh, BTW, Laura: If you ever want to post a reply to a post that’s two or three threads down, I think you should. I like blogs with several simultaneous conversations. And heck, I was getting comments on the “Harry Potter versus Lord of the Rings” piece for months after I posted it. (I still think it’s hilarious that no blog post of mine has elicited anywhere near the same level of response as that one…)

  16. sexposfemme says

    “I love that, in exchange for denying the Holy Spirit and thus damning your soul eternally, the Website owners will send you a free DVD.”
    Priceless.

  17. sexposfemme says

    But yeah I don’t understand the point of this movement. I think it’s just for humor.

  18. Jane Shaffer says

    I don’t think they are joking. The free DVD they are sending out is “The God Who Wasn’t There,” which can be viewed on YouTube by non-Atheists who don’t “take the challenge” and get a free DVD. In it, the Rational Response founders seem pretty serious about their goal, which is to “end Christianity.” I would have been far more impressed if they had focused on reasons why atheists should not be persecuted, rather than why Christians are wrong and they are right. Their point-of-view seems to be ex-Christians who felt betrayed by Christianity in some form or other.

  19. Rebecca says

    I think Greta’s comparison to the AIDS activist/ Queer liberation movement of the late 80s and early 90s is remarkably apt. And I should know.
    Does anyone remember a bi-fold, newsprint broadside entitled “Queers Read This” from 1990? It included an essay entitled, “I Hate Straights.” Go ahead and read it at http://www.jessanderson.org/doc/qnation.html (The essay in question is at the very end.)
    The situation is not exactly equivalent, of course. Seems to me that although it is more dangerous to be openly queer, it is somehow more taboo to come out as atheist. (There’s a topic for you, Greta!) But it does address the issue of anger in a way that may shed light on this discussion.

  20. says

    “I would have been far more impressed if they had focused on reasons why atheists should not be persecuted, rather than why Christians are wrong and they are right.”
    I’m currently writing a longer piece defending the Blasphemy Challenge, which I’m hoping to post tonight. But I did want to respond to this.
    I actually think there is value in arguing against religious beliefs. It’s not something I do very much, for an assortment of complicated reasons. But I think it’s worthwhile.
    If for no other reason: An awful lot of religious believers have never questioned their faith, or even thought about it very carefully. They believe what they believe because it’s what they were brought up to believe, by their parents and teachers and preachers, and because it’s what everyone else they know believes. They’ve never really thought about what exactly it is they believe, and why, and what the consequences of that belief are, and whether it meshes with reality, and whether it even makes any sense. And for beliefs that are as powerful as religion, with such an intense effect both on the believers’ lives and the lives of the rest of us… well, I think it’s worth making people with these beliefs think about what they believe, and defend it.

  21. Laura Deal says

    I think it is valuable for people of faith to think about and even question their faith. I wasn’t raised to be a Christian. My dad is somewhere between agnostic and athiest and my mom has a belief system that includes many things. My faith journey has always been my own and always been something I thought a lot about.
    That said the blasphemy challenge doesn’t make me think about my faith it makes me think about how there are judgemental assholes in every group. It makes me not want to listen to anyone from that group. It does make me want to defend my faith, but not in a meaningful way, but rather in a “Shut up you fucking assholes” kind of way. I know that you have the potential to challenge people’s faith in a way that promotes meaningful dialogue because I’ve seen you do it. But I really think that this is a HUGE step backwards. The passage this thing is questioning is not a big part of any church. There is much that should be challenged about the way organized religion is practiced in this country, but this challenge doesn’t do that. It picks out some obscure passage and says “This is stupid and I mock it” which comes across as”If you are a Christian, you are stupid and I mock you” Why the fuck should anyone listen to anyone who thinks they are stupid and mocks them?”
    I think if you want people to qustions their faith, you could start by asking them questions about their faith. This has the advantage of not starting out by telling people they believe something they may not believe. That way they could think deeply about what they believe and why they believe it rather than just thinking about how to prove that you are wrong.

  22. says

    Oh, BTW: I just fixed the link on Rebecca’s comment… and I strongly encourage everyone who’s following this discussion to read the piece she’s linking to. It goes a long way towards explaining why I get a little testy when people criticize atheists for being so angry.

  23. says

    Laura wrote:
    “I think if you want people to qustions their faith, you could start by asking them questions about their faith. This has the advantage of not starting out by telling people they believe something they may not believe. That way they could think deeply about what they believe and why they believe it rather than just thinking about how to prove that you are wrong.”
    Laura, I don’t know if you are still reading these posts. The last comment from you that I read indicated that you were tired and upset and wanted a break from this for a while. But if you are still reading these, I really would like to know why you believe what you believe. What is it that convinces you that God exists and that Christianity is true?
    I rejected Mormonism when I was 17-years old, and after years of searching for a replacement, finally came to the realization that religion doesn’t make sense to me. But I am very curious to understand how it can be so different and make sense to others. I can’t get straight answers out of my family. I’d love it if you would enter the discussion again. Or, if not publicly, you could e-mail me privately.

  24. Rebecca says

    I’ve finally watched a bunch of Blasphemy Challenge videos. Some are interesting. Some are too long and boring. Some people should become more adept at making videos i can actually hear. I currently have one question: Why so many men and boys and so few women and girls? There are at least 10 male BC videos for each female one. Any thoughts?

  25. Buck Fuddy says

    Rebecca,
    I think most guys are laboring under the misapprehension that other people really care what they think. Women generally need a tad more encouragement to open up.

  26. says

    It’s funny, Rebecca. I hadn’t actually noticed that. Probably because when I’ve done my “blasphemy challenge” video searches on YouTube, I’ve tended to pick out ones made by cute girls…

  27. Rebecca says

    See, that’s the thing. Because you had cited female BCers, I was trying to look through the female ones and there just aren’t that many compared to the guys. Any theories about why? Anyone?

  28. says

    I dunno, Rebecca. It’s an interesting question, but I’m not coming up with much other than the usual gender analysis: men are more likely to assume that other people are interested in their opinion (or “what Buck Fuddy said”); men are more willing to be confrontational and say things that they know will upset people; women are more likely to be diplomatic and uninterested in stirring up shit. That sort of thing.
    Or maybe your search just happened to turn up a statistically skewed sampling. When I was doing my searches, I do remember there being more male BCers than female, but I don’t remember the ratio being as big as ten to one, and I didn’t have a hard time finding BC videos by women. So I really don’t have an answer.

  29. Bill says

    Hi, Greta . . . I’m Bill . . . I read a little of your writing, here.
    I’d say it’s a good idea to know the One you are blaspheming, first, and not go by ones who may misrepresent Him.
    You’ve never had a perfectly beautiful relationship with someone; (I mean with someone you would have rejected because of how others represented him or her) what if you had gone by how those misrepresenters would have had you see the person???
    Anyone can write me > [email protected]

  30. says

    Paul, I’m pretty sure that the DVDs have all been given away. We didn’t get one, at any rate. But I’m also pretty sure that people are still making and posting Blasphemy Challenge videos. Just for the hell of it.

Leave a Reply