Greta Christina has an excellent and lengthy defense of the idea behind the Blasphemy Challenge— that exercise on YouTube that received a lot of criticism from certain quarters because it wasn’t serious or respectful enough. She gets it exactly right: that was the point, to show that religion receives a lot of unwarranted deference. If you’re one of those people who got irate because the challenge mocked and ridiculed religion, thanks for making the case for us: your irritation is what was being pointed to as part of the problem.
Just so. Now let’s start on Scientology, eh? They surely can’t sue ALL of us.
PZ, stop with the intellectual bullying. Don’t you KNOW a true believer is constitutionally incapable of handling anything but sanctimonious treatment of their particular scheme of delusions? If we don’t handle these types with kid gloves and don’t bend over backward to humor their special meanings and pespectives over our common sense versions, we will never get into meaningful dialogs with them. I am sure they seek meaningful dialog: they spend [lose] billions publishing and promoting their points of view. If we say nothing that directly or indirectly questions their goofy supernatural explanations for racism, suppression of women, the upside of global warming etc., then they will come out and talk to us. I am sure they have real solutions to overpopulation, famine, loss of species and so on. I am just certain they could convince us if only we would listen. Ask them how many of the creatures that Noah loaded on the ark no longer exist. You’ll see. They DO care. I am so sure of it.
The Blasphemy Challenge didn’t irritate me because it mocked religion. I really couldn’t care less about that. Rather, it irritated me because it was just plain immature and silly, not to mention probably based on a false premise. It also inspired truly childish and embarrassing spectacles like the guy who cleaned up dog crap with the pages of the Bible.
Other than that, there was nothing wrong with it.
Stuart Coleman says
What’s truly amazing is that so few people understood that. What’s also amazing is that a bunch of kids “blaspheming the holy spirit” on YouTube pissed anyone off. And the final amazing thing is that no one seems to care about the myriad of things that most people have violated/not met that get you sent to hell, from shellfish to not being baptized to selling all of your belongings. I think the exercise demonstrated its point quite nicely.
speedwell, it’s hard to mock something that’s so obviously a joke. Let’s just leave that one to South Park, they seem to do a damn good job of it (and I think they’re supposed to be doing another Scientology episode sometime soon).
Flaccid Bee says
His holiness Ed Brayton said it was immature, therefore I agree.
Dylan Llyr says
My first reaction to the Blasphemy Challenge wasn’t all that positive. I thought it strange to go to the effort of making such a statement of disbelief, as if it wasn’t the default in the first place. Like making a video expressly clarifying that I DENY the Invisible Pink Unicorn or something.
Read up some more though and I’m thinking more and more that I still don’t quite appreciate how deeply ingrained and pervasive theism is over there (I’m Welsh). I hadn’t quite realised (or at least, thought it through properly) that it was possible to grow up genuinely not knowing that it was possible to not believe in a god.
I guess my gripe is that it shouldn’t be necessary to make these videos. But if anything the one thing they’ve succeeded in showing me is that they probably *were* necessary. Oh well.
Blake Stacey, OM says
I feel like I’ve said something lengthy and at least partially cogent about the Blasphemy Challenge before, so let my Google my own name (ah, the sweet rush of an ego trip — we were somewhere outside of Barstow in the middle of the desert when the vanity began to take hold, etc.) and see what comes up.
If you show me a particular Blasphemy Challenge video and tell me that it’s immature, I might well agree with you (I find South Park vapid and tiresome more often than not, if that helps you estimate my humor judgments). If you say it’s offensive, well, I’ll certainly admit that at least one person — you — and, by inference, plausibly many others find themselves offended by it. Judging offensiveness requires an additional standard, I believe, beyond the judgment of juvenility, just like we can agree that a piece of Philip Glass music is repetitive while disagreeing about how enjoyable it is. (Koy. . . an. . . nis. . . qat. . . si. . .)
More significantly, I think complaints that a portion of the videos are vapid and childish misses a big point. It’s like complaining that Martin Luther’s pamphlets and broadsides made fart jokes about the Pope: so what? They still fueled the Protestant Reformation! Other people had complained about the Church before — Wyclif and Hus spring to mind — but Luther had the printing press, and lo, soon there was too much heresy afoot to burn. (And really, was his stance on the Eucharist any more petty a dispute than the different interpretations of the “deny the Holy Spirit” verse?)
Does anybody else remember James Burke’s show The Day the Universe Changed, and in particular the episode about the printing press, “Matter of Fact”? Watching that show (and reading about the time period elsewhere) suggests to my mind many parallels between the press in 1500 and the Internet today. Both inventions served to democratize knowledge; both sputtered forward, emulating the things which went before (illuminated manuscripts or advertising brochures); both surged when entrepreneurs found ways to turn a profit (Aldus Manutius, Google); the surges of moneymaking with both technologies benefited intellectual activity almost by happy accident. The older communication technology gave us the Protestant Reformation. . . . Completing the exercise is left to the interested reader.
If you’re still upset, you might like this idea. I definitely recall proposing to Rebecca Watson, Skepchick extraordinaire, that somebody run a contest for science-oriented YouTube videos. It would work a little like this: a bunch of people make video clips explaining some scientific discovery which has inspired them (“we are all made of starstuff”), and the winner(s), selected by the biggest names we can recruit, receive Carl Zimmer books or something. Sure, the contest would probably attract some creationist drivel, but that’s just noise in the system. Eit — so it goes. Actually, I just realized that if the contest rules stated up front that all creationist submissions would be automatically disqualified, then the Discovery Institute would get royally upset, and that would make me very happy indeed.
I definitely recall proposing to Rebecca Watson
Hey, who wouldn’t?
Orac, why is it childish and immature to point out the bleedingly obvious, which somehow millions of people don’t seem to grasp?
Blake Stacey, OM says
Yeah, but that woman’s a stickler. She’s awfully picky about her tentacles, for example. I’m not so sure we’d be that compatible.
I call bullshit on the “false premise” argument against the Blasphemy Challenge. It doesn’t matter if someone apologetics the hell out of the verses, they’re there, and they get interpreted that way by hundreds of churches in several denominations. (yes, I just made up a verb) That makes it a valid premise in relation to Christianity as practiced.
Besides, as PZ stated, the point is obviously not to attack a specific verse or biblical rule, but to advance the idea that it should be acceptable to poke a finger in the eye of religion in the same way that other ideas/establishments are lambasted. It could just have easily been done by proudly modeling an outfit of polyester and silk, but that wouldn’t have had such a big response. Why? See cultural definition of valid premise, above.
I wish the internet and the Blasphemy Challenge had been around when I was a teenager. It could have done me a world of good. I say the more religion is debated, the better, and it needs to be done without all the reverence currently shrouding it. Things like the Blasphemy Challenge may be juvenile, but they serve to help rend the curtain protecting the holy of holies, to borrow a symbol.
What’s serious about religion?
It’s a frigging absurd joke.
Belief in an invisible being who doesn’t want us to say bad things about him?
Screw anyone who says I have to be respectful of a bunch of idiotic hooey. The respect is the problem. If they get your respect, they have gotten the glass of kool-aid to your lips and will be pouring it down your throat forthwith.
It’s not in and of itself. It was the manner in which it was done, which seemed custom-designed to encourage some truly embarrassing antics.
Molly, NYC says
What’s truly amazing is that so few people understood that. What’s also amazing is that a bunch of kids “blaspheming the holy spirit” on YouTube pissed anyone off.
Well, yeah. But remember, these are the same people who think Jesus is trying to speak to them through grilled cheese sandwiches.
Blake Stacey, OM says
I love the word apology in this context. While I know that’s not how it’s being used, I can’t help but get the impression of serious, dignified theologians running around saying, “We’re sorry God is such a self-righteous jerk. We’re sorry, we’re sorry. . . .”
Given the myriad claims being made about the blasphemy challenge, it would be nice to see some discussion of how to test these claims. For example, take the claim ‘The blasphemy challenge made more people aware that the special reverence granted religion is a problem.’ Any suggestions for testing it? Or reformulating the claim in a way that would be easier to test?
Alternatively, consider the claim ‘The blasphemy challenge gave the impression that atheists are immature.’
At this point, the only claim I can test, is the claim that many of the theists’ responses make me laugh out loud.
Blake, that’s exactly why I hate the word “apologetics.” I always get that impression, regardless of who the word is being applied to.
The Atheist Jew says
I did a video for it myself. Though being a Jew, denying the Holy Spirit meant nothing. I pointed that out.
I think what RRS is doing is affective in so much that it gets young people (lurkers) at least questioning the brainwashing they received since they could barely walk.
PZ, when are you posting the great evolution Simpsons couch scene from last night. I beat you to it, it is on my blog already.
Blake Stacey, OM says
I think there’s an important point lurking in here, which I’d like to try and tease out. My question might sound rhetorical, but that’s not how I intend it to be, so I’ll give a quick build-up.
Just about every “big thing” on these here Intertubes attracts a wide variety of contributors. That’s almost axiomatic, I think. Open your floodgates to the whole wired world, and you’d be a fool not to expect anything less than the best, the worst, and all the muddle in between. Edits to Wikipedia, for example, range from vulgar vandalism (thirteen-year-old boys come in all ages, it seems) to lucid and learned discourse befitting university professors. Comments on ScienceBlogs.com range from simple trolling to the brilliant prose which typifies the Enlightenment and wins its writers the Molly (modest cough).
OK, I’m being a little facetious here, but I think the general point is legitimate. Contributions to any distributed endeavor will vary in quality, perhaps widely, and in order to understand how well the system works, we have to examine the whole thing. That Wikipedia is often vandalized isn’t the point; to understand the system — an essential prerequisite to praising, condemning or modifying it — we have to look at how the community deals with that vandalism.
So what happens when we look at the entire population of Blasphemy Challenge videos? Are they uniformly childish, immature and obscene? No. Can we then make the design inference that the system was built specifically to collect such immaturity? Well, if it was, it’s certainly not operating at 100% effectiveness.
It seems likely to me that the Challenge’s original design, whatever it was, is by now long irrelevant. Initially, the effort kicked off with an announcement, but soon thereafter, people were hearing about it via blogs and other people’s videos — all of which point back to the original, eventually, but indirectly.
When the thousand DVDs were gone, there was no longer an incentive to follow the original plan. People then responded to the videos they saw, modulated by their own views and life experiences. (I’d hypothesize, tentatively, that a video is most likely to attract other videos of the same type and attitude, and that the inevitable opposition which arises is a second-order effect.) The videos we see reflect the population which has been motivated to act, a population which forms a Stand Alone Complex of copies made in the absence of an original. If we looked at the videos appearing now, could we even reconstruct the Challenge’s original design? I’m not so sure.
Question: Would any other Challenge have had a different outcome?
What wrong with childish, insulting, goofy, bad behaviour when criticizing or making fun of something? If it was making fun of Scientology or Icke’s and his reptilian theories would anyone care?
Rick @ shrimp and grits says
#3: Rather, it irritated me because it was just plain immature and silly, not to mention probably based on a false premise.
I agree that the Blasphemy Challenge is a pretty silly thing. Having said that, I don’t quite buy that the link you gave as to why it’s “based on a false premise” is representative of any mainstream denomination’s view. Got anything more authoritative?
Of course. The word ‘apologist’ is intended to be defamatory. Its use
assumes the need to destroy the esteem of whomever it is applied to
has already be assessed, and found to be genuine.
Embarrassment is a function of public display. Any well-used blog
(including yours) has plenty of embarrassing comments.
Steve LaBonne says
It’s quite possible both to find the B.C. silly and uninteresting (I suspect that’s the most common reaction of people who, like me, never really got infected with the religion bug in the first place, as opposed to those who- to their great credit, I hasten to say- had to work hard to get cured), and yet also to have no time for the assholes who whine about how “offensive” it is.
I’m keeping bloody quiet. ;-)
P.S. Ok TWO comments:
a) I agree in principle with Steve LaBonne above, i.e. it is possible to support the aims, actions and ideals of the BC, hate the stupid cries of “lawks it’s offensive”, and still just be really unimpressed by it.
b) A question: the BC has been very successful, is it possible that it could have been MORE successful using a different phrase that was at least equally obviously mocking/deriding to religion in general or christianity in particular? In other words do people think that the phrase “I deny the holy spirit” was the OPTIMUM phrase that could have been used, or are there possible improvements? This is a purely hypothetical question, please don’t kill me! ;-)
Oh and P.P.S. The defence you post the link to PZ is well worth the read. The caveat though is not everyone’s objections or questions fall into the easy categories of “the BC offends me for X reasons, thus it’s crap” or “it’s simply childish, thus it’s crap”. There are other “objections” (perhaps too strong a word) and other questions one can ask from a SUPPORTIVE standpoint. Like the one above.
With that said, hopefully this time I haven’t fucked up like I did last time, anyone fancy taking on that question?
Brian Coughlan says
In other words do people think that the phrase “I deny the holy spirit” was the OPTIMUM phrase that could have been used, or are there possible improvements? This is a purely hypothetical question, please don’t kill me! ;-)
There is little else in the bible that has the potential to resonate so intensly with both unbeleivers and beleivers.
I recall reading this verse as a 14 year old, and being terrified for months. I had never read it before, never heard it preached on and never dreamed that something so at odds with the “Jesus forgives you everything” message even existed.
I got over it, and continued as a Christian. Now nearly 30 years later, I realise it had the potential to shock me out of my stupor, but it didn’t. Was that nature or nurture? Almost certainly both, but the environment has changed radically since then. Maybe others will have better luck, I think so, I hope so.
From my perspective as a deconverted ex-fundamentalist, this is an optimal verse because it highlights to the general public the lunacy that lurks at the heart of Christianity, while simultaneously skewering a massive inconsistency in the new testament message which even the most crippled, inured, slavish sheep will be momentarily adrenalised by. I know, because I was one:-)
Scott Hatfield says
If the general point is merely to awaken believers from their dogmatic slumbers, I believe that the BC serves a purpose. As I’ve said many times, everything should be open to examination, no privileged beliefs.
If, on the other hand, the general point of the BC is merely to mock believers, then it is no more or less useful than the many ill-considered (and often hateful) pronouncements of the religious. I’m inclined to give the BC the benefit of the doubt, if only because most of the hate speech comes from those who claim to believe.
This would have been a much better idea than the Blasphemy Challenge:
Instead of denying the Holy Spirit (which has no personal resonance for many Americans, much less millions around the world), each participant would have denied the most “sacrosanct” or central dogma of whatever faith tradition they themselves were raised in – be it Catholicism, Protestantism, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Wicca, Unification Church, Scientology, Bahai, Leninism, Hinduism … For some, that would mean denying the Holy Spirit. For others, it would mean denying very different articles of faith.
Brian Coughlan says
which has no personal resonance for many Americans, much less millions around the world
I think you are wrong about that. The resonance is not with the action, but it’s consequence. It highlights arguably the worst, most indefensible doctrine of organised religion, while keeping the crime teetering between vauge and specific …. so that not even the most certain fundamentalist is left unscathed. What if I just think the words “blaspheme you Holy Spirit” will that do it? SHIT, I just did it!! And so forth. Fucking terrifying, I guess you had to be there:-)
Ever had someone tell you not to think about a pink elephant with a big yellow bow on it’s head? This is like that for the fundamentalist, only … you know, with eternal damnation as the downside.
So basically, Orac and Ed “I’M A SERIOUS MAN!!!penis!” Brayton didn’t like it because it had low production values? Well fuck them.
Eamon Knight says
Yeah, I recall encountering the “blasphemy of the HS” passage as a teenage convert (maybe two years older than Brian was) and going Huh? It just didn’t fit with the rest of Evangelical theology. I don’t recall ever coming to a satisfactory “understanding” of it (I can now name a reason why that would be ;-), but the concensus seemed to be that, whatever it meant, it wasn’t something you could do accidentally or negligently, nor even just by repeating a formula; thus not worth worrying about as a daily concern.
Of course, that also means that the trope doesn’t much resonate with me now, 20+ years since I gave up trying to be any kind of literalist. Hence, my sole “contribution” to the BC was to dump on some poor unsuspecting Christian’s blog (who was upset by the BC) a factual statement that I denied the existence of the fundamentalist God on the grounds that he was an immoral tyrant worse than Hitler. As an ex-fundy I find that a completely satisfactory degree of blasphemy, sufficiently shocking to evangelical sensibilities, and more meaningful than just reciting the words, or such performance art as cleaning up dog crap with Bible pages.
But then pushing-50 adult atheists weren’t really the demographic the RRS were targeting, anyways ;-).
The whole thing has me just shaking my head and smiling a wry little smile of no particular import, and asking myself, “Who the hell cares?” (Ooops.) “Blasphemies” make want to, you know, go out and stone a Danish cartoonist or something. Or not. Maybe, instead of calling for someone’s head or writing an angry letter, I’ll have a cookie in protest of both the Challenge and all the absurdly outraged Reactions. It will be a Contrarian Cookie.
One of my favorite ‘net buddies is a Jesus guy. He’s a music lover, a science fiction and non-fiction buff, a computer geek, an intelligent, witty, gentle and accepting soul who I am glad to call a friend even though we disagree on some important issues. He doesn’t evangelize, criticize my agnosticism or try to “save” me. He’s a live-and-let-live kind of guy and I like that.
The reason I mention him is because he basically laughs at ideas like blasphemy, the “attacks” on Xianity, and the need to defend the faith. He says, simply, “God doesn’t need my help. I need His.”
What I’m getting at is this: What sort of deity is offended (or worse, threatened) by a cartoon or a few disrespectful or dismissive words? A weak, vain, immature, petulant little shit of a deity that’s not worthy of my attention, let alone my adulation, worship or subservience. That’s what kind.
So what does that make the followers and “defenders” of such a deity? I’m not sure, but two phrases come to mind: “Someone to be avoided at parties,” and “suicide bomber.”
Nice points there Brian Coughlan….but enough personal commentary! ;-)
I am coming from a very different place. (Oo Er)
I grew up in the UK, and although I’ve travelled a good bit as an adult and lived in places where I’ve witnessed first hand the kind of fundamentalism you mention, it’s still very alien to me. This is why I ask the question I ask. I can understand how for you and many others like you it was a powerful and resonant phrase in an emotional sense, especially given your background, but I hope you can understand how for me (and I think many others) it’s a bit ineffectual as a concept. Now bear in mind I’m JUST talking about the phraseology of the original BC, not the many excellent videos and subsequent expositions of it.
I like Colugo’s idea, a wider atheist picture if you will. Now I realise (boy do I realise ;-) ) that many people DID do something like this with their BC videos, and I wholeheartedly support them. My point in the previous thread and now is that the really brilliant BC videos were the ones that followed a more “Colugo-esque” idea and did vastly more than the original remit of the BC.
As a catalyst for a great online (and now offline) “fellowship” of atheists all expressing a really juicily fundamentalist christian annoying sentiment it has been a wicked success. However, it is rather exclusive by virtue of focussing on christian dogma, and rather limited christian dogma at that (for example your average C of E christian would simply laugh at it) my first thought was that couldn’t the brilliance of the best videos that have evolved from it been in some way built in at the start. Perhaps I am wrong, but hey, it won’t be the first time!
imam idad says
What would be an equivalent BC for goring islam? Granted, muslims have proven a little more dangerous than christians when provoked, but perhaps this provides some fertile ground for standing up to godbothering in general. Would such an exercise be of any use? Is it just OK to ridicule christian goofiness, or is deistic claptrap of any variety fair game?
Danny Haszard says
JEHOVAH’S WITNESS FASCIST FAITH
WHY THE DOOR TO DOOR METHOD?
The reason the watchtower corporation orders their Jehovah’s witnesses members to intrude door to door is because this cold-calling tactic gets them recognition and “persecution” as pesky.
If they can get “persecuted” then they can say they are ‘persecuted for Jesus’.
What is their message?
The ‘unique Gospel’ of the Watchtower is that Jesus had his second coming ‘invisibly’ in the year 1914 and is working through them.
That’s it: 1914 invisible Jesus just like the emperor’s invisible new clothes
Jehovah’s Witnesses are an abomination to the God whose name that they blaspheme.
My point precisely! The best of the BC vids are those that exceed the original remit and do exactly what you mention: stand up to godbothering in general. Kick everyone’s arses with the videos I say. Don’t limit yourself to a few limited sects of christianity.
I reckon it’s a bit harder to have a go at deists, but hey, lump ’em in there!