When we think of people being targeted for blasphemy, Muslim-majority countries like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia immediately come to mind. But it turns out that atheist Stephen Fry is being investigated for this offense in Ireland for comments he made on a television show when he was asked what he would say to god if it so happened that after he died he was confronted by god.
Fry said: “How dare you create a world in which there is such misery? It’s not our fault? It’s not right. It’s utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid god who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain?”
He went on to say that Greek gods “didn’t present themselves as being all seeing, all wise, all beneficent”, adding “the god who created this universe, if it was created by god, is quite clearly a maniac, an utter maniac, totally selfish”.
This seems pretty innocuous to me but there was a complaint that he violated the Defamation Act of 2009.
The law prohibits people from publishing or uttering “matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion”.
The government said at the time it was needed because the republic’s 1937 constitution only gives Christians legal protection of their beliefs.
Oddly, Fry is not making a free speech defense, that such laws are silly and should not be part of any civilized society. He instead argues that since he was not singling out any one religion, the law should not apply to his comments, saying “I don’t think I mentioned once any particular religion and I certainly didn’t intend, and in fact I know I didn’t say anything offensive towards any particular religion.”
If you criticize god, aren’t you criticizing all god-based religions?
Interestingly the law excludes from its definition of religion (and thus its blasphemy protections) any organization or cult whose “principal object of which is the making of profit” or “employs oppressive psychological manipulation” of its followers or to gain new followers.
Clearly the government wants to exclude groups like Scientologists from its protections but I would have thought that all religions fit that description. After all, apart from the fact that religions are principally money-making enterprises, what is inculcating ideas of hell and heaven other than “oppressive psychological manipulation”?