Blasphemy and Ridicule, Yet Again

As God once said, and then repented of saying it (Genesis 6.6), “I don’t do sequels.”

Follow-ups about such trivial strategies as the Center for Inquiry Blasphemy Day are a waste of everyone’s time.

But there has been a bit of action on this front, something just short of a news splash–which seems to be the only reason the press-and-media-starved organization concocted this idiotic venture in the first place.

On its own website, former Center for Inquiry chairman Paul Kurtz sensibly distanced himself from the Animal House antics, writing that Blasphemy Day is the active promotion of insult and ridicule, not a defense of free speech but a deliberate attempt to promote indignation through ridicule.

It is one thing to examine the claims of religion in a responsible way… it is quite another to violate the key humanistic principle of tolerance. One may disagree with contending religious beliefs, but to denigrate them by rude caricatures borders on hate speech. What would humanists and skeptics say if religious believers insulted them in the same way? We would protest the lack of respect for alternative views in a democratic society. I apologize to my fellow citizens who have suffered these barbs of indignity.”

Smart words from the former leader and philosopher. They call attention to the fact that the promotion of tolerance includes the right to criticize, but not the need to be deliberately offensive.

It’s also troubling that CFI isn’t connecting the dots between vicious caricatures of Jews, Irish and Polish Catholics, African Americans and the social, educational and economic deprivation these groups suffered as a result of ridicule.

Is this category of insult “different” because it is said to be directed (or so we are urged) at belief rather than at the people who hold the beliefs? Or is dumbness of this magnitude excused because it is sponsored by an organization that touts “reason” and “science” as a basis for its irrational acts and incoherent approach to the values it sees as part of its mission.

In a wayward and hormonal reply to Kurtz, lawyer-turned CFI-CEO Ron Lindsay argued that “Blasphemy cannot be equated with ridicule of religion.”

Of course it can. Blasphemy is just the name given to ridicule, insult, or disparagement when it’s forbidden by religious canons or other laws protecting particular doctrines and practices. The only difference is that what the CFI crowd are doing isn’t blasphemy because there are no laws against their doing it. That’s what makes it ridicule. Moreover (obviously) why then do it?

To try to turn this circus into a temple of reason or a crusade for free speech rather than an exhibition of contempt simply cheapens an organization fast becoming known for taking the low road. Far better if the unfunny architects of Blasphemy Day would simply confess that they decided to sponsor this instead of a “Biggest Atheist Penis Day.”

The Catholic League noted that the “blasphemy contests” were being directed toward Christians rather than Muslims. Why? “Because even the atheists know that Christians can be counted on to react to their antics like good Christians.” More likely, they will ignore it, the same way you cross the street to avoid eye contact with odd-looking people. People like P Z Myers, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota at Morris, known for intentionally desecrating a consecrated communion host. (Ah! Achilles, What Bravery is Here!) He says the day was established to “mock and insult religion without fear of murder, violence, and reprisal.” and is quoted as saying he wants every day to be Blasphemy Day.

But the sharpest commentary comes from a particularly folksy, commonsense article in the Indianapolis Star by Robert King: It may be true, he writes, that this “test of wits” designed to see who can come up with the most offensive (sorry, “blasphemous”) image, poem, or tie-dyed T-shirt is protected speech. “But this blasphemy contest strikes me as beneath a crowd of folks who pride themselves on relying on reason and science to find their way through the world. They even offer silly suggested blasphemies, such as ‘God is the Santa Claus You Never Stopped Believing in’. The whole thing strikes me as a bit juvenile — like something a group of teenage boys would come up with around the lunchroom table.”

Oh, come on. Teenage boys have better things to do. Like throwing food.

4 thoughts on “Blasphemy and Ridicule, Yet Again

  1. Where to draw the line. It’s always a tough question. My immediate reaction to “Blasphemy Day” is very similar to yours. Why waste time with spitballs when we have the bulldozer of reason and science? It’s not designed to do anything productive. It reminds me of a child who discovers that he’s grown old enough to curse around adults without being reprimanded. Atheists can be vocal now, and a certain contingent feels like it’s important to “throw it in the theists’ faces.”

    Having said that, I think ridicule is a useful tool. Some beliefs, laws, and practices are ridiculous. When other people are doing ridiculous things that hurt others, I think we have a certain obligation to at least point out that they’re ridiculous.

    Is that the same as ridicule? That’s where it becomes difficult. If I make a mocking caricature of the Genesis story, comparing it to Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and imply that believers are like children who believe in fairy tales, am I ridiculing them, or am I pointing out a true fact? Unfortunately, it’s often hard to tell.

    I’m afraid the line between ridicule and illuminating the ridiculous will always be a bit nebulous, since we can never know the true intent behind any act. We must do our best to guess, and I think we must do our best not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    Even as I’m commenting on this, I wonder if I’m doing more harm than good. How much publicity are the serious, mature atheists giving to the children? Is it going to hurt us? I don’t know. Personally, I prefer to go about what I was doing rather than spend a lot of time reprimanding children for behaving like children.

  2. It might be overly sentimental, but I think any sort of “blasphemy day” should be a day dedicated to something more educational – like bringing to the forefront the millions of people who were murdered due to committing “blasphemy” in the past. Heretics, witches, inquisitions, etc. A lot of people have the idea that being a pagan at the beginnings of Christendom was terrible, but the worst thing to be at that point in time was a heretical Christian. Docetics, Gnostics, and the like.

    How many more people are harrassed and worse in third world countries to this day for “blasphemy”? We should be shining a light on their situations, not making cartoons.

  3. The purpose of blasphemy day is to celebrate the fact that religious fanatics no longer have the right to kill those who point ti their unsupported wish for a sky fairy and say, “that is a stupid idea fit only for children”. Now, some may say that in stronger words, and that is their right.

    You also incorrectly conflate racism with the ridicule of an idea. No body is saying that you should die, be sent out from the group, or denied anything of substance. We just say your religion is an unproven fairytale that is the obvious construction of primitive peoples and it is time to put it aside and get on with the business of moving forward. And if your silly god and religion are so powerful, then what do you care?

    It’s not like we’re telling you that you are going to suffer in hell fire for eternity because you don’t believe in our fantasy. That would be, and is, offensive.

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