Archive for November 2012

An outbreak of common sense

November 29, 2012

Referring to my previous rant:


I was delighted to see today that the Dutch government is proposing to abolish/repeal/throw into the garbage, the offence of blasphemy. Clearly somebody in high places has been reading this little blog and has seen sense!


Yes, I know; I don’t mean it. It’s still very pleasing though!


The Internet – Big or Very, Very Small world?

November 21, 2012


This post comes to you fresh from facebook – where I keep in touch with family and friends, and occasionally have to deal with some surprising issues.

Yesterday I posted a link to a news item from the UK, wherein the Anglican Church had just voted to not allow women to be ordained as bishops. In posting the link, I asked the question: do the people who voted ‘no’ believe that God would want it so.

A friend commented upon the relativity of gender to Christian faith. I responded that I felt that it was unconscionable for the church to discriminate against women and spoke in general terms about how religions (specifically mentioning the catholic church) seem to be granted special protection from the law around the world.

Today a long time facebook friend and colleague from years gone by (who shall remain nameless) asked if, since he is a catholic, I believed him to be evil. Aside from his missing the point of my…um…point, I explained that I hadn’t used the word evil to describe the catholic church or followers, but that I did feel that the institutional abuse of children by members of the clergy and the church’s protection of those people was evil. I looked forward to a robust exchange of views.

What happened next? He removed his question from the thread and then blocked me!!!

This kind of reaction aggravates me immensely. I can only assume one or more of the following took place (because, like a sulking toddler, he is no longer talking to me);

  • My response was – as in the case of my original statement – not properly read.
  • My response was not understood and taken to be offensive.
  • My mention of documented and historical child abuse at the hands of the clergy was deemed unacceptable (although factual).
  • Any questioning of ‘the church’ cannot be countenanced.

I could continue making assumptions, but the most important thing for me is that this person is clearly unwilling to take part in a  civilized discussion about the issues. To me, that attitude is very frustrating and deeply troubling…the refusal to even listen to another person’s point of view represents a very narrow way of experiencing the world.

My view of the internet is that it is a window onto different ways of experiencing the world, for some people, however, it seems that the internet is instead a tool to shut out anything different…

Jehovah, Jehovah…

November 18, 2012

Flicking idly through the virtual pages of my favourite news website yesterday, my attention was caught by one particular headline. It seems that a group of people face prosecution over their production of a play which implies that Jesus (insert the initial ‘H’ here if you so desire) Christ and his disciples were in fact gay. A prosecution under blasphemy laws is apparently being considered.

I have a couple of initial reactions;

First: The idea itself; I wonder what on earth is the motivation behind a play with this kind of story? It seems to me like a rather lazy way to write a story  – one could, after all, simply pluck any figure or group from history and make the same implication, basing a story around the shift of perspective. It seems like a one-joke (and a not particularly funny one at that) project to me, much the same as a grown man wearing a dress, wig and make up is a ‘joke’ that is both very old, has been kicked around for centuries, and as such is intrinsically not funny. In other words, I understand that it takes all kinds of humour to keep society satisfied, but isn’t this really just the rehashing of an old schoolyard joke with old (new) names? I guess what we find funny is a question of taste. So be it. While I question the story itself, I actually admire the accused for having the courage to go up against church and state.

Second: I find it hard to accept that there still exists in a supposedly modern and ‘enlightened’ democracy, a law of blasphemy. While I don’t agree with promoting free speech to the point of allowing threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour (which seems to be the case in the USA), I am aghast that in a European democracy, someone could be prosecuted for being allegedly disrespectful of someone’s god. Taking Christianity as an example, since there exist so many – indeed perhaps countless – interpretations of the stories and teachings within the bible, which Christian could legitimately put themselves on a pedestal high enough to pass judgment? In other words, who has the final say? And if it’s wrong to disrespect the Christian god, is it OK to disrespect different beliefs? Former enactments within the UK, for example, would suggest, perhaps unsurprisingly,  that it was.

Making law is such a difficult thing to do properly, delving into protecting and/or legislating against behaviour around religious beliefs is, to say the least, a minefield. One person’s blasphemy is, after all, another person’s bit of fun (Monty Python’s ‘The Life of Brian’ anyone?). Flipping the coin, however, reveals that there exists a double standard here; an attack on non-belief is not (to the best of my knowledge), and has never been specifically legislated against in criminal law – in fact I would suggest that such attacks would fall under the strange protection that the law seems to afford to religious bigotry..

Here’s a hypothetical question: if, in the country concerned (and it’s Greece by the way) I went on TV or held a public meeting  to say that there is of course no god, and that surely the idea of an invisible  man living in the sky with all the dead people he approves of seems clearly delusional,  would I be under threat of prosecution for blasphemy? I would assume that, since questioning and/or denying the very existence of God could be seen as an attack (perhaps the most serious kind) upon God, there might be room somewhere in the system for me to be hauled before a court. Perhaps, perhaps not – certainly a lot of people would be very, very upset.  I’m pretty sure, however,  that  if a priest or bishop or pope tells me – or indeed everyone – that anyone who doesn’t believe what he or she (priests, etc.) believes is bound to spend eternity in suffering , such a statement is protected as a legitimate religious belief. I’m sure of this because that sort of protection of religious ‘positions’ happens every day, all over the world, with the overt support of the state.

Statements based in religious belief around the world are usually protected – although often just as long as it’s the majority view – and is by no means limited to Christianity. The elephant-in-the-room question, therefore, is this: WHY? Why are religious leaders and protagonists allowed to hide behind some kind of (ironically, invisible) shield which allows them to say pretty much whatever they want, whether it is blatant lies, offensive, hate-inspiring or fear-mongering? How is it that, in contrast, non believers can without any recourse, be castigated and extolled to convert in order to save themselves, or that a lack of belief is the wrong way to live? In many western countries it is fair to say that the laws of the land were laid down upon a religious template. But that was, in most cases,  followed by an evolution of law which took place over many hundreds of years. Why does established religion apparently still deserve a special place in law (for example, in the USA, where churches are tax exempt)?

Where, within a modern system of justice, does a blasphemy law belong? My contention is that such laws are mediaeval and have no place in a modern society.

We’re stuck with it for now, of course, mainly because the believers have history (i.e. the formation of countries and their legal systems) on their side. Tackling religion and all the (historically evidenced) harmful consequences of rival beliefs is doubtless a much hotter political issue for anyone to want to address.

As long as people want to believe in the afterlife to stave off fears of death and anoint their lives with some kind of mystical or spiritual purpose, I suppose the status quo will remain.