Blasphemy and Forced Reverence

On Facebook I list my Religious Views as “irreverence,” which is pretty perfectly descriptive. This means that you can believe any crazy thing you want, but I’m allowed to make fun of you for it if I like. Basically, I’m under no obligation to “respect” your beliefs just because they’re your beliefs. I’ll respect them if they strike me as, well, respectworthy, and I won’t if they don’t.

(Curiously, this makes me a dick, while the infinitely more grotesque “you believe what you want, but if it’s different from what I believe then Jesus is going to torture you forever” is considered in perfectly good taste. Go figure.)

In areas other than religion this approach to respect is totally non-controversial. No one demands that you respect your neighbor’s furry lifestyle, your parents’ musical tastes, or your ex-girlfriend’s body-art aesthetics.

But as soon as someone calls those beliefs “religion,” your lack of respect instantly becomes the awful crime of blasphemy:

Blasphemy is irreverence toward holy personages, religious artifacts, customs, and beliefs.

Now, blasphemy itself represents a proud religious tradition. Abraham, the founder of Judaism, blasphemed against the gods of his day (although eventually his followers decided that blasphemy against their beliefs was in fact a capital offense). Jesus blasphemed against the Jewish faith (although eventually his followers declared that blasphemy against their beliefs was in fact the one unforgiveable sin.) Muhammad blasphemed against the polytheistic Meccans (although eventually his followers decided that the penalty for blasphemy against their beliefs might include flogging, amputation, or beheading).

In every case there was a tension between

* what those in power wanted, and
* what the little guy thought was true

Abraham was the “little guy” standing up to the much more powerful idolators. Jesus was the “little guy” standing up to the Jewish establishment. Mohammed was the “little guy” standing up to the Meccans. In the unlikely event that any of their stories actually happened, then most surely they were attacked at the time for being “un-Meccan” or “contrary to Judean values” or “dangerous to our troops in Afghanistan.”

In fact, the whole concept of “blasphemy” boils down to the position “I’m more powerful than you are, and I’ll punish you if you don’t revere all the arbitrary things I say you should.” Contra Obama, if anything is “contrary to what this country stands for,” it’s that. In North Korea, you revere whatever they tell you to. In Afghanistan, you revere whatever they tell you to. In Soviet Russia, you revere whatever they tell you to. (Alternatively, “In Soviet Russia, Quran burns you.”)

In America, you revere whatever the fuck you want. If you want to draw a cartoon, you draw that cartoon. If you want to set a flag on fire, you set that flag on fire. If you want to put a skit on national TV that makes fun of the President, you put that skit on TV. If you want to make a musical that mocks the Book of Mormon, you make that musical. And, yes, if you want to set a “holy” book on fire, then you set that book on fire. The fact that the only people willing to take a stand on this are right-for-the-wrong-reasons lunatics like Terry Jones and Fred Phelps is so disturbing that it keeps me up at night.

16 thoughts on “Blasphemy and Forced Reverence

  1. Pingback: Your Religion Is False » Blog Archive » Blasphemy and Forced Reverence

  2. Pasquin

    It’s easy to pick on Christianity: they don’t fight back. Muslims cuts your head off. That’s why it takes guts to say, “I got your holy book right here, buddy.”

    Which I do regularly, I might add.

    I won’t let the crazy cow me.

  3. Andrew Burton

    Christians don’t cut people’s heads off for burning the Bible, but we/they do firebomb abortion clinics for cutting fetus heads off…which is strangely ironic, I think.

  4. Chuck Gonzales

    So would you then be willing to start a bible burning ceremony, or a Quran bonfire, I wonder? I’m a devote Catholic who realizes that there are morons who exist, Christian and Muslim & Jewish whom make really bad decisions.

  5. Joel Post author

    I don’t think people would care all that much if I burned a Bible, and anyway I don’t have any particular desire to do so. But I suppose I’d be “willing” to do it if I felt like it would accomplish something.

    I’ve actually been thinking a lot about the other, and I’m pretty sure that I’m not willing to hold a Quran burning, for exactly the reason you say: there’s a large number of crazy people out there who are likely to react in violent and crazy ways if I do so.

    And if the conversation was really focused around that issue, I don’t think I’d even be upset about all this. If Obama got on TV and said

    “Please stop your Quran burning, because there are a lot of crazy morons out there who will kill a lot of people if you go ahead with it.”

    then I’d agree with him.

    The part that’s tough for me is that everyone pussyfoots around this issue by saying the problem is that it’s “un-American” or “contrary to the ideals of this country” or “an affront to religious freedom” or any of a number of other reasons that are blatantly false and have nothing to do with the crazy people.

    (It’s true that some people say “puts our troops at risk,” but I think even that’s a way of using euphemism. Why does it put our troops at risk? Because of the crazy people.)

  6. Hell's Belle

    I take issue with your opinion.

    I know, it is YOUR opinion; just as what I am saying here is mine. Part of what makes different people have the ability to get along with others not like them, is mutual respect.

    When you respect what others believe, what you’re saying with your actions is, “I may or may not believe as you do, but by respecting our differences, we show that you don’t have to be the same to get along.”

    I am not listing my own personal beliefs here, but I will say that I have several very close friends, and many aquaintences that have NOTHING in common with my own personal dogma. I don’t disrespect them by poking fun at what they hold close to their hearts. It does no good to hurt others to show how you hold their or any religous beliefs in total disdain.

    I am aware that this is my opinion, and will possibly garner some response.

    My entire point in all of this is; be nice. Making fun of other people, is fun. I do it. But things that really hurt, don’t do anyone any good except to make you look like an ass and doesn’t make the world a better place.

    I don’t know if you posted this to try to encourage others to your side, or to show how much you really have issue with peole that feel the need to believe in something bigger than themselves.

    Take it or leave it.

  7. Joel Post author

    When you respect what others believe, what you’re saying with your actions is, “I may or may not believe as you do, but by respecting our differences, we show that you don’t have to be the same to get along.”

    No, by getting along you show that you don’t have to be the same to get along. By “respecting” what others believe no matter what it is, what you’re saying is “respect doesn’t mean anything.”

  8. Hell's Belle

    How do you get along with others without being respectful?

    Or rather, how do you get along by being disrespectful?

  9. Joel Post author

    It’s not a binary thing. You can respect some of a person’s beliefs without respecting all of them. I have evangelical Christian friends who know I don’t “respect” their views on religion (nor do they respect mine!), but they also know that I respect their views on plenty of other topics. I feel like that gives us a better basis for friendship than if I pretended to “respect” their views on Jesus and they mine. In any case it leads to more interesting conversations!

    If I didn’t respect any of someone’s beliefs, then you’re right I wouldn’t get along with him.

  10. Hell's Belle

    My saying being respectful of other’s beliefs, doesn’t necessarily mean that I “agree”, or even pretend to.

    By being respectful in the sense that I am using means to not be, for lack of a better word, mean. I don’t agree with any one of my friends or aquaintences on many issues. We have intteresting discussions about many of them; having another point of view is always good. To see an issue or topic from many angles is always best in making a decision or forming an opinion.
    My use of “respect” is to have discussions without disdain.

    “Your Jesus was a liar, and Mary was a whore”, is not the best way to have a discussion about your opinion about Christianity, with someone who is a Christian. You can express your opinions without being disrespectful. That was my point. Not agreeing, or giving cadence to another’s beliefs doesn’t mean you agree. But you can disagree in a way that is respectful to the person- not necessarily the issue.

    In your origional statement, you made it sound as if you don’t disagree with others in this way. You may or may not.

    This is what I am trying to express myself. I hope you can understand my ramblings.

  11. Simone

    While I respect the legal right of others to demonstrate by burning whatever they choose whether it be a bra a flag or a holy book, it troubles me that anybody would be willing to do so when it may put others at risk.

    Much as I wish everybody would just get along, I do believe in paying attention to what is real whether I like it or not. Taunting anybody in any circumstance who is likely to respond violently just seems like and exercise in stupidity.

    Why do my fellow US citizens feel they have to make asses of themselves just to prove they are free to do so? Exactly how free is a person who is ruled by his lower impulses even if he is free in the eyes of the law?

    What ever happened to wisdom? When did strength of character go out of style? It seems like the old virtues are simply not cool anymore. We must be radical idiots or snidely cynical to satisfy our egos that we are somehow part of the in-crowd. How about we just stop having in-crowds and out-crowds and be kind? Why should that be boring, hokey and embarrassing?

  12. PeterW

    Your position SOUNDS like a brave position, but is not really brave in a moderate, tolerant Western country. As a member of the educated elite, mocking religion makes you gain status, not lose it; you sound brave, yet there are no consequences; you don’t even risk the mildest consequences seriously offending your real friends!

    A much braver position would be to heap the same mockery on gay people, minorities, or people with learning disabilities. But of course that’s not fashionable among those circles, and holding such opinions would lose you their favor. That’s what bravery really means.

    None of this means that your position is wrong or untenable – I hold many true, un-brave views. But you should defend your position by saying that it’s a good, true, ethical one. Don’t pretend to be brave.

  13. Joel Post author

    I don’t think I ever claimed to be brave.

    However, there are jokes in my book that make fun of gay people and minorities. (I don’t think there are any learning disability jokes, but I’ll try to work those into the next book.)

  14. Hell's Belle

    I know some good dead baby jokes, if you’re interested. :)

    What’s black and blue and sits in a corner?

    A dead baby in a garbage bag.

  15. Andrew Burton

    How many retards does it take to change a light bulb?

    More than they can count.

    How many quadraplegics does it take to change a light bulb?

    Just one, but all they do is lie there and call for the nurse to do it.

  16. Swimmy

    Actually, I would resent it even more if the president made the “crazy morons will kill people” argument, because it would be the pinnacle of hypocrisy.

    You know what I’m pretty sure pisses Muslims off more than Floridan pastors blaspheming their religion? Presidents of the United States killing countless Muslims for no reason and with no end in sight.

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