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.