|Protesters at blasphemy rally in front of US Consulate in Toronto (2012). Reprinted with permission (source).|
From the very beginning, I've been writing about blasphemy. Like the real world, the material world, it manifests in three tangible dimensions.
Absurdity spans one of the directions. Because the rules are grounded in baseless superstition, they are often completely absurd. It is absurd to believe that someone else's expression of ideas can cause you harm. It is even more absurd to believe that someone else's expression can cause your god harm. It is the height of insecurity to believe your god needs you to mete out punishment on its behalf.
Overreaction fills in another direction. A toddler may cry out with tears if one of his peers spills the beans about Santa. This sort of behaviour is a perfectly fine expression of the child's feelings and should be encouraged. It's when this child has an uncontrollable tantrum and attempts to silence others who would say such hurtful things about his jolly friend that he has gone too far. It goes without saying that any child who lashes out violently against others in the name of Santa Claus is behaving in an unacceptable manner.
Tragedy is dimention number three. There is always an element of tragedy no matter how hilarious the law itself. Indeed, the very existence of blasphemy laws demonstrates that some sacred ideas are so pathetic, they need to be locked up in boxes and shielded against any kind of honest questioning.
The real tragedy is the weight upon the shoulders of every member of a culture who must constantly police and regulate their thoughts and actions based on absurd rules to protect ridiculous and unproven beliefs. This has a drag effect on the progress of any society. Of course, the most potent tragedy blasphemy delivers is the human misery it brings in the form of barbaric and incomprehensibly overblown punishment.
It is certainly tragic when Jean Valjean is sent to jail for stealing bread to feed his sister's children, but one can still point to a real crime committed and real societal problems behind said crime. This makes Valjean's punishment tragic, yet understandable, lamentable. In the case of blasphemy, say Raif Badawi, we have his life and the lives of his wife and children severely damaged for something completely intangible -- hurt feelings(!), a threatened theocratic regime. To me, this is even more tragic.
Over the years, I've had to balance these dimensions when writing in reaction to these manifestations of the absurd. If the rules are absurd and the reaction not too violent (or not specified), we get comedy gold.
First Iran, Now Indonesia: Rocked by 'SelfieGate'!
Egyptian Clerics: Belly Dancing Dangerous, Like Homosexuality And Atheism
Genitalia Replaced By Fluffy Ducklings & Other Cute Baby Animals In Turkish Biology Textbooks
Turkish Soap's Kissing Scene Rebuked For Too Much 'Lip-o-Suction'
Saudi Fatwa Issued Against Wintery Fun
It goes on and on. The best response is to mercilessly mock this ridiculousness exactly as one does when adults behave like babies.
I've reacted differently when religious groups or regimes have overreacted with violence and violations of human rights to being offended. There is just a point where it can no longer be funny.
Saudi Activists Sent to 'Terrorist Court' For Driving Car & Improperly Tweeting
Atheist Alexander Aan Faces Long Jail Sentence
Amnesty International UK Launches Petition In Support Of Pussy Riot Member Nadya Tolokonnikova
Raif Badawi to Receive Lashes Tomorrow
Egyptian Atheist Gets Three Years In Jail For Posting to Facebook
Actor Sentenced to 26 Years in Jail for Hurting People's Feelings
Egyptian Lawyer: Jailed Atheist Alber Saber Hurt Our Feelings
It goes on and on. There is too much tragedy in these stories. It has drained all comedy out of them.
It turns out Canada and many other modern, secular countries still have blasphemy laws on the books. They are dormant now, but with the right political climate, they could be used as potent tools of repression. It's happened in other countries, don't think it cannot in Canada.
CFI Canada and Atheist Alliance International are two organizations I've worked with in the past who have joined an international coalition of humanist, atheist and secular groups calling for an end to blasphemy laws everywhere, including the secular West.
We're talking about many many groups getting together as a single voice to declare that enough is enough. It's time to start acting like grownups and not let people brutalize others whose opinions make them feel icky -- this is why governments have been utterly useless at this sort of thing.
While freedom of thought and belief, including religious belief, must be protected, it is equally important to guarantee an environment in which a critical discussion about religion can be held. There is no fundamental right not to be offended in one’s religious feelings. Religions per se do not hold rights. Churches and religious groups should be open to hearing criticism, just as every group in society. Intellectual and cultural advance rely on the free exchange of ideas. Protecting any ideas from criticism does them no favour: it allows them to survive unchanged without being adapted and improved.The site has already been covered by many news agencies, including the BBC, so you know they're legit and mean business. You start by simply signing up to a mailing list with calls to action for your country. It's called mobilizing! It's what adults do when they want to effectuate positive change in society. Go do it!
As I've written about above. People who resort to violence because their feelings have been hurt need to be taught to express themselves in like civilized human beings. If they are unable to learn this lesson, then they will need to stand in the corner until they can play nicely with the other children in the playground.
|Mad monk engraving from 1931 edition of Thaïs by Anatole France.|