62 thoughts on “Apostasy and Blasphemy”

  1. MungMung

    I’d be wary of those Christians if I were you. First they’ll make it illegal to teach evolution. Then they’ll make it illegal to not believe in God. It’s a slippery slope.

  2. keithskeiths

    Ireland’s blasphemy law was in the news last year because it was being cited elsewhere as a “best practice”.

    For instance, the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation – which has 57 member states – cites Ireland’s law as best practice and has even proposed the adoption of its precise wording to limit human rights on freedom of conscience.

    As McChrystal notes, that organisation “is led by Pakistan, a country where Asia Bibi, a Christian woman, is awaiting execution for having drunk the same water as her Muslim neighbours” and thereby insulted the Prophet.

  3. keithskeiths

    And of course, God’s non-response to blasphemy is just as pronounced as his non-response to prayer and his non-response to evil and suffering.

    Again, it’s almost as if… he’s not there.

  4. keithskeiths

    petrushka,

    I wonder how many of those Western nations actually enforce their blasphemy laws. From the article I linked to above:

    In an interview with Ryan McChrystal, Index on Censorship’s online assistant editor, Nugent argued that the law was so “ridiculous and silly” that his organisation’s attempt to get prosecuted by publishing statements blaspheming all the major religions had been ignored.

    In other words, the authorities do not want to look foolish by enforcing the law.

    But as the article points out, such laws still have consequences even when they are not enforced.

  5. Kantian NaturalistKantian Naturalist

    I’d be willing to endorse a law that says that the holy texts should be treated with respect by everyone, regardless of whether you share that religion or not, just as a law that enforces a reasonable degree of politeness.

    Consider burning a Quran or Bible as being like masturbating in public — you’re not really harming anyone by doing so it, but some folks may take offense, and why be a jerk? Is pissing off people of faith really that important to you?

  6. petrushka Post author

    Just playing devil’s advocate: If public displays of anti-religion are offensive to the point of justifying prohibitions, how about public displays of religion?

  7. Neil Rickert

    petrushka: If public displays of anti-religion are offensive to the point of justifying prohibitions, how about public displays of religion?

    Public prayers should be considerer blasphemy against the FSM. Actually, they should also be considered blasphemy against Christianity.

  8. GlenDavidson

    Kantian Naturalist:
    I’d be willing to endorse a law that says that the holy texts should be treated with respect by everyone, regardless of whether you share that religion or not, just as a law that enforces a reasonable degree of politeness.

    Do we have to call them the true word of God? After all, that’s what “respect” means to a whole lot of people.

    Your law sounds like one of the worst laws regulating speech (etc.) that’s been proposed. I certainly would tolerate a law preventing, say, pissing on the Q’uran, much better than one saying that I have to treat it with respect. And I loathe any law saying I can’t piss on the Bible/Q’uran/Lao Tzu, although I would not do so deliberately.

    Consider burning a Quran or Bible as being like masturbating in public — you’re not really harming anyone by doing so it, but some folks may take offense, and why be a jerk? Is pissing off people of faith really that important to you?

    If that isn’t a non sequitur. First off, masturbating in public is harmful in an unavoidable sense that burning the Q’uran, say, is not, as it’s a sexual offense against children, especially. Secondly, indeed, why be a PZ Myers or whoever just has to piss off Chistians (notably Catholics) by driving a nail through a wafer? But I most certainly don’t want that to be illegal.

    We should be able to do with written word what we wish, in the legal sense, with social sanctions against the jerks who have to piss off religious people. Especially, we should not have to show respect to any damned text at all. That’s very close to demanding respect for their beliefs (and is demanding respect for at least one belief, that their text is better than most other texts), many of which could be considered abhorrent.

    Glen Davidson

  9. AcartiaAcartia

    Only in Canada? Pity.

    Canada’s Criminal Code Section 296

    (1) Every one who publishes a blasphemous libel is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years

  10. RumraketRumraket

    keiths:
    Wow.Denmark, of all places.How sad.

    Yep. If he’s not acquitted, I suspect lots of people are going to burn qurans. I know I will.

  11. Alan FoxAlan Fox

    Seems to me, we should be looking for equal treatment in society and by the laws that underpin it for everyone, regardless of personal belief.

  12. George

    keiths:
    Ireland’s blasphemy law was in the news last year because it was being cited elsewhere as a “best practice”.

    Ireland’s blasphemy law was passed as part of the Defamation Act 2009 because blasphemy was declared illegal under the 1937 constitution. Unfortunately, there was no actual legal definition of blasphemy and a recent Supreme Court case highlighted this absence. So the Irish law is really a matter of bookkeeping to stay correct wrt to the (outdated?) constitutional provision. As keiths source notes, the law is constructed in such a way that any successful prosecution would be very difficult, despite people trying really hard to get arrested for it. One clause states that “It shall be a defence… that a reasonable person would find genuine literary, artistic, political, scientific, or academic value in the matter to which the offence relates”, which is pretty broad.

    A referendum would be needed to change the law. But there are other priorities for referenda, like the same-sex marriage referendum, passed in 2015, and a promised future referendum on abortion. There are also other small matters to deal with, like Brexit, homelessness and a broken health system. In contrast, an irrelevant blasphemy law is of little importance. The assertion of “best practice” by the journalist keiths links to doesn’t really stand up if the law is designed to be unworkable. It’s just sh*t stirring by the Islamicists.

    George (long-term, part-time lurker)

  13. petrushka Post author

    People burn things (including flags and effigies) not to be rude, but to oppose political power. No one gives a damn about Adventists or Jehovah’s Witnesses, because they do not have a statistically significant tendency to hurt non-believers.

  14. PatrickPatrick

    Kantian Naturalist:
    I’d be willing to endorse a law that says that the holy texts should be treated with respect by everyone, regardless of whether you share that religion or not, just as a law that enforces a reasonable degree of politeness.

    Wow. This is the most offensive thing I’ve yet read on The Skeptical Zone, including Frankie’s entire corpus. What you are saying is that you are willing to use force against people who have not instigated force themselves. You’re advocating denying people their liberty and potentially their lives for criticizing ideas.

    Fuck Christianity, fuck Islam, and fuck you fucking anti-enlightenment authoritarians.

  15. PatrickPatrick

    Rumraket:

    keiths:
    Wow.Denmark, of all places.How sad.

    Yep. If he’s not acquitted, I suspect lots of people are going to burn qurans. I know I will.

    I’d definitely participate and even help organize that as a protest. I wonder if YouTube would allow posting those videos — Isis beheadings are apparently within their terms of service.

  16. petrushka Post author

    Patrick: Fuck Christianity, fuck Islam, and fuck you fucking anti-enlightenment authoritarians.

    I rarely engage that emphatically, but I have not had any response for my question on flag burning. And I added generic political protest to the question. Protest that offends.

    Is the issue whether speech causes offence, or whether the speech increases the likelihood of violent response.

    The very first amendment to the American constitution guarantees that speech is protected from government reprisals and from violent responses. In the case of legislators, the freedom of speech goes much farther. Legislators may say anything, including libelous or seditious things while debating in session.

    Freedom of conscience, including freedom nonviolently to publish one’s beliefs is a prerequisite to civilization as we practice it. It is implied in Elizabeth’s Rules.

  17. PatrickPatrick

    Mung: My. My. Atheists burning books. What will be next.

    There’s a difference between burning personal copies to make a political statement and burning other peoples’ books and sometimes those other people too. The latter is the purview of religion.

  18. GlenDavidson

    Patrick: There’s a difference between burning personal copies to make a political statement and burning other peoples’ books and sometimes those other people too.The latter is the purview of religion.

    One is about controlling others’ ideas and words, and the other is about being able to control your own words and ideas.

    One thing is not quite like the other.

    Glen Davidson

  19. petrushka Post author

    GlenDavidson: One is about controlling others’ ideas and words, and the other is about being able to control your own words and ideas.

    One is about destroying books and attempting to erase ideas; the other is a protest against the actions of people in power or of people who use violence to control others.

    You burn a holy book not because it is a book, but because the burning is offensive to the other. I’m waiting to hear an opinion on flag burning. In my opinion, the burning is intended to offend. that’s the point.

    You offend others deliberately, not because you care about their [mistaken] ideas, but because they attempt to use force to make you believe and conform.

  20. George

    petrushka up above:

    Is the issue whether speech causes offence, or whether the speech increases the likelihood of violent response.

    This seems like the nub of it to me. I’d hope most people would agree that there’s no right to not be offended. But I’d also agree that freedom of speech should be curtailed when there’s incitement to violence. In some cases blasphemy may reach to that level, I’d say. Where there is adequate legislation against hate speech, a blasphemy law would be unnecessary on those grounds.

    But how far can you go I wonder? Where’s the line? Is the German law (is it still on the books?) banning Holocaust denial a good and useful limit on freedom of speech?

  21. George

    Patrick quoting Rumraket above:

    >

    Patrick: Yep. If he’s not acquitted, I suspect lots of people are going to burn qurans. I know I will.

    I’d definitely participate and even help organize that as a protest.I wonder if YouTube would allow posting those videos — Isis beheadings are apparently within their terms of service.

    <<<<<<
    Would burning a Quran really be the most effective form of protest? Or would it just anger some people more to no end apart from making other people feel smug, like they’ve stuck it to the man? I really wondered what PZ Myers thought he was playing at by desecrating a communion host. He certainly wasn’t trying to persuade creationists about evolution. Freedom of speech means you have the right to offend people. Not being an asshole means you know when not to.

  22. petrushka Post author

    George: Is the German law…

    I recognize some limits on idealism. There is such a thing as incitement. I believe American law recognizes the concept of fighting words.

    At the same time that are people and institutions that do not deserve respect.

    I recognize that Bubba will possibly beat the crap out of me if i insult him, but I do not respect his right to do so. I merely govern myself for self preservation.

    There are time and places where decent people break the law or offend others in order to bring about change. I grew up in the era of civil rights protests, the protests against Jim Crow.

    I personally think the subjugation of women merits such a protest movement. I think blasphemy and apostasy laws merit civil disobedience and public ridicule.

  23. keithskeiths

    KN:

    I’d be willing to endorse a law that says that the holy texts should be treated with respect by everyone, regardless of whether you share that religion or not, just as a law that enforces a reasonable degree of politeness.

    Patrick:

    Wow. This is the most offensive thing I’ve yet read on The Skeptical Zone, including Frankie’s entire corpus. What you are saying is that you are willing to use force against people who have not instigated force themselves. You’re advocating denying people their liberty and potentially their lives for criticizing ideas.

    KN is appallingly authoritarian. Some excerpts from an earlier exchange with him:

    KN:

    I don’t think that non-believers have any business criticizing religious beliefs as such. Non-believers have a right to criticize religious beliefs only when believers are drawing upon their religious beliefs in order to justify public laws and policies that non-believers are also obliged to follow (including, as noted above, protected legal status attaching to religious communities).

    keiths:

    You can’t be serious. You actually think that religious beliefs should be exempt from criticism unless they are affecting nonbelievers through public policy?

    So no one should point out that Scientology, for example, is batshit crazy?

    KN:

    I used the word right for a reason, since rights are the trump cards of ethical and political discourse. It’s a version of the harm principle — your right to swing your arm ends where my nose begins.

    keiths:

    And you think that the “harm principle” excludes the criticism of ideas? Again, you can’t be serious. Can you?

    KN, this is perhaps the most ridiculous thing I’ve seen you say at TSZ.

    keiths:

    We are entitled to criticize philosophical, scientific, and political beliefs. Why should religious beliefs be exempt?

    petrushka:

    It seems odd that someone devoted to the life of the mind would object to arguing the life of the mind.

    keiths:

    Indeed.

    Of course, KN’s tune may quickly change once someone starts telling him which ideas he can and cannot criticize.

  24. J-MacJ-Mac

    Anyone surprised at the number of Western countries that still have blasphemy laws on the books?

    How many Western countries still have a ban on anti-Darwinian books?
    If evolution theory is true why would it’s supporters worry about it and ban the books against it?

    Isn’t science the only proof there is? Unless it is a fair-tale turned to be scientific….

  25. GlenDavidson

    J-Mac: How many Western countries still have a ban on anti-Darwinian books?

    None. Did any, ever?

    If evolution theory is true why would it’s supporters worry about it and ban the books against it?

    Quite, I guess that’s why you can read such rot.

    Why would anyone be trying to use government to get their religious apologetics taught in science class, if indeed it were science instead of apologetics? Well, they wouldn’t.

    Glen Davidson

  26. J-MacJ-Mac

    I wan’t talking about an official ban… Just try to teach something against the established Darwinian belief in any school and you will know what the anti-Darwinian ban really means… it’s the subtle one… you can criticize it officially until you face the consequences in the end….

  27. GlenDavidson

    J-Mac:
    I wan’t talking about an official ban… Just try to teach something against the established Darwinian belief in any school and you will know what the anti-Darwinian ban really means… it’s the subtle one… you can criticize it officially untilyou face the consequences in the end….

    OMG, they won’t let you teach your religious apologetics in schools?

    Oh the persecution, you have to preach your nonsense on your own dime.

    Glen Davidson

  28. waltowalto

    As petrushka has asked, my attitude toward flag- and book-burning is not absolutist, like patrick’s childish, all-knowing self-righteous blather. I don’t believe in “natural rights,” so I think that laws about those things ought to be largely a function of best estimates of probable results. So, e.g., if I had good reason to believe that the public burning of copies of the Koran was very likely to result in the public or private burning of a bunch of innocent individuals, I’d have no problem with a law prohibiting it–especially if credible studies show that such prohibition would do much less harm than allowing it but also greatly strengthening other laws to try to stop the person-burnings. It’s not really as simple as some here obviously assume.

    As I said, thinking one can determine what all the laws should be based on a fantasy of three or four “creator-endowed rights” is childish. Law-making is difficult, and actually requires thought. A sensible law 100 years ago might not be sensible today and vice-versa. Unlike some credulous people here, I would not have voted for Ayn Rand to represent my interests in Congress.

    FWIW, I’m not in favor of allowing people to yell “FIRE!” in crowded theaters either.

  29. AcartiaAcartia

    J-Mac:
    I wan’t talking about an official ban… Just try to teach something against the established Darwinian belief in any school and you will know what the anti-Darwinian ban really means… it’s the subtle one… you can criticize it officially untilyou face the consequences in the end….

    ID and Creationism and astrology and any number of nonsense beliefs can be taught in schools. Just not in the science class.

    If your alternative to evolution is scientifically based, supported by tons of evidence, and is testable, you will have little difficulty getting permission to teach it in the science class. But, since ID has none of this, your theory is relegated to the comparative religion class.

  30. GlenDavidson

    walto: I don’t believe in “natural rights,” so I think that laws about those things ought to be largely a function of best estimates of probable results.

    It’s not about measures of probable results about any given law, it really is about the role of speech/communication throughout society over a long period of time. America’s view of free speech is actually fairly exceptional and due to peculiar historical circumstances (first the states wanting to control speech and press exclusively, then to morph into individual protections with the incorporation doctrine), and yet it does seem that it provides both protection and possibilities for change within a stable democratic society with well-developed institutions that have been salutary (as in, it shouldn’t be the same in post-war Germany, nor has it been). It’s far too easy for entrenched powers to censor and control communication for their own purposes, so that it’s almost certainly best to make it very hard for them to do so by using the law as well as by using their other advantages.

    So, e.g., if I had good reason to believe that the public burning of copies of the Koran was very likely to result in the public or private burning of a bunch of innocent individuals, I’d have no problem with a law prohibiting it–

    I have some real difficulty with this scenario. How would public burning of copies of the Koran lead to public or private burning of innocent individuals? It would probably be more symptom than cause, anyhow, even though it could stoke mob violence in some scenarios. The only real-world examples available from the present are rather isolated cases of individuals burning the Koran, for rather uncertain reasons. In the US, some pastor did it a few years back, to little or no real consequence domestically (not sure how it played in Muslim countries, but I doubt it’s a major issue today in dealing with, say, Qatar).

    especially if credible studies show that such prohibition would do much less harm than allowing it but also greatly strengthening other laws to try to stop the person-burnings. It’s not really as simple as some here obviously assume.

    My God, I can’t even imagine what evidence would lead honest and good studies to such a conclusion. Clearly, in some powder-keg situations sensible people would realize that certain acts are just incitements to violence (and these situations are covered to some extent by US law, too) and free speech wouldn’t overrule all considerations of preventing violence and mayhem. But a few individuals making Youtube videos of Koran-burnings is quite a different matter, almost certainly more likely to smoke out authoritarians who are quite willing to use them as a pretext to censor people than to truly cause any sort of riots or people-burnings.

    In some lawless situations, to be sure, you just consider cause and consequence, so you disperse the mob gathering to burn copies of the Koran, or of, say, the Torah. In the US, it’s hard to see how there’s any excuse to legally prevent individuals or organizations from destroying texts or burning symbols. Protest, respond in kind, whatever, it’s just so much ink on paper, or cloth, or whatever, and it’s important to keep clear the fact that destroying a text is far different from destroying a person. I know, once they’re burning books they’ll soon be burning people, but that’s a cliche that applies properly at most to government-sanctioned book-burnings (the ratcheting up of violence in Nazi Germany, for instance), not to protests and individual acts.

    Glen Davidson

  31. waltowalto

    GlenDavidson: It’s not about measures of probable results about any given law, it really is about the role of speech/communication throughout society over a long period of time.

    That’s the point, really. There are many positive effects of free speech laws. It would be a terrible shame to lose those. But I can imagine circumstances in which worse evils would result from not limiting them. All legal structures have to be assessed based on their utility. There’s nothing else–no God-given principles–that we can use to judge them.

  32. waltowalto

    GlenDavidson: My God, I can’t even imagine what evidence would lead honest and good studies to such a conclusion.

    I don’t know what you’re saying here. I’m not suggesting that any studies actually show that. I’m saying that laws depend on facts. We are obliged to use whatever good scientific studies show–we shouldn’t rely on libertarian dogmas about “natural rights to free speech” any more than xtian dogmas about where life came from.

  33. PatrickPatrick

    George:

    This seems like the nub of it to me.I’d hope most people would agree that there’s no right to not be offended. But I’d also agree that freedom of speech should be curtailed when there’s incitement to violence. In some cases blasphemy may reach to that level, I’d say.

    I strongly disagree. Speech that is intended to incite people to violence is treated differently in the U.S. because the goal is violence. Blasphemy, which is nothing more than disagreeing about an idea, is not incitement to violence. If some people become violent because of how someone else expresses themselves about an idea, those becoming violent are the problem. If you are willing to use force to silence people because of how other people might react, you’re giving government support for the heckler’s veto.

    Where there is adequate legislation against hate speech, a blasphemy law would be unnecessary on those grounds.

    This is one of many problems with so called hate speech laws. “Hate speech” is free speech. No one should be arrested or killed for expressing an unpopular opinion.

  34. PatrickPatrick

    George:
    Would burning a Quran really be the most effective form of protest?

    It would show disagreement with the violation of freedom of expression by the Danish government. It would also likely start a conversation about militant Islamist reaction to non-violent expression.

    Freedom of speech means you have the right to offend people. Not being an asshole means you know when not to.

    I’d say the assholes in this case are those who threaten to kill others in response to non-violent expressive acts.

  35. AhmedKiaan

    “This seems like the nub of it to me.I’d hope most people would agree that there’s no right to not be offended. But I’d also agree that freedom of speech should be curtailed when there’s incitement to violence. In some cases blasphemy may reach to that level, I’d say.”

    That gives religious terrorists the ability to shut down speech they don’t like. Fuck aaaaaaalllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll that.

  36. PatrickPatrick

    AhmedKiaan:
    “This seems like the nub of it to me.I’d hope most people would agree that there’s no right to not be offended. But I’d also agree that freedom of speech should be curtailed when there’s incitement to violence. In some cases blasphemy may reach to that level, I’d say.”

    That gives religious terrorists the ability to shut down speech they don’t like. Fuck aaaaaaalllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll that.

    Well and succinctly put.

  37. George

    Patrick: I strongly disagree.Speech that is intended to incite people to violence is treated differently in the U.S. because the goal is violence.Blasphemy, which is nothing more than disagreeing about an idea, is not incitement to violence.

    Change the “, which” in the last sentence to “that” and I agree with you completely. But some speech that’s blasphemous can also attack the followers of that faith and in some cases can reach incitement to violence. For example someone criticising transubstantiation and then going on to attack Christians as cannibals. I guess what I’m saying is that it’s possible for attacks on religious followers to go under the cloak of blasphemy.

    This is one of many problems with so called hate speech laws.“Hate speech” is free speech.No one should be arrested or killed for expressing an unpopular opinion.

    Yes, as I said above, no one has a right not to be offended. What I meant by “hate speech” (too loose, sorry) there was incitement to violence.

  38. George

    Patrick: It would show disagreement with the violation of freedom of expression by the Danish government.It would also likely start a conversation about militant Islamist reaction to non-violent expression.

    There are plenty of other ways to show disagreement, like protesting with placards or writing to your representatives. In this case, I think burning Qurans would unnecessarily alienate Muslims (who might themselves disagree with the ruling), when you could reach the same obejctives with different methods. Also, I think the conversation about militant Islamist reaction to non-violent expression is already underway. Charlie Hebdo?

    I’d say the assholes in this case are those who threaten to kill others in response to non-violent expressive acts.

    I’m a pluralist. I think there can be assholes on either/any side of an argument.

  39. George

    AhmedKiaan:
    “This seems like the nub of it to me.I’d hope most people would agree that there’s no right to not be offended. But I’d also agree that freedom of speech should be curtailed when there’s incitement to violence. In some cases blasphemy may reach to that level, I’d say.”

    That gives religious terrorists the ability to shut down speech they don’t like. Fuck aaaaaaalllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll that.

    You misunderstand. I mean when the blasphemous speech itself is also incitement to violence, not threats of reprisal.

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