On Criticizing Religion: A Few Thoughts on Blasphemy


“Blasphemy is only our old friend Heresy in disguise, and that, we know, is a priestly manufacture.” 

“[I]f the law were really impartial, and punished blasphemy only because it offends the feelings of believers, it ought also to punish such preaching as offends the feelings of unbelievers. All the more earnest and enthusiastic forms of religion are extremely offensive to those who do not believe them. Why should not people who are not Christians be protected against the rough, coarse, ignorant ferocity with which they are often told that they and theirs are on their way to hell-fire for ever and ever?

“Why charge us with hypocrisy when we dare your hate?” –G.W. Foote (Prisoner for Blasphemy)



A couples things caught my attention while reading Foote’s account of his imprisonment for crimes of blasphemy. The first is evident in the first quote, where Foote makes the keen observation that blasphemy is only a type of heresy–i.e., a form of thinking differently than orthodox opinion, and that each of these are of priestly manufacture. 


Blasphemy is only a crime to religious people. 
Heresy is only a form of dissent within religion.


I wish more religious people would take time to realize this, especially when they talk about how atheists are so disrespectful of religion. Regardless of whether or not atheists are actually being discourteous toward the religious is besides the point. What needs to be brought to people’s attention is that the perceived impiety of the atheist isn’t an impiety at all. The atheist simply doesn’t believe, and in their faithless existence, find nothing to revere as sacred. With perhaps but for the exception for freedom (including the freedom of thought). 


Recently I was told that my words toward religion are hate filled. Actually, to be precise, I was accused of assaulting religious sensitivities with hate speech. I deny this accusation. 


In fact, the post in question didn’t contain any polemic in it. I have written polemics before, so I think I know the difference between a fair religious criticism and an undue attack. Even so, this person asked me why I must attack believers with such unabashed hate?


When I asked to which believers she was referring to, I did not receive reply. Apparently she was confounded in her inability to find even one example of but one person who I might have even made the slightest remark against. But since I was criticizing a religious ideology, not a person, she was at a loss. She just didn’t like the fact that I didn’t automatically accept a ridiculous religious concept or that I had the audacity to point this out. 


Atheists are not persecuting the religious with hate whenever we talk negatively about religion, rather, it is those who cannot take criticism, and who have deemed their own feelings and opinions as sacred cows, who habitually take offense at the slightest critique of their beliefs. Attacking the belief, in the distorted mind of the religious, is like attacking their person. Yet confusing ideas and identities is a character flaw of religion, which propagates the absurd fallacy that beliefs have feelings.


Only in the bizarre world of religion can attacking a belief be akin to slighting one’s feelings and causing them emotional distress. Identities incorporate beliefs, they are not the sum of their total beliefs. Like the comedian Louis C.K. says, he has beliefs, he just chooses not to live by any of them. Beliefs only play a small part in how we view the world and ourselves, but our beliefs do not define us. Beliefs are known to change. It doesn’t mean we necessarily do. Although we can change, and often do, but this shouldn’t impact our beliefs either, although it could.  


The point is, our beliefs and emotions, although often playing off one another, are not the same things. 


The second thing Foote brought to my attention is, if religion is going to expect nonbelievers to tip-toe around and continuously bite their tongues out of polite courtesy, should not the religious be obliged to follow their own advice? 


The religious would say no, because all religion, don’t you know, is wonderful! Again, this according only to the religious. The fact that the religious should so often ignore the opinions of others, other sects, other faiths, unbelievers, nonbelievers, etc. is bad enough. The fact that they expect everyone to accommodate them but not have to return the favor is just downright hypocritical. 


Yet if they ever did own up to their own standard of what constitutes proper speech etiquette (beyond their imagined authority to preside upon the matter), they would find themselves in a world of trouble. 


At once they would realize that their own pernicious doctrines would be downright impossible to whisper in public without sparking outrage. Most of what these religions teach is appalling. 


I dare say that even the story of Jesus Christ, the Christian savior, would have to be shut up and kept out of the public sphere–for it is about the worship of a criminal and a blasphemer. Even if the story contains a few good morals in it, and even if it were in any way true, the problem is that to preach the story of Jesus is to teach the adoration of a radical and a blasphemer. If one is trying to squelch the blasphemous attacks on their faith, the last thing they would want to do is make a rebellious blasphemer their example to venerate.


You can’t be against blasphemy and worship a blasphemer. It’s just not possible.


Many Christians don’t like their kids reading Harry Potter because of the witchcraft and magic the stories contain. I should say, secular families would say the same about the hocus-pocus of the miracles of Moses, the Apostles, and of Jesus himself. We don’t want our kids learning that nonsense either. Except we know that they are mere stories. Harry Potter is fine for our kids–because we teach them that it’s not real. But because Christians believe in that sort of stuff, for real, it becomes all the more insidious. 


Of course, if we were to call them misguided for entertaining such obviously false beliefs, we would be accused of hate speech. And to remind us of our lowly position, they would, with jeering smiles, wish us to burn in hell. But like Foote, I too wonder, why charge us with hypocrisy when we dare your hate? 


But fair is fair. If Christians don’t want to hear all harsh things said against their most cherished beliefs, then they’d be wise to simply keep their religion to themselves and out of the public sphere. If not, well then, they can expect more criticism from those who refuse to respectfully tolerate their absurdities and accommodate their emotional insecurities.

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