Blasphemy and Ridicule, Yet Again
As God once said, and then repented of saying it (Genesis 6.6), “I don’t do sequels.”
Follow-ups about such trivial strategies as the Center for Inquiry Blasphemy Day are a waste of everyone’s time.
But there has been a bit of action on this front, something just short of a news splash–which seems to be the only reason the press-and-media-starved organization concocted this idiotic venture in the first place.
On its own website, former Center for Inquiry chairman Paul Kurtz sensibly distanced himself from the Animal House antics, writing that Blasphemy Day is the active promotion of insult and ridicule, not a defense of free speech but a deliberate attempt to promote indignation through ridicule.
It is one thing to examine the claims of religion in a responsible way… it is quite another to violate the key humanistic principle of tolerance. One may disagree with contending religious beliefs, but to denigrate them by rude caricatures borders on hate speech. What would humanists and skeptics say if religious believers insulted them in the same way? We would protest the lack of respect for alternative views in a democratic society. I apologize to my fellow citizens who have suffered these barbs of indignity.”
Smart words from the former leader and philosopher. They call attention to the fact that the promotion of tolerance includes the right to criticize, but not the need to be deliberately offensive.
It’s also troubling that CFI isn’t connecting the dots between vicious caricatures of Jews, Irish and Polish Catholics, African Americans and the social, educational and economic deprivation these groups suffered as a result of ridicule.
Is this category of insult “different” because it is said to be directed (or so we are urged) at belief rather than at the people who hold the beliefs? Or is dumbness of this magnitude excused because it is sponsored by an organization that touts “reason” and “science” as a basis for its irrational acts and incoherent approach to the values it sees as part of its mission.
In a wayward and hormonal reply to Kurtz, lawyer-turned CFI-CEO Ron Lindsay argued that “Blasphemy cannot be equated with ridicule of religion.”
Of course it can. Blasphemy is just the name given to ridicule, insult, or disparagement when it’s forbidden by religious canons or other laws protecting particular doctrines and practices. The only difference is that what the CFI crowd are doing isn’t blasphemy because there are no laws against their doing it. That’s what makes it ridicule. Moreover (obviously) why then do it?
To try to turn this circus into a temple of reason or a crusade for free speech rather than an exhibition of contempt simply cheapens an organization fast becoming known for taking the low road. Far better if the unfunny architects of Blasphemy Day would simply confess that they decided to sponsor this instead of a “Biggest Atheist Penis Day.”
The Catholic League noted that the “blasphemy contests” were being directed toward Christians rather than Muslims. Why? “Because even the atheists know that Christians can be counted on to react to their antics like good Christians.” More likely, they will ignore it, the same way you cross the street to avoid eye contact with odd-looking people. People like P Z Myers, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota at Morris, known for intentionally desecrating a consecrated communion host. (Ah! Achilles, What Bravery is Here!) He says the day was established to “mock and insult religion without fear of murder, violence, and reprisal.” and is quoted as saying he wants every day to be Blasphemy Day.
But the sharpest commentary comes from a particularly folksy, commonsense article in the Indianapolis Star by Robert King: It may be true, he writes, that this “test of wits” designed to see who can come up with the most offensive (sorry, “blasphemous”) image, poem, or tie-dyed T-shirt is protected speech. “But this blasphemy contest strikes me as beneath a crowd of folks who pride themselves on relying on reason and science to find their way through the world. They even offer silly suggested blasphemies, such as ‘God is the Santa Claus You Never Stopped Believing in’. The whole thing strikes me as a bit juvenile — like something a group of teenage boys would come up with around the lunchroom table.”
Oh, come on. Teenage boys have better things to do. Like throwing food.