What’s the matter with blasphemy?

May 1st, 2009


Further to my post below, point 6.1.i of Article 40 of The Constitution of Ireland states:

“The publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious, or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law.”

However, the Supreme Court ruled in 1999 that this point could not be applied in a legal case because it was not possible to say what blasphemy actually is.

Instead of moving into the 21st century and removing the point about blasphemy from the constitution, Dermot Ahern wants to make it enforceable by defining blasphemy. His proposal for a new law in Ireland against the publication or utterance of blasphemous matter defines such matter as:

“grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion; and he or she intends, by the publication of the matter concerned, to cause such outrage”

Although I am not quite sure how one can “utter” matter, I’ll go with that for the moment.

There are two problems with this definition. Firstly, it does not go on to quantify the phrase “substantial number”, thus leaving it entirely subjective. Secondly, a successful prosecution would be contingent on proving that the defendant intended to cause outrage. So in his attempt to add clarity, Minister Ahern has added none at all.

But let’s suppose he made things clear by quantifying the “substantial number” and removing the clause about intent, there would still be problems.

Then suppose I started a religion which taught that the “God” of the Old Testament was actually the Devil and that he created the world as a prison, a religion which taught that Hell was in fact our own physical world, created by this Devil as a means of tormenting humans, a religion which taught that the resurrection of Jesus was not a physical resurrection of his dead body but more a spiritual awakening akin to Buddhist “enlightenment”.

Now suppose a “substantial number” of Roman Catholics felt outrage, I could be punished simply for expressing a belief that is at odds with what they believe.*

But hang on! What if a substantial number of my adherents felt outrage at the publication of Catholic beliefs? I could have all the Catholics punished!

Yes, everyone punishing everyone else over which mythology is the right one at a time when people are losing their jobs. That is the way to lead the country out of crisis.

I do not believe that simply causing outrage should be punishable. Such a policy tells us that things should be left alone, be nice, don’t rock the boat. But we all know that sometimes the boat needs to be capsized. Of course, people in power tend to lose their balance when boats are rocked, so they don’t like it.

“Outrage” is often just a politically correct synonym for “intolerance” and intolerance should not be rewarded by enshrining it in law.

Interesting article on this topic by Michael Nugent here.

* These beliefs were held by many in the Languedoc region of what is now called France. The Church of Rome was outraged at this blasphemy and dealt with it by torturing and murdering adherents to those beliefs until there were none left.

One Response to “What’s the matter with blasphemy?”

  1. wychwoodon 01 May 2009 at

    What is the motivation for this new law, do you know?

    Oh and – nice mask, Groucho tgnobby! :)

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