Posts Tagged ‘blasphemy day’

I’m still going back over a few recent news stories, highlighting and commenting on stuff that happened while I was feeling too lazy to blog about it at the time.

The latest example is a couple of things the Friendly Atheist brought to my attention. Firstly, a report on Blasphemy Day, which I’m hoping to be able to join in with again the next time September 30th comes around. We had fun last time.

Here’s Hemant’s summary of why it’s important and what it’s about:

It’s not about mocking religion or calling a believer names.

It’s about the freedom of speech and the idea that religion (along with other strongly-held beliefs) should be open to criticism.

No one should be able to silence you because they don’t like what you say.

For our part, let’s make sure we’re not just calling people names and mocking things for mockery’s sake. It does fall to us to explain what we’re doing, and what we’re trying to achieve, when we say and do things that offend other people’s sensibilities. Obviously, something with a name like “International Blasphemy Day” has to be all about crossing lines, but the lines we should aim to cross are ones that will challenge and discomfit people. There are other lines, further off, which will just make people roll their eyes at us and think we’re being obnoxious – and I think there comes a point where insistently defending our right to cross those lines as well becomes unhelpful.

However. We also do not cower and grovel in response to being shut down. Last time, university societies exercised their rights to religious freedom by such actions as quoting Richard Dawkins and drawing Mohammed stick figures. The religious response included hostility, verbal abuse, violence, and destruction of property. If we don’t do anything the godly don’t like for fear of upsetting anyone, that’s called a theocracy, in practice if not on any official documentation.

There are people who will always be offended unless we’re sitting quietly and subserviently and not expressing ourselves. Sometimes these people deserve to be told “Fuck you if you think you can shut me up”.

People who threaten atheists with death or their property with vandalism for daring to express their beliefs? Definitely fall into this camp.

On the other hand, here’s a fine example of how not to do it. Sure, it’s this guy’s right to burn any copy of any book that he owns, including the Koran. But he’s clearly not just standing up against basic oppression for the right to express beliefs that the majority might not agree with. He’s using this as a gimmick to preach about the “dangers of Islam”, and telling people that the Koran is a sure path to Hell. And he says he got the idea from Everybody Draw Muhammad Day.

To many believers, who may not read the kind of blogs likely to give them the full story, and whose first reaction to a blatant and provocative criticism of their beliefs is not likely to be positive, this guy with his anti-Islamic aggression might seem to be doing much the same thing as us. (“Us” being anyone else participating in International Blasphemy Day with similar intentions to my own.)

We really can’t ignore this. It won’t work to simply blame those believers for being over-sensitive, without explaining our point, and laying out clearly why they should have nothing to fear from us. If their belief system really is too puny and weak to handle any kind of dissenting view even being expressed within earshot, then fine, screw ’em and blaspheme away. But if we’re going to claim to be doing something compassionate and meaningful, for a better reason than gratuitous offense, we need to actively distance ourselves from people like this who are just trying to give Muslims a hard time.

So, yeah. Neither a dick nor a pussy be, I guess.


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It’s my badminton night, so you’re not going to get much. But it’s International Blasphemy Day, and I can’t let that go unnoted.

So, for what it’s worth:

– I deny the divinity of the holy spirit.

– Here’s a picture I made of the prophet Muhammed doing a dance: O-Z—<

– I believe in and worship your preferred god/gods, and fully subscribe to your belief system of choice. And now I don't, they're all fake. Universal apostasy FTW.

– That piece of halibut was good enough for Jehovah.

– The flying spaghetti monster is rhetorically useful, but entirely fictitious. And pirates aren't that interesting.

Why I think the occasional outburst of irreverence is important is something I think I covered pretty well in this article, way back when. It’s interesting seeing people’s different responses to today, though. I’m going the fairly straightforward route, partly because I’m too tired to be creative, but not all atheists are getting on board in the same way.

For instance, there’s this dissenting view, which sees the whole thing as childish intolerance. I disagree. What some religious people deem unacceptable – even what they deem punishable by death – doesn’t even come close to being hate speech. You really don’t have to try very hard to offend millions of people, and if you’re just speaking freely without “respecting” their made-up nonsense the way they want you to, it’s not up to you to tread oh so carefully to avoid bruising any delicate egos.

Yes, being irreverent and satirical can often overflow into being an obnoxious ass for no good reason. But going not an inch further than “calling attention to Biblical, Koranic or scientific criticisms” in a rigorously scientific way, as this article suggests, is too much to ask. Some times it’s entirely appropriate to say, “You and your holy book want me dead if I don’t fall in step? Well fuck you, and fuck your god.” We’re not being the first to trample the line of civility.

And remember, in most parts of the Western world, Christianity is far from a denigrated minority struggling against oppression and constant prejudice. Neither the UK or the US has yet had a non-Christian elected leader. Atheists are still the minority, and we’re standing up for ourselves.

That said, there are some pockets of society in which atheism is such a comfortably established standard that we may have to be wary of getting too sure of ourselves, and something like Blasphemy Day can easily become an exercise in aggressive chest-beating. Brian Thompson in particular has chosen to “blaspheme” more against some kinds of standard atheistic thinking than anything else. I hope we don’t reach the stage where saying something like “There are some lovely turns of phrase in the King James version of the Bible” actually becomes a controversial thing to say.

So, yes, we do need to be able to take some mockery on our own side. Although atheists are often said to have no dogma, no guiding principles, beyond a simple lack of god-belief, it can be tempting for skeptics and rational thinkers to form some sort of united front, assuming they fully understand their position on everything, and slip somewhat into autopilot as regards dismissing other points of view. But although atheism is a fast-growing minority, it is still a minority. There are still a lot of places out there where coming “out” as an atheist is hard, and can be a serious and troubling life experience – far more than where being openly Christian would cause similar problems. There are a lot of people out there who need things like the Atheist Bus Campaign, and the Freedom From Religion Foundation‘s posters, and people speaking the unspeakable on International Blasphemy Day, to let them know that it really is okay. Humility and self-deprecation is important, but don’t lay it on too thick too fast.

Really tired. Yay blasphemy. Bed now. Hope this is coherent.

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