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Posts Tagged ‘blasphemy’

Bah, I completely missed that it’s Everybody Draw Mohammed Day until Crispian’s reminder. It’s too late to do anything new about it now. Time for a repost:

You can go back and read what I thought about this three years ago, if you’re desperate for an opinion. It hasn’t shifted much since then.

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The newest “atheist gender clusterfuffle” (a phrase I’m finding myself using with saddening regularity) has at least turned up one point of fun: Jen McCreight’s “Cunto” game.

If you were lucky enough to miss this one, it involved people using the word “cunt” to describe other people in an unfriendly manner, and other people being offended by this, and a slew of excuses being proffered as to why it’s not something anyone should get offended over. Jen’s Bingo-style game brings a bunch of those responses together onto one handy scorecard.

And I’m feeling obliged to attempt another opinion. Because, while part of me wants to defend any enjoyable use of creative profanity, many of the people doing the swearing are just terrible.

The thing about most of these discussions is that they don’t even really need to be about gender. They certainly don’t need to be about feminism facing off against the patriarchy. It’s not like there are really any different rules here than in any other form of human interaction. Context is key, and always err on the side of compassion.

A number of words in our language come with a great deal of historical baggage for a lot of people. That baggage varies from person to person, but when it’s shared by a significantly large number of folk, you have no excuse for not being aware of it ahead of time, considering how it might affect your audience, and choosing your words carefully as a result.

There are some instances in which I will use the word “cunt”. A discussion of the word and its impact on my own blog is one such instance. A public speech in which, for whatever reason, I don’t care if people take offensive to that particular word use, might be another. A casual conversation with any of my neighbours, whom I don’t know particularly well, is not.

My use of the n-word is even more limited. I’ve used it when discussing the word itself, or quoting somebody else who I’m deliberately portraying unsympathetically, to people who I know how they’ll react. But that’s about it. I know how it can affect some people, and I don’t want to do that to anyone.

(I really don’t think any of this is that difficult so far, is it?)

I use more minor curse words and blasphemy a lot, because it’s a natural way for me to talk, and few people seemed particularly bothered by it. If I was having a nice chat with someone new, and they asked me politely not to take the Lord’s name in vain, I’d be surprised, but I’d most likely comply. (I’d then either steer the conversation away from religion or directly into it, depending on how playful I was feeling.)

If their limitations on what they deemed acceptable language became too restrictive, I’d suggest they leave the conversation. If they were trying to stifle me more generally or publicly, I’d advise them to tune out and leave me and my non-offended listeners alone. But laying off the god-swears for a while is not a request that significantly puts me out.

And you know what, “Please don’t call me a cunt” is also not something to get flag-wavingly, First-Amendment-fappingly, free-speechily defensive over. Words mean things, and they don’t always mean the same things to everyone else as they do to you.

The times I’ve called a woman a cunt in the past, they’ve been good friends of mine and I’ve been damn certain they wouldn’t take it the wrong way. (The only person I can think of who I’ve publicly called a cunt and meant it harshly is Danny Dyer, and I’m pretty sure he won’t be hurt by it because he can’t read.) But if you do offend someone with it, and they protest, it’s sort of impossible to dig your heels in and defend your right to use that word with no apology unless you’re being either deliberately malicious or immensely oblivious to the culture you live in. If you’re paying any attention, you should appreciate what it can mean.

If a lot of people tell you that they’d prefer you didn’t so casually use a certain heavily loaded word which demeans some people, and your only response is to assert your freedom by stubbornly repeating it over and over, you know what you are? You’re Dr Laura.

I apologise for my use of that offensive term, but I believe it was justified by the context.

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But what of my religion? I am a lover of truth, a worshipper of freedom, a celebrant at the altar of language and purity and tolerance. That is my religion, and every day I am sorely, grossly, heinously and deeply offended, wounded, mortified and injured by a thousand different blasphemies against it. When the fundamental canons of truth, honesty, compassion, and decency are hourly assaulted by fatuous bishops, pompous, illiberal and ignorant priests, politicians and prelates, sanctimonious censors, self-appointed moralists and busy-bodies, what recourse to ancient laws have I? None whatever. Nor would I ask for any. For unlike these blistering imbeciles my belief in my religion is strong and I know that lies will always fail and indecency and intolerance will always perish.

The above words were uttered on Radio 4’s Loose Ends, somewhere around the late 1980s, by Donald Trefusis, Professor of Philology at the University of Cambridge and Extraordinary Fellow of St Matthew’s College. The character of Donald Trefusis was regularly written and performed by Stephen Fry, and I read the above section today amidst a transcript of an essay on blasphemy, in a collection of Fry’s writings called Paperweight.

I’m quoting it here because I don’t think I’ve seen it put better in the years since.

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Just quickly: Geert Wilders, blasphemer against Islam and probable dickhead, has been acquitted on charges of hate speech.

This is basically a good thing, for obvious reasons to do with the goodness of free speech that don’t need repeating here.

I am le tired, and Heresy Corner’s got this one covered.

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A new video went up on Monday. Embedded below, if you missed it. And you really should check out what Thunderf00t‘s been up to lately, if you’ve been running low on blasphemy.

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I still don’t know quite what I was thinking, but I’ve been and gone and done a video thing of myself talking to a camera and put it up on the YouTubes.

The quality’s pretty terrible, because there’s no point spending the kind of money it’d take to buy a camera that doesn’t suck, for a ridiculous venture that’ll probably go nowhere anyway. But I actually sort of had fun with this, once I pushed through the smothering self-consciousness I always feel when my face or my voice are doing anything.

So, yeah. If you think it’s something that should happen more, go give it a comment or a thumbs-up or whatever. I may yet persist with this. Time will tell.

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I somehow missed that it’s International Blasphemy Day today until pretty late in the evening. Just for the sake of keeping up appearances, I’ll repeat a few things from last time:

– 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.

Nothing is sacred. Night night.

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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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So there was this statue in Ohio called King of Kings.

It was a massive sculpture of Jesus, but only the top half of him, so it looked like he’d sunk into quicksand and was reaching up for someone to help pull him out.

And on Monday night it was struck by lightning and burned down.

All the fibreglass and styrofoam that made up the structure itself is gone; there’s just a scorched metal frame left there.

The church that put it there is apparently planning to rebuild it. To rebuild the artificially created image of their god, which was struck by a bolt of lightning and destroyed.

Now.

I’m not aware of what the faithful churchgoers are saying about this event in general. No doubt they’re upset to have lost such a famous and popular landmark. Probably they’re glad that nobody seems to have been hurt. Maybe some are disappointed by the financial toll this will take.

But I don’t think there’s a lot of serious consideration among believers that this might have been God’s will.

Among all these people who devote substantial portions of their lives to their church and their worship of God, and who fervently believe that he is real and present in the world, nobody seems to be taking this as a sign.

A manmade object, which could in many ways be seen as an idol, has been destroyed by a lightning bolt – perhaps the single most iconic, archetypical, quintessential “sign from the heavens” in the history of religion – and none of the followers of the god in question appear to be reading anything into this at all.

It’s just a random act of nature, presumably. A “real tragedy“. Just one of those things that happens, I guess, and we deal with it as best we can, replacing what’s lost or adjusting to the aftermath.

And, y’know. They’re right, obviously.

The only problem is that, if they’re going to take this approach, it also completely negates the presence of God in their lives.

Because everything that happens, “just happens”. And if a lightning bolt striking down your graven image isn’t a sign from heaven, then neither is anything else.

So, look.

Any time a sports team wins a game, you don’t get to claim that God was on that team’s side, even if someone on that team prayed for victory beforehand (given that they basically all do, on every team, in every game).

Any time someone being treated for a serious illness goes into remission, you don’t get to put it down to God’s intervention. Over 11 million people in the US alone have a history of cancer. And that’s just the ones who haven’t died yet. Million-to-one spontaneous “miracles” happen pretty regularly when the numbers are that big.

Any time a pilot with decades of experience brilliantly executes a safe landing in horrifying and dangerous conditions, you don’t get to give some holy overseer the credit for that guy’s awesomeness, skill, and coolness in the face of possible fiery death.

Any time it’s a nice day during the fucking summer, you don’t get to pretend it must be magic. There’s nearly seven billion people on the planet; some of them are going to appreciate the weather some of the time, it doesn’t mean you’re a precious snowflake and all this was made especially for you.

You don’t get to do any of those things any more.

Unless

…you also admit that God wanted Touchdown Jesus destroyed, and the people rebuilding it are arrogantly defying his divine will.

(And that every child who ever died of leukemia was God’s idea too.)

Or… you can draw some coherent distinction between the two cases, and explain why the instances that benefit you and support your pre-conceived biases are genuine examples of divine intervention, and the ones that it’s more convenient for you to ignore are just examples of shit happening.

Or… you’re okay with admitting that there is no consistency to your own entirely self-serving belief system, and that you wilfully ignore any evidence that doesn’t fit into the precise set of ideas you’re already comfortable with, regardless of how much reality has to be disregarded to maintain this frail and pitiful illusion.

Up to you.

I also wrote something sillier, funnier, and (most importantly) shorter about this story on my other blog, The Daily Half-Truth.

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From today, 1 January 2010, the new Irish blasphemy law becomes operational, and we begin our campaign to have it repealed. Blasphemy is now a crime punishable by a €25,000 fine. The new law defines blasphemy as publishing or uttering matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby intentionally causing outrage among a substantial number of adherents of that religion, with some defences permitted.

We’re well into the 20th century, people. It’s 20-frickin’-10, even. It’s the future, moreso now than it’s ever been. And the modern developed world is still bringing in new laws to criminally punish people for blaspheming. That’s where you say something rude about somebody’s religion and they get upset about it. They’re making that against the law.

Ugh.

So, a group called Atheist Ireland have published 25 “blasphemous” quotes, from assorted characters of varying historical notability, and with a varying degree of seriousness. Jesus is in there himself, and Muhammad. Dawkins, from The God Delusion:

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

Hitchens, from God is not Great:

Islam when examined is not much more than a rather obvious and ill-arranged set of plagiarisms, helping itself from earlier books and traditions as occasion appeared to require…

And Matthias, son of Deuteronomy of Gath, as quoted in Monty Python’s Life of Brian:

That piece of halibut was good enough for Jehovah!

A nice selection there. And a couple of nice mentions for Tom Lehrer and Tim Minchin, too. I don’t have much to add, except my unequivocal support for this campaign, and in particular the sentiments in this paragraph explaining why they’re doing it:

Despite these quotes being abusive and insulting in relation to matters held sacred by various religions, we unreservedly support the right of these people to have published or uttered them, and we unreservedly support the right of any Irish citizen to make comparable statements about matters held sacred by any religion without fear of being criminalised, and without having to prove to a court that a reasonable person would find any particular value in the statement.

Amen.

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