Did you know that last Wednesday fortnight was the first ‘Blasphemy Day’? But then growing up in Australia I have heard blasphemy go unchecked since childhood. Just attend a sporting event in Australia!
I recently read an article by Ronald Lindsay, “Taking aim at God on ‘Blasphemy Day”. I found it liberating (I want people to talk freely about God) and troubling (I want to live in loving relationship with my neighbour).
Outraged by nations that want to execute blasphemers and propelled by a deep belief in the freedom of expression, Lindsay is forging ahead with his “nothing is sacred” movement. Wednesday marked the first organised observance of Blasphemy Day, a series of events, exhibits and lectures unfolding in a host of mostly North American cities that are part of a larger Campaign for Free Expression.
But to Lindsay, a society is not truly free unless people can freely air their views on any subject – including God. I have areas of agreement with Lindsay but also some questions:
- I wonder if offensive remarks were made about issues and persons that Lindsay values highly; would that be acceptable to him?
- Is it too easy to seek the freedom to say offensive things about aspects of life that we do not hold in esteem?
- At what point is community harmony broken by ‘free speech’?
- What does love of neighbour call me to say to those at variance with my beliefs and values?
- How do we treat people?
- How is love of neighbour shown, lived?
- Does ‘in your face’ offense of deeply held loves such as family, friends and ‘God’ enhance our shared life?
- Does the prohibition of deeply held religious belief lead to social harmony?
Race and Religion: Note that race and religion are different and therefore should be spoken of differently. A person’s race cannot be decided upon or denied wheras religious or ideological belief is said to be chosen and is therefore open to questioning and challenge.
Clearly I urge people not to blaspheme. But along with Voltaire I would prefer to endure disrespect to my beliefs, including irreverence towards the God of my religious beliefs, than curtail the right of a person to express those beliefs. The fact that blasphemy is a crime under our Tasmanian legislation is potentially dangerous to free and honest conversation about deeply held religious beliefs.
A cultural aspect of this issue is the use of what is technically blasphemy, but which is a vernacular use of the divine names in Anglo-Saxon Australian culture. While I and many other Christians find the (mis)use of the divine names ‘Jesus Christ’ and ‘God’ to express surprise or disapproval, to be hurtful and offensive, I also recognise that this (mis)use is not meant to give offense to either Christians or to God.
In conclusion, I believe the crime of blasphemy should be removed from the criminal code and we should work towards social harmony through our own offices. A high priority must be given to the education of Tasmanians in different religious beliefs and practices.
My full article on Blasphemy is here.