The following is a commentary in an ongoing series of “Reflections” by John Mill. John Mill is the radio persona of Ronald Bruce Meyer and can be heard on “American Heathen.” “The American Heathen” Internet radio broadcast is aired, live, on Friday nights from 7:00pm-10:00pm Central time on ShockNetRadio.com
Blasphemy – It Isn’t There
A Reflection by Ronald Bruce Meyer
Is blasphemy a victimless crime?
I’m going to take you back to the late 17th century. Thomas was a student at Edinburgh University, all of 20 years old when he was arrested. His crime, according to the Lord Advocate of the Crown, was irreverence toward the sacred state religion of England and its many sacred elements.
According to Leviticus 24:16, "anyone who blasphemes the name of the LORD must be put to death. The entire assembly must stone him." But instead of stoning, and in spite of an attempt by Thomas to recant to save his own young life, the Lord Advocate, impelled by the clergy, "called for blood": he was hanged – not by the God he insulted, but by human beings with the legal power to do such things – on 8 January 1697.
Thomas Aikenhead, age 21, was the last person to be executed for blasphemy in the Western world.
The accounts of his trial say that he had no counsel and the only witnesses were those appearing against him. There is no indication that the injured party – God – appeared to claim injury. The clergy wanted him dead. The law allowed the punishment. God was silent.
So Thomas Aikenhead, a student barely old enough to sign a legal contract, was executed for offending human beings, not any skygod.
Well, to be even-handed, Asia Bibi, a Christian woman living in Muslim cleric-dominated Pakistan, was accused this year by Muslim colleagues of having blasphemed the Prophet Muhammad – and of denouncing the local imam. The imam complained to the police and Bibi was arrested under a Pakistani religious law which specifies the death penalty for blasphemy.
Once again, there is no indication that God appeared at Bibi’s trial to claim injury. (Apparently, insulting Allah carries no penalty.) The imam wanted her dead. The law allowed the punishment. God was silent.
Oh, the pope spoke in her defense: Benedict XVI prayed that Bibi’s “human dignity and fundamental rights may be fully respected.” Which is ironic coming from a pope who tolerated the mass buggering of little boys in his church schools and subscribes to strong sanctions against slighting his own skygod.
In the United States, blasphemy laws were outlawed under a 1952 Supreme Court decision (Joseph Burstyn, Inc. v. Wilson). The United Kingdom abolished its blasphemy laws in England and Wales in 2008. But anti-blasphemy laws have since morphed into “hate speech,” which offends identifiable groups, including religious groups. God is silent.
Just this November, a resolution combating the "vilification of religions" was adopted by the Organization of the Islamic Conference, a United Nations committee, by a majority vote of 76 mostly Muslim countries. A US official rightly objected, saying "the resolution still seeks to curtail and penalize speech."
Speech. That’s it, exactly. So when Salman Rushdie is condemned in 1989 for writing The Satanic Verses, or Jyllands-Posten for publishing its Muhammad cartoons in 2005, and we won’t stand for it, are we just Eurocentric Westerners bashing a culture we don’t understand – or are we standing up for a universal human right?
Showing the weak points in the Christian religion is likely to get you into a debate. Showing the weak points in the religion of Muhammad is likely to get you killed: bear in mind that the last offender against the Christian skygod was executed over 300 years ago!
That’s blasphemy? The complaint emanates from parties whose purpose in life is to take offense, feel insulted and act affronted. George Bernard Shaw once said, "All great truths begin as blasphemies."
No, not the arrogance of insulting infinitude, defiling the deity or slandering the sacred: the arrogance of pretending to know the mind of god! Blasphemy – or injuring the reputation, as the Greek root defines it – does not injury to God. The offended party is a human being who is second-guessing an unknowable being. It’s the imams and priests who call for blood, not God. God is silent.
But is God silent because he doesn’t care – or because he isn’t there?