Another Year of Blasphemy

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87 Responses

  1. Fasolt says:

    No anti-blasphemy laws for me, thanks. That is the kind of thing that leads to people getting to say something like this and then getting to inflict that viewpoint on other people.

    "To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women. That is best."-Conan the Barbarian, channeling Genghis Kahn.

    I saw the documentary on Pussy Riot. A prison sentence for playing music and dancing around in a church. Those Russian Orthodox patriarchs and their congregations need a sense of humor and a fresh perspective on what's important.

  2. pillsy says:

    From one of the linked articles, about the UN special raporteur:

    Legislation outlawing apostasy – the act of changing religious affiliation – and insults against religious figures could be used to violate the rights of minorities, Heiner Bielefeld said in a report to the U.N. Human Rights Council.

    Emphasis mine. I'd say it's not only the case that laws against blasphemy or apostasy could be used to violate the rights of minorities, it's almost hard to imagine they would be used in any other way.

    I don't see any reason why there's something special about bagging on people's religious beliefs that means we should be making exceptions to the rule that the antidote for speech is more speech.

  3. David says:

    At least nobody carried anything to extremes.

  4. BobHale says:

    As an atheist, almost anything I could possibly say on the subjecty of religion would be breaking someone's anti-blasphemy law.

    I'd say that far from creating anti-blasphemy laws a good case could be made to create anti "anti-blasphemy law" laws and for the UN to ban the creation of laws that can be used to persecute minorities on religious grounds in any member states.

    I realise that in practice this would be impractical (probably even impossible) but I think a good philosophical argument could be made for it.

  5. Harrow says:

    When I see a group calling for draconian measures against those who would question their belief, I understand that the members of that group know deep in their hearts that their faith is weak and their belief is silly.

  6. Another anonymous NAL says:

    After reading this and the previous "Year in Blasphemy" post, one thing that struck me was the number of incidents involving children or the mentally handicapped. How the minorities with the least amount of ability to organize against any religion end up on the chopping block–or the bonfire–is beyond me. Too, the frequency with which rampaging mobs get involved in blasphemy rulings tells me that things like "due process" aren't really a priority with these folks.

  7. Bryan says:

    I've often wondered if people want anti-blasphemy laws to allow them to feel a bit better about being duped into believing in a god or gods.

    Sadly it's going to take lots of education and time to get rid of the need for religions.

  8. Erwin says:

    On one hand, I don't favor anti-blasphemy laws in the US. And, elsewhere, they seem to be abused for political purposes. So, they have definite gigantic downsides.

    On the other hand, in places with significant numbers of devout people who accept the use of deadly violence to enforce religious norms… I think I'd prefer being arrested to being torn apart by a rampaging mob. At least I'd get a trial. Those laws may actually be a 'good' thing, in that they transfer authority for investigation to an actual legal system.

    Perhaps child rape would be the closest analogy in the US. If you removed the laws against such behavior, the citizenry would most likely form lynch mobs.

    …that said…I have a problem with any belief system that kills people for negative behaviors without any negative externalities. Like, um, the war on drugs…which is arguably, in direct harms at least, much worse.

    …I'm not certain that anti-blasphemy laws are much different that any other law in terms of targeting the young and the mentally ill. I'm not sure that that criticism is fairly directed at anti-blasphemy laws instead of criminal laws in general. Although, I may be prejudiced by California substituting jails and the local streets for asylums.

    –Erwin

  9. barry says:

    I can see some reason for including hate-speech laws in with blasphemy laws in this article, but from another angle, it's different stuff.

    Blasphemy implies a state religion which the law of that state is protecting. ie, don't offend the majority religion. But hate-speech laws are aimed more at protecting minority religions.

    Blasphemy itself is against the particular god, while hate-speech is against the followers. eg, in the Belgium example the tearing up of the Koran was probably to offend the onlooking Muslims more than to offend Allah. And in the Australian example, the University had ordered the pulping of the offending newspaper under threat of withdrawing its funding, not really by any blasphemy law.

    There are also similarities between blasphemy and flag-burning, but I don't think they should be merged together either.

  10. Anony Mouse says:

    How do you charge the God Of Filth, Decay, Disease And Corruption with blasphemy? I mean, isn't that part of his job description? Discrimination, says I.

  11. scav says:

    @Erwin: but apparently these laws do nothing to prevent rampaging mobs. If anything, they legitimise them.

  12. Lizard says:

    This is the only response worth making to those who would advocate in favor of blasphemy laws:
    http://www.theonion.com/articles/no-one-murdered-because-of-this-image,29553/ {Ed: NSFW}

    IAE, I see little distinction between "hate speech" and "blasphemy" laws. Both fall into the same category of attempting to outlaw hurting someone's feelings, and both accomplish it by hurting someone's body. As this site has shown via extensive debate, those who choose to defy social convention face extreme non-violent, non-governmental punishment via the choices of those in their surrounding society to disassociate themselves from them.

    It is also impossible to support any kind of religious diversity or tolerance where blasphemy or hate speech laws regarding religion exist — if such laws were actually enforced uniformly. By definition, if I state "My religion is right", I am stating "Your religion is wrong." How can that not be construed as an insult? I'm saying that the thing you use to define how the universe works, and how you define morality and ethics, is a fetid load of dingo's kidneys. Oh, I might not use those exact words, but that's like saying there's a difference between "We're afraid we're going to have to let you go." and "Security is cleaning out your desk." Either way, you're just as fired. Any assertion of faith (or atheism) is an assertion that everyone else is wrong, and error comes from ignorance ("You don't know the truth!", deception ("Your parents and preachers LIED to you!"), or stupidity ("You're too dumb to know how wrong you are!"). (Those places which claim to have both religious diversity and hate speech laws do so by selective, arbitrary, and politically biased enforcement.)

  13. Randall says:

    Of course, blasphemy and apostasy laws only work in one direction. No one is ever going to be prosecuted for converting to the dominant religion in a particular society, nor is anyone ever going to be torn apart by a mob for blaspheming against Wicca.

  14. pillsy says:

    barry:

    I can see some reason for including hate-speech laws in with blasphemy laws in this article, but from another angle, it's different stuff.

    The original intent of such laws may be the same, but there doesn't seem to be that much difference in terms of the end result. Ken even includes an example of someone being convicted of hate speech in Belgium for, basically, blasphemy. There's also a link activists in the UK saying that the UK should have laws against blasphemy for the same reason the UK has laws against hate speech.

    I'm not even entirely sure, given what went on in Belgium, that there really is a clear difference in many cases. This slipperiness is another reason I oppose laws against hate speech, though basic free speech is more than enough reason for me to reject them.

  15. J@m3z Aitch says:

    Supporters of blasphemy laws make the crucial error of not seeing how it could be applied to themselves. For example, Muslims deny the divinity of Jesus, which the Christian tradition considers a basphemy. As with most rules, the appropriate way to look at this is from the sports model–are you willing to have the referee apply this rule equally to both you and your opponents?

  16. jb says:

    What strikes me most about the list in the post is this: The majority of the incidents were hard-to-prove, hearsay accusations made with a high likelihood of ulterior motives and mob anger. Many of the victims weren't even proven blasphemers, just people who were accused of it by people with something to gain. Even someone who thinks that blasphemy should be punished should recoil at the thought of punishing an innocent party.

    Sadly, "innocent until proven guilty" is beyond the comprehension of far too many people.

  17. Ken White says:

    I can see some reason for including hate-speech laws in with blasphemy laws in this article, but from another angle, it's different stuff.

    I could have put a part in about definitions and methodology, but the post was all teal deered to hell already.

    Suffice it to say that I only included "hate speech" incidents when they seemed functionally indistinguishable from blasphemy — like the Belgian incident.

  18. Erwin says:

    @scav I'm not sure. Even in countries like the UK without AFAIK anti-blasphemy laws, it isn't necessarily easy to keep prominent blasphemers alive.

    The most negative aspect of the laws seems to be their abuse towards chilling legitimate anti government speech.

    The most positive aspect, well, a friend from China once told me that, if you're caught stealing in the market, you should pray that the police arrest you before the mob finishes beating you to death. I got the general impression that he'd participated. Nations are, sadly, made of individuals, and, past a certain threshold absolutely hating and being willing to butcher people exercising a certain freedom (75%?), it is, in my opinion, fairly hopeless to try to safeguard that freedom.

    So, I'd guess that anti-blasphemy laws are markers of intolerance more than instigators.

    –Erwin

  19. Ken White Fan says:

    What is a teal deer, and/or how do you teal-deer or un-teal-deer a text? Sorry for my ignorance.

  20. Ken White says:

    I hope your Google gets better soon. :(

  21. En Passant says:

    Lizard wrote Oct 14, 2013 @5:01 am:

    IAE, I see little distinction between "hate speech" and "blasphemy" laws. …

    It is also impossible to support any kind of religious diversity or tolerance where blasphemy or hate speech laws regarding religion exist — if such laws were actually enforced uniformly. …

    Everyone is an atheist with respect to somebody's religion. Everyone is a blasphemer with respect to somebody's religion. Everyone is an apostate with respect to somebody's religion. Everyone's speech is "hate speech" to somebody.

    These things are great mysteries to devout followers of the Everlasting Church of Divine Indulgence for the Perpetually Offended.

  22. Dion starfire says:

    I know almost nothing about Islam, but the snippets I have heard leave the impression that violence, murder, and torture (without provocation) are much greater crimes against Allah than mere blasphemy.

    Which, to me, means religion is just the excuse for people giving in to their baser instincts not an instigator of violence.

    I think the supporters of anti-blasphemy laws (in modern, free societies) mistake this intolerance as coming from a rational, considered world-view, when it's really just the same sh*t Europe and America went through a couple centuries ago (when the different sects of christianity were slaughtering and disenfranchising each other).

    Religion unites people (from varying tribes), then it divides them (for varying interpretations of the "holy" texts). Finally, they rediscover the values that brought them together in the first place and learn to ignore the labels and petty differences that tore them apart.

    *removes his "entitled American" hat and goes back to serving his feline master*

  23. Lizard says:

    Which, to me, means religion is just the excuse for people giving in to their baser instincts not an instigator of violence.

    In other news, fire burns. :)

    That's why I do not join many of my fellow atheists in believing that if somehow we got rid of religion, we'd get rid of the countless evils religion is often used to excuse. We'd get rid of one excuse, but there's a trillion others just as good. We won't stop being *human*, and being human is the problem.

    I think the world would be better without religion, but in the same sense that cleaning out nine catboxes is better than cleaning out ten catboxes. Even if it were possible, it wouldn't change things as dramatically as some might hope. Just ask the otters.

  24. Sean C says:

    The volume of citations lends weight to your post, so +1 for the teal deer.

    for want of a more derisive term — some mainstream academics

    I use 'Academia nut' but it seems too light hearted for the depth of moral repugnance this deserves.

  25. adam says:

    A number of years ago, while sitting in a Swedish bar enjoying the EUFA Championships, I got into a discussion with an African man about the United States. He claimed that much of the problems we were facing were because people didn't have the fear of god in them. My response: "Because this is working out so well for the Middle East?"

    And on that note, I'm noticing how many of these (but certainly not all) are occurring in Middle Eastern countries (or Islamic) and reflect that a rather (and relative) vocal few here in the US think the solution to our woes is MORE integrated religion – specifically, Christianity.

  26. NI says:

    The real agenda behind blasphemy laws is to criminalize any criticism of religion, no matter how justified.

  27. En Passant says:

    Lizard wrote Oct 14, 2013 @8:41 am:

    That's why I do not join many of my fellow atheists in believing that if somehow we got rid of religion, we'd get rid of the countless evils religion is often used to excuse. We'd get rid of one excuse, but there's a trillion others just as good. We won't stop being *human*, and being human is the problem. .

    Which is why I support the Internet Communications Act Negating Teh Stoopid Truculent Opinions Puportedly Denying Other Gods [I CANT STOP DOG Act], which will forbid internet access for everyone except dogs. Email your congressman today!

  28. NI says:

    And by the way, there's a wonderful story in the Bible about a man named Gideon. Gideon knocked down some altars belong to the god Baal, and Baal's followers came looking for him to kill him. Gideon's father told them, in essence, that if Baal needed their help in defending his honor, then he wasn't much of a god.

  29. Anon says:

    This post makes me curious as to whether this Dr. Qasim Rashid is a US citizen or plans to become one. If he's naturalized, he swore to uphold the US Constitution including the 1st amendment. Naturalized citizenship can be revoked for certain grounds:
    http://immigration.findlaw.com/citizenship/can-your-u-s-citizenship-be-revoked-.html
    Lying while taking the oath of citizenship should be one of them.
    IANAL

  30. Lizard says:

    @Anon: While I assume you're being tongue-in-cheek, it does bear mentioning that calling for limitations on speech — or wholesale changes to the Constitution — is, itself, protected speech.

  31. Sharon says:

    Good gods, my irony meter just exploded at the suggestion that someone's citizenship be revoked for speaking their opinion on a freedom of speech issue.

    Personally, I view the entire Middle East as the best argument ever against any combination of church+state.

  32. Chris F says:

    Harrow

    When I see a group calling for draconian measures against those who would question their belief, I understand that the members of that group know deep in their hearts that their faith is weak and their belief is silly.

    What do you think about the Holocaust then? Sometimes people are just so against saying certain truths are untrue that they think it shouldn't be allowed.

  33. Lizard says:

    @Chris: Who here has supported laws against Holocaust revisionism? Or is this some kind of "free speech litmus test"? "Ah-ha, you CLAIM to be for free speech, but I'll bet you won't allow THIS! Bwahaah!"

  34. Chris F says:

    Lizard, I took Harrow's words to mean, "If someone wants to outlaw saying something is untrue they must really believe that what they are defending is untrue." I'm simply pointing out an example where saying something that's accepted by those passing the laws as proven historical fact (rather than belief) is being outlawed.

    There are a lot of people that hold to beliefs so strongly (in this case that the Holocaust happened and needs to be remembered so it doesn't happened again, in the cases in the post that {religious belief x} is sacred) that speaking against them is wrong. There are certainly people who do go down that road due to a desire to not be weak when they really question the belief but we have no way of knowing what reason is more common.

    I honestly don't think Harrow or by far the majority of people that read this support laws against saying that the Holocaust didn't happen and if what I wrote communicated that I need to be more clear.

  35. Since you mentioned Pussy Riot, I gather you are not focusing ONLY on Islam here, so I thought I'd mention you missed this:

    http://www.npr.org/2013/01/04/168546876/old-greek-blasphemy-laws-stir-up-modern-drama

  36. Lizard says:

    @Chris: I sort of think I follow you. I think, at the root, most of those who advocate censorship do so because they sincerely believe they are preventing harm. This could be the harm done to social order by permitting dissent, it could be the harm done to an individual's soul if they're deceived into a false faith, it could be the harm done by preventable illness due to anti-vaccination propaganda, it could be the harm done to minorities by perpetuation of negative stereotypes, whatever. Ultimately, motivation is irrelevant. Mandating censorship because of the possible harm done by ideas is wrong, no matter how sincere or insincere the claim. (This is a horse that's pretty much beyond dead on PH, so I won't bother going into more detail.)

  37. Ken White says:

    @Jens: didn't miss it — it's covered in last year's post.

  38. C. S. P. Schofield says:

    Nobody I have ever spoken to who advocates punishing unpopular speech has ever been able to explain to me what the First Amendment is supposed to protect if it doesn't protect unpopular speech.

  39. AlphaCentauri says:

    What responsibilities do family members have under Sharia law for caring for mentally ill/mentally retarded family members? If they're expected to provide lifetime care, a blasphemy charge might be the only way to get crazy uncle Ashad institutionalized.

  40. Alistair says:

    I thought I'd check if my country has a blasphemy law, and it turns out we do!
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blasphemy_law_in_New_Zealand
    Awesome, nearly as good as Saudi Arabia.
    On the downside, only one prosecution, and the blackguard was acquitted. In my book anyone who publishes these lines:

    O Jesus, send me a wound to-day,
    And I'll believe in Your bread and wine,
    And get my bloody old sins washed white!

    ought to be strung up.
    Oops.
    Anyway off to round up a mob, I'm pretty sure the neighbours are Zoroastrians.

  41. Suedeo says:

    Dear Ken White Fan,

    "Teal Deer" = "TL;DR" = "Too long, didn't read".

    It's how trolls reply when they want to dismiss a comment or author, sight unseen. Snark-on-the-go for today's busy discussion participant.

    The TL;DR technique also features an added benefit: high likelihood of "first reply!"

  42. perlhaqr says:

    Erwin: Perhaps child rape would be the closest analogy in the US. If you removed the laws against such behavior, the citizenry would most likely form lynch mobs.

    I would like to politely submit that the significant flaw in your analogy is that child rape involves actual harm, as opposed to the "Butt Hurt in the First Degree" that anti-blasphemy laws deal with.

    And that as such, in the absence of formal laws prohibiting the rape of children (or anyone, for that matter) "lynch mobs" (or as they might be referred to, "spontaneous justice systems") would be absolutely the correct and moral answer.

    I will be forced to admit that I prefer more orderly systems.

  43. barry says:

    Anyway off to round up a mob, I'm pretty sure the neighbours are Zoroastrians.

    I wouldn't say anything against Zorro.

  44. perlhaqr says:

    Chris F: What do you think about the Holocaust then? Sometimes people are just so against saying certain truths are untrue that they think it shouldn't be allowed.

    I'm not Harrow, but I'll answer and say that I actually think Anti Holocaust Denial laws harm the cause of Holocaust recognition. I think it's actually way better to let shithouse-rat-crazy motherfuckers display their lunacy by eating barrels of limburger and applesauce and then showing up at fancy dress parties, dropping trou, and just shitting all over the living room carpet. Because really, there is nothing you can possibly say that will be as eloquent in displaying their fucknuttery as mere silence following such a performance.

    I mean, sure, you never invite them back after that, but it utterly pulls the rug out from their martyr complex "See! It's a conspiracy, man!" street cred if rather than using the force of the state to officially oppress them, you just roll your eyes and sneer at them. "Seriously? The carpet shitting guy? Ugh. What about him?"

    Treating these people seriously via official enforcement mechanisms lends them a credence and air of legitimacy they don't deserve.

  45. Suedeo says:

    Perlhaqr: On one hand, we want to assume good faith. On the other hand, some members of our audience will need to be excluded from Open Mic Night.

    How do you identify and exclude cranks without becoming exclusive? Can it be done inexpensively? If not, welcome to another episode of Tragedy in The Commons.

  46. Rich Rostrom says:

    The blasphemy laws are a symptom. I note that about half of the incidents listed are cases of mob violence (and hysteria). I also note that essentially all those cases are Moslem.

    Having said that, I find the report from Malta of ~100 Catholic blasphemy cases a year remarkable. It's a small country. What's going on?

  47. Erwin says:

    @perl …agreed that there is a difference in the type of activity being prohibited and the amount of external harm. However, still not sure it makes much difference if the local populace forms a lynch mob regardless of whether or not there is a law and the police tend to support the mob. Basically, it is unfortunate that societies exist that pass such laws and ridiculous that Western societies think of copying them, but I suspect the central problem is the people, not the law. I could easily be wrong.

    Now, in New Zealand, I can't imagine that anti blasphemy laws are more potent than sodomy laws in the USA.

    –Erwin

  48. Benjol says:

    Reading this, I just don't get why some people say that 'all religions are equally bad'.

  49. Matt D says:

    Maybe you should at a "You are Blasphemy!" tag to go with "You are Libel!"

  50. AlphaCentauri says:

    Apparently saying a curse word in public is considered "blasphemy" in Malta. If you start counting all the drunks getting arrested for shouting curse words in residential neighborhoods at 2 am, 99 in a year doesn't sound like so many.

  51. grouch says:

    Henceforth, whosoever shall make public utterance or demonstration promoting, encouraging or espousing any religion, or any religion-based doctrine, decree or dogma, without overwhelming scientific evidence in support of that religion, its espoused beliefs, doctrines and decrees, shall be guilty of crimes against humanity and thenceforth shall be shunned and bannished from all contact with other human beings, on pain of death.

  52. grouch says:


    And by the way, there's a wonderful story in the Bible about a man named Gideon. Gideon knocked down some altars belong to the god Baal, and Baal's followers came looking for him to kill him. Gideon's father told them, in essence, that if Baal needed their help in defending his honor, then he wasn't much of a god.

    — NI

    Oh, yes, that bible thing has such wonderful children's stories, too:

    23 Then he went up from there to Bethel; and as he was going up by the way, young lads came out from the city and mocked him and said to him, “Go up, you baldhead; go up, you baldhead!” 24 When he looked behind him and saw them, he cursed them in the name of the LORD. Then two female bears came out of the woods and tore up forty-two lads of their number. 25 And he went from there to Mount Carmel, and from there he returned to Samaria.
    — 2 Kings @:23-25

    Moral: Don't be mocking old bald farts, lest they conjure up some bears on yo ass.

    The world will not be civilized until we can control the carriers of the disease called religion.

  53. HandOfGod137 says:

    At times like this, when the lands are overrun with sinners mocking the imaginary friends of other sinners, I like to retire to the family chapel and consider the wise words from the Book of Armaments, Chapter 2, verses 9-21:

    And Saint Attila raised the hand grenade up on high, saying, "O LORD, bless this Thy hand grenade that with it Thou mayest blow Thine enemies to tiny bits, in Thy mercy." And the LORD did grin and the people did feast upon the lambs and sloths and carp and anchovies and orangutans and breakfast cereals, and fruit bats and large chu… And the LORD spake, saying, "First shalt thou take out the Holy Pin, then shalt thou count to three, no more, no less. Three shall be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shall be three. Four shalt thou not count, neither count thou two, excepting that thou then proceed to three. Five is right out. Once the number three, being the third number, be reached, then lobbest thou thy Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch towards thy foe, who being naughty in My sight, shall snuff it

    And then we have the ceremonial Burning of the Witches (inc those who disagree with the punctuation in the 78th paragraph of our Holy Book, who are clearly right bastards), followed by eggnog and roast chestnuts. And some bloke in a dress tells us about some fascinating events in the middle east from 2000 years ago. Blessed are the cheesemakers (and manufacturers of allied dairy produce).

  54. Asher says:

    @ Randall

    nor is anyone ever going to be torn apart by a mob for blaspheming against Wicca.

    Mob? Maybe not. But try 'blaspheming' a minority group on a modern US campus as a student and see what happens to you. Is the mindset really any different for Islamic blasphemy than it is for the student who shouted "water buffaloes" at passing drunk, noisy girls who happened to be black and had his life ruined? Not really.

    Much anti discrimination law is the anti blasphemy law of the modern left. BTW, lots of anti blasphemy/anti discrimination law in the west is about protecting minorities, not majorities.

  55. Asher says:

    @ adam

    He claimed that much of the problems we were facing were because people didn't have the fear of god in them.

    Except that widespread atheism seems to lead to intellectual nihilism. I am an atheist. I call myself "history's only atheist" because religion is just a specific manifestation of the category of magical thought. Every atheist I have ever encountered has expressed all sorts of magical thinking.

    Atheism is an intellectual burden that should be reserved for a very select few. Everyone else is inevitably going to find some sort of religion so they should just pick one and stick with it.

    @ NI

    The real agenda behind blasphemy laws is to criminalize any criticism of religion, no matter how justified.

    This is blatantly false. the agenda behind anti blasphemy laws in the US is to prevent violations of the "rights" of minorities to be free of being offended.

    @ grouch

    The world will not be civilized until we can control the carriers of the disease called religion.

    Human beings clearly have an evolved instinct to religion. This is very obvious, and I say it as an atheist. You're going to have to kill off 99 percent of the human race if you want to eliminate the carriers of that "disease".

    Compared to you Hitler was a piker. Godwin's law does not apply, here, because you actually just advocating eliminating a bunch of people.

  56. Asher says:

    @ handofgod

    As someone with lactose intolerance I agree, blessed are the cheesemakers.

  57. Asher says:

    fwiw, in the Bible the same term for blasphemy is used to describe false charges brought against human beings. "blame" comes from the old french "blasmer" which just means to assign blame, usually in a false sense.

    So, there is a perfectly legitimate usage of the term "blasphemy", which simply means "to bring false charges"; perjury is, then, a form of blasphemy. All topics of human cognition are products of the objects of its experience, meaning that there is a reality behind the concept of blasphemy.

  58. Asher says:

    Acts 13:45 and 18:6 are translated as "abusive" but it is the same greek word translated as blasphemy.

  59. Asher says:

    The Greek term is βλασφημέω and means "speech that injures", i.e. hate speech. Hate speech laws are just another form of anti blasphemy law.

  60. perlhaqr says:

    Suedeo: Except, the flaw with my analogy is that "open mic night" here is just "freedom of expression". There's no actual event that's being held, other than "life".

  61. Steven H. says:

    @Grouch:

    The world will not be civilized until we can control the carriers of the disease called religion.

    Yeah, we'd be so much better off if we followed the Atheist guidlelines of the Committee for Public Safety….

  62. To those who want to lump anti-hate-speech laws in with anti-blasphemy kind, remember that the former usually are (and IMO always should be) directed only against speech that foments violence or active prejudice. If you say, "that person's God is nonsense and their beliefs are ridiculous," you're blaspheming but not partaking in hate speech. If you say, "that person should be (killed, hurt, run out of town, prevented from enrolling in school) because of their beliefs," you're trying to inflict your hate on them. That latter should be illegal.

  63. Ken White says:

    @Jonathan Gladstone: as I said, in this post I only included instances where "hate speech" laws were used when the use seemed indistinguishable from blasphemy law.

    At the risk of detouring into an entirely separate debate, I don't think that most hate speech laws on various foreign books are as narrow as you suggest — that is, they are usually not limited to advocating violence against someone.

  64. Lizard says:

    Nobody I have ever spoken to who advocates punishing unpopular speech has ever been able to explain to me what the First Amendment is supposed to protect if it doesn't protect unpopular speech.

    It's supposed to protect my unpopular speech from public criticism or social consequences, while banning speech that's unpopular with me because "Free speech doesn't apply to that." or "There have to be some limits.". Have you been on the Internet at all?

  65. Lizard says:

    If you say, "that person should be (killed, hurt, run out of town, prevented from enrolling in school) because of their beliefs," you're trying to inflict your hate on them. That latter should be illegal.

    (Emphasis added)

    So, in the case of "Darn Near Everyone vs. Pax Dickinson", you would advocate that the bloggers who highlighted Dickinson's speech and organized net.rage against him are guilty of hate speech (targeting someone for his beliefs (primarily, his belief that competent female programmers were non-existent) and demanding he be run out of town — or at least out of his job.

    While this is obviously not the current state of the law in the USA, I want to be very sure that I understand your intent: That this is what you WANT the law to be: That if Person A says, "Good and Morally Upright People should not associate with, do business with, support, or otherwise condone, Ungood People (such as Pax Dickinson) Who Express Wrongthink", Person A should be criminally liable.

    To use another example: If I say, "People should not go to see Ender's Game, because it will enrich Orson Scott Card, and I disapprove of OSC's ideas about homosexuality and Obama's secret thug army.", I am, under your apparent system, engaging in hate speech, which you would wish criminalized, because I am encouraging others to shun/avoid/condemn/etc. a person (Orson Scott Card) due to his beliefs.

    Is this, in fact, your argument? If not, please explain what I'm misunderstanding.

  66. HandOfGod137 says:

    @Steven H

    Yeah, we'd be so much better off if we followed the Atheist guidlelines of the Committee for Public Safety….

    I think most atheists would be perfectly happy with a purely secular society: believe whatever you want, just keep education and the management of society in the domain of the empirically demonstrable. And as beliefs are a choice, it is clearly fine for them to be laughed at if they are daft.

  67. grouch says:


    You're going to have to kill off 99 percent of the human race if you want to eliminate the carriers of that "disease".

    Compared to you Hitler was a piker. Godwin's law does not apply, here, because you actually just advocating eliminating a bunch of people.
    –Asher

    Projection much?
    Tip: "control" does not necessarily equate to "eliminating".

    See also, http://www.iep.utm.edu/reductio/

    Anti-blasphemy laws and anti-blasphemy law supporters seek control over everyone who disagrees with them. History (and Ken's article) is stuffed with horrors committed by evangelicals. Ergo, promotion of religion is promotion of continuing those horrors and therefore a criminal act against humanity itself. In order to make the world safe for humanity, we must exercise control of those who publicly promote religion. Think of the children.

  68. Asher says:

    @ grouch

    promotion of religion is promotion of continuing those horrors and therefore a criminal act against humanity itself

    Except religion is … is. What I mean by that is the religious instinct is very clearly a genetically evolved function and will always manifest itself in groups of people. It is possible for scattered individuals to be true atheists but such people are very, very rare.

    Every atheist I have met has been lying when they called themselves an atheist. And I say this as an atheist.

  69. Steven H. says:

    @HandofGod137:

    I take it you didn't recognize the reference to the French Revolution? If not, you might want to read up on the Committee for Public Safety and related people.

    I especially liked the part where they took a barge, anchored it midriver in midwinter, filled it with nuns, and set it afire.

    Do try to remember that (self-professed) Atheists have their share of atrocities to their names….

  70. HandOfGod137 says:

    @Steven H

    Do try to remember that (self-professed) Atheists have their share of atrocities to their names….

    I think you could point that accusation at any group or nation if you include the clause "if we consider their behaviour over the entire history of the human species". I don't really think the appalling acts of the sans-culottes at the end of the 18th Century can be mapped with any accuracy onto the beliefs and morality of rationalists at the start of the 21st, but in general I try not to judge people on the behaviour of their antecedents from 200 years ago if I can avoid it.

  71. Lizard says:

    People don't change, not in 200 years, nor 2000.

    If more atrocities, etc., have been committed by religious people than by non-religious people, this is only because the majority of humans are religious. The aspects of human nature that allow atrocities to happen do not vanish if religion does; all that changes is how we excuse and justify these atrocities.

    Whether it's "the will of God" or "the will of the People" is pretty irrelevant to the people being killed. It's also pretty irrelevant to the people doing the killing.

  72. Asher says:

    People who think that religion causes war are reversing cause and effect. Our species is naturally divisive and this leads to conflict which causes cultural differentiation, i.e. religion.

    Religion doesn't cause war, war causes religion.

  73. Lizard says:

    @Asher: Then, we would see isolated cultures which have no religion, but this is not the case. Unless your argument is that religion developed prior to cultural isolation, but then it becomes non-disprovable.

    Even given this, religion consumes resources. If the religion arises from war, and a sufficiently long time passes without a war, religion would atrophy in a culture — it would serve no purpose and consume resources which could be put to other use. Few cultures other than very wealthy ones (which are not isolated) have resources to spare.

    Religion is best understood as a way of defining community, of creating social structures. If you look at religion as a way of actually understanding the universe, it makes no sense that it continues to exist. But if you look at religion as primarily a social activity, not a philosophical or a scientific activity, it makes perfect sense. "Going to church" is a Thing To Do With Others. It's a shared, ritualistic, activity that creates and reinforces social bonds. It's the same, really, as The Friday Night Poker Game or the Monday After Work Trip To Applebees, only with more hooplah and fewer deep-fried appetizers.

  74. Asher says:

    @ Lizard

    It was a somewhat tongue in cheek comment. I'm quite certain that there is an evolutionarily evolved instinct to religion for people functioning in groups. Religion, as we know it, is a fairly late development in human society and war has always been ubiquitous. Religion. logically, has to play some regulating role in the functioning of human society or the instinct to it would not have evolved.

    It may have been Chesterton (Acton?) who wrote about a man walking down the road and seeing a gate that doesn't appear to have any function considers knocking it down. The advice given was to knock down the gate only if one could first explain why it was erected in the first place.

    The moral: don't destroy something just because it doesn't appear to serve a function, to you.

  75. AlphaCentauri says:

    If you find primate fossils and are trying to determine the status of that species in the flow of evolution, how would your assessment change if you found that the bones were buried with goods apparently intended for the deceased to use in the afterlife?

    Our perception of ourselves as different from other animals has a lot to do with our belief in some part of ourselves that is more than a function of our physical structure and that will survive our death. You can intellectually believe that no such spiritual nature exists, but it's hard to avoid the influence of that belief in how we view ourselves.

  76. grouch says:


    Except religion is … is. What I mean by that is the religious instinct is very clearly a genetically evolved function and will always manifest itself in groups of people. It is possible for scattered individuals to be true atheists but such people are very, very rare.
    –Asher

    Religion as "instinct"? Religion as "genetically evolved"?
    Strawmen created out of the ether.

    And you still seem to have a problem with reading comprehension.
    Try this highly simplified version:

    If anti-blasphemy laws are good, then anti-religion laws are good.
    If anti-religion laws are not good, then anti-blasphemy laws are likewise not good.

    If it is acceptable to evangelize religions, then it should be equally acceptable to disparage religions.

    Is my position clear to you now? Or will this simply lead to more strawmen and more evangelizing of the religion of atheism?

  77. Harrow says:

    Dear @Chris and @Lizard:

    What I actually meant was, "If someone wants to outlaw saying something is untrue they must really FEAR that what they are defending is untrue."

    Holocaust rememberers believe two theses with religious fervor:

    (1) The holocaust happened, and

    (2) The holocaust must be remembered.

    But these are not the same thing at all. The first is a historical fact, and the second is a political opinion. Apparently both holocaust rememberers and holocaust denyers have become somewhat confused about the difference. They have taken to fighting over the first thesis as a proxy for the second.

    When holocaust rememberers pass a law against history revision, they are not afraid that people won't believe that the government of Germany decreed the death penalty for being in a condition that cannot be voluntarily accepted nor avoided, e.g. being Jewish, and exacted that penalty from at least six million of its own citizens.

    They are afraid that people won't believe that the human species can avoid a repetition of this unthinkably terrifying event only by having monuments, oratory, billbords, and other reminders constantly shoved into everybody's faces all day every day of our lives.

  78. @Ken, thanks for your response. My comment was not directed at your original post or comments – some others have made the comparison between hate-speech and anti-blasphemy law rather more strongly than you. In particular, some like @Asher seem to confuse etymology with current usage: blasphemy is not usually currently understood as "speech that injures" but rather as "speech against a particular religion or creed". (See Merriam-Webster, Free Online Dictionary and/or Wikipedia for easy references.)

    I concede that hate laws are often broader in scope, both as written and as applied, than you or even I would prefer. But (without trying to push the detour) my preference seems a little broader than yours – I think it should be illegal to advocate active hatred and prejudice ("brown Johnnies should be kept out of our nice, white schools and communities; we should hate all brown Johnnies" or vice versa) as well as violence ("hurt and/or kill brown Johnnies!").

  79. Lizard says:

    Fortunately, it remains legal (in the US) to advocate darn-near anything, just not to *incite* it. You remain free to advocate changing the law, naturally. That's how it works.

  80. I keep wondering if the 200+ year old blasphemy law that was used against the National Lampoon over Son Of God Comics is still in effect. (For those of you that have ever looked at the prices of old NatLamps, now you know why there are three issues in nosebleed territory.)

  81. DataShade says:

    Wasn't it basically the case that behind the Innocence of Muslims movie were two men, an American Christian fundamentalist "prepper" lawyer and an Egyptian Coptic Christian convicted-felon fraudster?

    Isn't the lawyer on record as telling his 'followers' that Muslims have secret sleeper-cells all over the North American continent, waiting to rise up and violently overthrow the Christian nation that is the USA, and that is why it is his followers' Christian duty to own high-powered rifles and purchase his lecture tapes? Isn't the lawyer on record as saying that he and his followers would one day stage an event that would outrage these supposed sleeper cells and draw them out into the light where they could be dealt with permanently?

    Wasn't the fraudster posing as a Jew, and working with the lawyer to create the aforementioned event that would incite these secret muslims to violence?

    Isn't inciting a riot, especially a riot targeting, specifically, one or more members of a long-persecuted minority group, a crime, even a hate crime?

    I never understood how special new laws were required to deal with this, or other, similar, situations.

  82. Lizard says:

    @Datashade: Producing a movie isn't "incitement to riot" under US law. It's not illegal to say mean things that make people mad, especially people in foreign countries. For that matter, neither is pretending to be a Jew (unless, I suppose, it's a component of a larger, actually criminal, fraud scheme, but then, the specific lies told are irrelevant — claiming to be a Jew, a ninja, or a Jewish ninja are all equal), lying about Muslims, or hawking your crappy tapes to gullible suckers, as long as you actually send them the tapes you promised to. (Otherwise, it's fraud, naturally.)

    We don't need new laws to deal with non-crimes, so I'm not sure of the point of your post. The person involved did violate parole, and was arrested for that, which Ken covered extensively back when it was relevant.

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