The Sacred Name of Diversity: The New Secular Blasphemy Laws
What do you think of “blasphemy laws”?
It was such laws that almost resulted in the legal murder of Asia Bibi, a Catholic mother imprisoned on death row for five years in Pakistan. Her real crime? Drinking from the same well as Muslims, who found that offensive. So they accused her of speaking ill of the “prophet” Muhammad. Which carries the death penalty in Pakistan. Thanks be to God, Mrs. Bibi was acquitted by courageous judges in her country. Now howling Islamist mobs are marching for her death. Asia Bibi is someone who qualifies as a legitimate refugee, who deserves safe haven outside her country.
A comparable use of the term includes the blasphemy laws that Irish voters just repealed. They did so as part of a comprehensive rejection of the Irish Republic’s Christian roots. Just a few months ago, the same voters decided to strip unborn children of their constitutional right to life. The overweening power that clergy once wielded in Ireland has come back to haunt all believers. Now Irish media pretend that it is courageous to bully churchgoers, heroic to target unborn children. As if that somehow makes up for the sins of pedophile priests or sadistic nuns.
Should Blasphemy Be Illegal?
This sense of “blasphemy” refers specifically to the sacred things of the Christian tradition. Thinking in those terms, we might argue back and forth over whether or not to extend free speech protection to acts directly intended to mock God and sacred things. For some, the state must protect all free expression, even direct attacks on the things we hold most holy. That is the price of a society that leave people free to accept divine grace or reject it. For others, we might draw a line around certain things, aware that our fragile, ordered liberty rests not on some rational calculus, but on the sense that each person is a creature of “Nature’s God,” the only source of “inalienable rights.” Those who’d blaspheme the source of all our rights threaten those rights themselves. So they’re working (whether they know it or not) for the overthrow of our order.
Those who offend the new gods will feel the punishment that Muslims reserve for those who offend their old one.
In these specific terms, blasphemy laws are likely doomed in the short run in the West. Those pieces of our culture which we inherited, like a congenital disease, from the Enlightenment, are programmed to celebrate dissent from Christian religion as if it were always courageous. That happens no matter how rich the rewards are for spurning faith, or how stern the penalties are for affirming it. To this day, even stern critics of Communism in the West shed far more tears (expressed in ink) for the few thousand faithful Bolsheviks killed in Stalin’s Purge trials, than for the millions of Orthodox Christians murdered for their faith.
The West Has a New Set of Gods
But there’s another, broader sense of blasphemy we need to talk about. That is, speech that contradicts what the State and its elites hold sacred — whatever that is. And such speech is flatly illegal in much of the West. Where robust free speech protections still exist (as, for the moment, in the U.S.) such blasphemy get punished in extra-legal ways that prove just as effective.
We learned that from the recent decision of the European Court of Human Rights. It upheld a law passed by elite parties in Austria that punishes “religious bigotry.” In doing so, it affirmed the sentence passed against an Austrian anti-sharia campaigner. Her crime? Pointing out (truthfully) that Muhammad married a six-year-old girl, and consummated that marriage when she was nine. The reason the defendant thought it important to point this out? The fact that Muslims regard Muhammad as the perfect model of conduct, regardless of changing cultural circumstances. That’s why jihadis still consider it fitting to kill, conquer, and sexually enslave non-Muslim women, as ISIS did in Syria. It’s why strict Islamists reject age of consent laws that try to protect 9-year-old girls from “marriage” today.
Now the reasoning of the Austrian law and the European court’s decision was not overtly religious. Instead, each spoke of the danger of disturbing “religious peace.” Neither accepted the argument (which would be standard in U.S. courts) that it can’t be illegal to say something critical if it is true. The truth or falsity of the defendant’s statement was quite immaterial. The only relevant issue is whether it might be inflammatory.
And that’s where we see that what we’re dealing with is a blasphemy law, after all. The secular elites in the West consider social order and the embrace of “diversity” as fundamental values. Indeed, they sit on the pedestal we once reserved for God. They are the new gods, if you will.
So those who offend the new gods will suffer punishment, as Muslims punish those who offend their old one. Which Christians once (perhaps overzealously) imposed on those who blaspheme the True God. Marine le Pen was prosecuted, and threatened with psychiatric observation as a possible lunatic, for sharing pictures of ISIS atrocities.
As a member since boyhood of the Catholic Holy Name Society, devoted to revering the sacred name of God, the new form of piety reminds me of something. Back in the 19th century, freethinkers made it a point to use “Jesus Christ!” as an all-purpose expletive. Some Catholic wags began to respond by blurting out, “Money!” To puzzled onlookers, they would explain, “Well, if he’s going to blaspheme against my God, I will blaspheme against his.”