Ireland’s Blasphemy: A Relic of the Dark Ages

Published by Minnesota Atheists on

By Vic Tanner

Headshot of Vic.

On July 9, the Republic of Ireland passed a law against material that is “abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion”. Why would the government of an enlightened secular country choose to enact a blasphemy law at this point in history? Though many countries, some of which  may surprise you, still have blasphemy laws on the books, these laws are often vague to the point of meaninglessness and are seldom enforced. For instance, the Greek Penal Code defines a  blasphemer as “one who publicly and maliciously and by any means blasphemes God” yet makes no attempt to clarify who “God” is or what these malicious acts may consist of. Whether these laws were intended to placate religious individuals or to protect religious institutions, they accomplish neither.

By their very nature, laws against blasphemy only makes sense in a mono-theocratic system. In today’s world, a myriad of faiths can be found in any given society. And, by their very nature, the basic tenets of any world religion may denigrate all other religions. Islamic faiths, for instance, while still holding Jesus in high regard, do deny the resurrection, a blasphemy to any Christian. The Catholic Church has been having problems with the Jewish faith ever since the reforms of the Vatican II. In what appeared to be a good natured attempt to change their doctrines to no longer target Jews for conversion, they inadvertently caused major stirs within their own congregation by implying that the acceptance of Jesus as was not necessary for salvation. Upholding blasphemy laws for all of a nations citizens would be simply impossible. We must remember that these laws originated in the days of state sponsored religion in which an individual’s rejection of the church would also be taken as their defiance of the government.

Would it even be possible for blasphemy laws to be tried fairly in a court of law? Could a judge, no matter how skilled in interpretation of the law, be relied upon to be as knowledgeable in their interpretation of holy writ? If blasphemy laws had been upheld in 19th century Germany, we would never have seen the ingenuity of the Dutch Radical scholars, whose quest for the historical Jesus is common place today. As late as 1970, John Marco Allegro had to publish his notorious book The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross outside his native England for fear of prosecution of blasphemy.

Blasphemy laws do not and cannot succeed in their objective of keeping the religious from feeling slighted. They are an obstacle to free speech and, in essence, nothing more than a relic of medieval totalitarian thinking that only enforces the bigotry that they try to prevent. No other type of belief system has laws enacted merely to protect them from criticism.

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