Having seen blasphemy raised as an issue on blog posts over the last week, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the topic, and our varying attitudes towards it. Reported in the news today, Coptic Christian teens in Egypt have been sentenced to 5 years in prison for insulting Islam, the maximum sentence for religious blasphemy in Egypt.

Example 1: Taken from comments on Mormon Heretic’s recent post here on W&T.

Nate commented:

“Scripturally, God IS racist and sexist, or more accurately, tribal and hierarchal [sic]. I imagine that some of the brethren might even prefer to exercise a bit more affirmative action in this regard, but are kept from doing so for some reason. Whether this is because of God’s will, or because of cultural entrenchment, who knows. I think that cultural entrenchment IS God’s will in a sense, because an all-powerful God could EASILY fix this problem and make His will known. But He doesn’t, so ultimately, all of this is His fault.”

To which MH responded:

“Nate, I find your comments blasphemous and offensive.”

Later adding:

“As for Nate, I am frankly disgusted that he would say “God IS racist and sexist…” No God is not. Man is racist and sexist, and to apply these false labels is blasphemy. If God is good, then He cannot be racist and sexist. His followers certainly can be and are.”

Example 2: Taken from comments on “A Change Within Reach: Women as Witnesses”, a recent post on the feminist Mormon housewives blog.

anita commented:

“Another reason which hasn’t been addressed here is that with a male sealer and two male witnesses, the three men represent the Godhead who are bestowing/blessing the ordinance. I don’t see that likely to change…”

To which Kevin Barney responded as part of a broader comment:

“… Symbolism creep. By this I mean the idea expressed above that the officiant and two witnesses represent the Godhead. (Something I personally have never actually heard.) This seems to me like an idiosyncratic (and possibly blasphemous) notion that some temple worker just came up with out of whole cloth. …”

Resulting in a warning then issued by anon:

“As Kevin Barney said below, this idea may not just be original doctrinal extrapolation, but may be actual blasphemy, so a caution to people reading this to be careful about repeating things someone said somewhere.”

Indeed, I have myself wondered at some point in the past, whether something or other might not constitute blasphemy, and likely commented to that effect on the relevant post. I don’t recall specifics.

Still, different people appear to have different triggers, to what they consider to be blasphemy. Reactions range from suggesting the possibility, through confident assertion, to threat and violence. For some, anything they consider blasphemous is not to be tolerated. In many countries blasphemy breaks the law protecting the established religion, and in some states it is a capital offence. In England the death penalty for blasphemy was abolished in 1676 (much later in Scotland), and in 2008 the law relating to blasphemy abolished. In a pluralist society it would seem to be more straight-forward to come down in favour of free speech, rather than favour one religion over another, or attempt to protect every religious view-point.

A dictionary definition describes blasphemy as:

“The action or offence of speaking sacrilegiously about God or sacred things; profane talk”

It could be argued that sacrilege has to be intended on the part of the offender.

  • Do you have a view on the particular examples given?
  • What is your reaction when faced with something you consider to be blasphemous?
  • Do you respond, and if so, are you confident or more tentative in your response?
  • Are you more tolerant of remarks made by those outside your faith than those inside?
  • Are accusations of blasphemy helpful?
  • Does intention matter to you?