Anyway, this morning I noticed another rather odd tweet from Mr Dawkins
Help. I'm about to be jailed for making derogatory comments about the Flying Spaghetti Monster http://t.co/1Y2GpWJoov
— Richard Dawkins (@RichardDawkins) September 9, 2013
Not being familiar with Mr Dawkins use of the term "flying spaghetti monster" for God, I was intrigued. Anyway, I followed the link and found that the story which concerned Mr Dawkins was the indictment and possible imprisonment of four bloggers who made derogatory comments about Islam.
It made me pause for thought about my views on blasphemy. Technically the four are not on blasphemy charges. Blasphemy is insulting God. The four bloggers are held on charges of insulting Islam, which as best I understand it is a wholly differenjt thing. Islam is a man made institution, which aims to preserve and propogate the teachings of the prophet Mohammed (Peace be upon him). Anyone who doubts this, should consider how many different branches of Islam there are and see how these different factions view each other (factionalism is not unique to Islam, I hasten to add). Now my own personal view is that any institution should be able to take criticism, especially one which claims to have authority from God. As a member of the Roman Catholic church, I have witnessed only too well how the inability to engage with critics has nearly destroyed the moral authority of the church to all but ardent believers. Any institution which uses its power to silence critics and hide scandals is pretty much doomed. The Catholic church has paid a heavy price for hushing up and hiding the scandal of paedophile priests. In this case, the church initially used every lever to suppress and discredit victims, the very people the church should stand up for. It entered a state of denial and behaved in the most appalling way imaginable. People who had suffered terrible abuse were treated as the guilty party and all manner of lies an innuendo were spread. The trouble is that you cannot suppress the truth.
In the case of the four bloggers in Dhaka, the state and the religious authorities are looking to impose draconian sentences to suppress expressions of free speech. If you belong to a religious congregation, theoretically every other religious or athieist viewpoint is blasphemous, sacreligious and insulting. If we followed this through to its logical conclusion, we'd all be locked up. The only way any of us can get by is to agree to differ and respect each others right to express ourselves. There are people who I know who post highly offensive comments on twitter and facebook. If it upsets me, I don't follow them. If someone else retweets them, so I see it, I ignore it. If you find this blog offensive, the stop reading it. Simple as that. Any institution that cannot take criticism, in my opinion is deeply flawed and is probably hiding something.
Let us now consider blasphemy. Blasphemy is the insulting of God, not his institutions on earth. How do I feel about this. Well I tend to think God is a big boy (excuse the genderisation). When Richard Dawkins calls God "The Flying Spaghetti Monster" it is surely blasphemy of the most henious kind. I do however believe this is and issue for Mr Dawkins to resolve with God. It is no one elses business. Mr Dawkins clearly feels that God doesn't exist, so he can say what he likes. I tend to think he has every right to do so. If any belief I had was so flimsy that I'd be insulted or hurt by Mr Dawkins, then perhaps it is me who has the problem.
In the Catholic tradition, we were brought up to believe in Judgement day, when all of the lost souls would be cast into Hell. My teachers told me that murderers, thieves, adulterers and blasphemers would be tossed into a burning furnace, tormented forever by fiery Jack. This was my incentive to be a good boy and eat my greens. Is Mr Dawkins as cupable as Adolf Hitler, because he assembled all of the information before him and decided that if there was a God, he was a winged Sphagetti Monster? I really don't know, but I suppose I'd be a tad disappointed if this was the case. I had this conversation with an acquaintance who is a fundamentalist. She informed me that Dawkins was worse than Hitler, because he was actively seeking to turn people against God by use of logic and reason. I was shocked by this proposition. I believe that anyone with faith should have good reasons to have faith and should have logically arrived at their conclusion. I have found that with ideological athieists, it is virtually impossible to explain the benefits of faith and organised religion. The benefits of community and quiet reflection, the urging to do acts of charity and the sense of mission to make the world a better place are concepts that they cannot understand in a religious context. I respect all viewpoints. I don't dislike people who have views I consider odd or strange, I wouldn't insult someone for this.
Where I do draw the line is when other people expect me to conform to their religious viewpoint. This could be the religious right fundamentalist or the Athieist or the Judge in Dhaka who feels my blog should follow his ideology.
I stand with anyone who believes in the right to religious freedom, freedom of expression, the freedom to blaspheme and the freedom to insult if we think this is necessary and called for. If you are a religious person, then use the example of the way you live your life as the riposte to people who insult you. There are two possible outcomes for blasphemers, either Richard Dawkins is right and absolutely nothing will happen, because when they die, that is it. If that is the case, they are not blasphemers and so there is no price to pay. The other alternative is that there is a God and that God will act as they see fit towards the blasphemers, in which case it really is none of our business anyway. I am personally a highly superstitious person. I must confess that blasphemy does make me feel uneasy (a result of my upbringing), as I think that it is never wise to take risks with the unknown. I have a friend who calls such superstitions "Fire Insurance". I personally can't understand why anyone would want to insult other peoples beliefs or take a chance (however small) with such matters, but I guess that most of you will just put this down to superstition and ignorance.
The bottom line is that I am pleased we live in a society where people have the freedom to blaspheme and insult, but I wish people would not use that right unless they think it is absolutely necessary.