Isn’t blasphemy wrong?

Sophisticated theists and atheists recognise that God is a concept that is neither proven nor unproven (“God may or may not exist – no-one knows for certain”). This being the case, shouldn’t atheists appreciate the possibility that God might indeed exist (and consequently may possibly have feelings and emotions, as we do?) by refraining from using offensive remarks or making accusations (“If God exists, he is a crap god”, etc).

After all, isn’t it unwarranted, unnecessary and irrational to make insults or make accusations about people/beings we don’t know, haven’t met and know nothing about? Shouldn’t judgment be withheld until there is evidence to base a judgment on?

Posted: July 27th 2010


Since you say “wrong”, I presume you are asking for a ethical or moral determination.

You are basically arguing that a specific kind of religious speech should be prohibited while other kinds of religious speech are permitted, with the rules about what is okay and what is not decided by whoever is in power. You are saying that it is okay to offend some people (for example, saying that “muslims won’t go to heaven”, that certain people aren’t “real christians”, or that atheists are unamerican) but not okay to offend other people.

Given that that position treats some people’s beliefs as better than others merely because they’re in charge, I don’t see how that position can in any way be considered ethical or moral.

So, no, blasphemy isn’t wrong. It may at times not be polite or constructive, but it is not wrong.

My second answer is that when people talk about blasphemy, they are talking about things that go against their own beliefs, not religious beliefs in general. The vast majority of theists think that other religions have silly beliefs not realizing that their own beliefs are just as silly.

This is often expressed by the atheist saying:

You believe in one religion but disbelieve in all others. I merely disbelieve one more religion than you do…

Posted: August 12th 2010

See all questions answered by Eric_PK

Stefan www

You are talking about two different definitions of God.

When an atheist is saying something like “if God exists, he is a crap god”, he or she is talking about a specific god, for example Jehovah, the god of the Abrahamic religions.

“After all, isn’t it unwarranted, unnecessary and irrational to make insults or make accusations about people/beings we don’t know, haven’t met and know nothing about?”

True. But notice that when we are talking about Jehovah, we absolutely do know some things about him. That he killed every first-born son of the Egyptians, killed every living being because he suddenly didn’t like his creation anymore. (Though he kept two of each kind, which sort of defeated the purpose of a flood…)

Anyway, the point is: We can criticize Jehovah, based on the stories about him in the Bible. As for some completely unknown god who doesn’t interact with this world at all, I don’t think you’d hear atheists criticize such a being in as harsh a tone. In fact I think most atheists would be very happy if all of the religious people suddenly became agnostic deists. :)

Posted: August 2nd 2010

See all questions answered by Stefan

Dave Hitt www

So we have this being who is big enough and smart enough to have created the universe, which is really, really, really big and amazing and complicated. Then, out of the billions of galaxies out there he picked an average, mediocre one, and picked out a ho-hum star and a tiny little planet circling it and built some really, really, really tiny creatures on it. And he commanded them to worship him or else. But if they say anything even remotely critical of him, he gets all angry and pouty and won’t let them go to the prom, condemning them instead to an eternity of watching Mama’s Family reruns.

He really needs to grow a pair.

Posted: August 2nd 2010

See all questions answered by Dave Hitt

flagellant www

In my youth, I used to hold religious belief in high esteem. Even if I neither understood, nor agreed with different religions, I nevertheless treated religiosi with great respect and had reverence for their gods. To this extent, I used to have some sympathy with your criticism.

However, I no longer think this way and I cannot agree with you. Since all religions are man-made, and man has invented the many different flavours of god, both the concept of god and 'god’ him/her/itself should be open to criticism – contempt, even. If we can be rude about another person’s football team, political party, or friends, we should be prepared to be rude about religious belief, and the religiosi should accept the disparagement.

You suggest that we should admit of the existence of 'god’ and respect his/her/its feelings. (What I think you really mean is that you, personally, are offended by rude comments about 'god’. Does it not occur to you that the vulnerability you presume in your perfect god is misplaced? Surely 'god’, if he were to exist, would be immune to the personal sensitivity you intimate he/she/it has.)

More germane is the possibility of god’s existence: you seem to think it is a 50/50 matter. It isn’t. You mention that we should withhold judgment until there is evidence on which to base it. But such evidence as we have, through scientific investigation, indicates that god is a figment of man’s imagination; 'holy books’ are woefully inaccurate historically, and their attribution of god’s agency to storms, plagues, and earthquakes is laughable. On such evidence as we have, together with other 'sophisticated atheists’, I’d re-evaluate Pascal’s wager and put the chances of god’s existence at very much less than 1%. Not such a good bet, eh?

Finally, your question is headed 'Isn’t blasphemy wrong?’ Of course it isn’t: blasphemy is a victimless 'crime’. What is wrong is having laws protecting religious beliefs.

Posted: July 30th 2010

See all questions answered by flagellant

Daniel Midgley www

Blasphemy has a very important function: it serves to remind believers that religions ideas are not beyond criticism.

You can try to reason with believers, but it doesn’t always work; they didn’t reason themselves into belief, so it’s hard to reason them out. But ridicule, parody, and mockery — yes, even of the blasphemous sort — can break them out of their oh-so-serious spirituality and force them to see how silly it is. Or they won’t. But others who are not-yet-committed, or on the edges, will see it. They are the target audience, along with other atheists, who already see the silliness.

Religion thrives when it is taken seriously, and claims a respect it hasn’t earned. Blasphemy is the antidote.

Posted: July 29th 2010

See all questions answered by Daniel Midgley

Paula Kirby www

Countries that still recognise the concept of blasphemy don’t simply ask their citizens to 'be nice’ about the alleged god in question: they make blasphemy a crime, punishable (depending on the country in question) by huge fines, public whippings, many years’ imprisonment, or even death. Does that seem reasonable to you? Does that seem remotely compatible with freedom of expression, freedom of thought, or freedom of conscience? Can you imagine the enraged cries of 'Persecution!’ that would come from the religious if we made the expression of their views punishable in these ways? Are such penalties for blasphemy justifiable for the sake of not running the risk of hurting the feelings of an entity which is a) unproven, b) almost certainly non-existent and c) if it DID exist and had the characteristics ascribed to theistic gods – ie omnipotence, omniscience etc – could hardly be troubled by what we mere mortals thought of him?

Contrast this with the abuse that regularly gets hurled at atheists by the religious. The existence of atheists has been demonstrated: we really do exist. Being human, it is reasonable to expect that we will have human feelings. Yet the religious regularly accuse us of being of the devil, steeped in sin, evil, the cause of genocides – and they delight in telling us we are going to burn in hell for all eternity. Should this be illegal too, do you think, on the grounds of our feelings and emotions? I don’t know any atheists who think so, but I DO think it ironic – and frankly rather disgraceful – that those who hurl such epithets at us are so often at the forefront of attempts to suppress any criticism of their unproven gods.

Blasphemy laws do not, in any case, protect gods. So far as it is possible to tell, there are no gods to protect. Blasphemy laws protect religion, and they suppress the voicing of religious dissent and challenge to religious beliefs. Can you think of any good reason why religious beliefs should – uniquely among all the ideas that humans have entertained over the ages – be protected from challenge? Why political, sociological, philosophical, scientific, cultural, artistic, culinary and literary ideas may be challenged head-on, but religious ideas uniquely may not?

Does your argument that we shouldn’t say anything about a being that 'we don’t know, haven’t met, and know nothing about’ extend to the things the religious say about their gods week in, week out? Have you also posted on a religious forum, asking them to consider the possibility that it is 'unwarranted, unnecessary and irrational’ for them to make nice claims about the gods they believe in? Should their thoughts about 'God’ be silenced too, by law if necessary? I suspect not. Those who proclaim that agnosticism is the only reasonable answer only ever seem to direct their arguments towards atheists: they rarely seem to notice the plethora of highly specific claims theists make about an entity whose very existence can’t even be demonstrated.

Finally, if the Christian god – and I suspect that’s the god you mainly have in mind – did exist, it would be a crap god. Just imagine: an omnipotent, omniscient creator with endless powers, chose to create a universe containing tectonic plates that inevitably cause earthquakes and volcanoes; in which hurricanes and tornadoes and droughts and floods and disease massacre millions of humans each year; that is far more hospitable to bacteria and viruses and ticks and hookworms than it is to humans; a creator who designed our bodies without any thought at all to the practicalities of childbirth or to putting some decent padding round our joints so that they wouldn’t erode with wear and tear, causing agony in the process; a supposedly omniscient god who wasn’t bright enough to work out that Eve would have needed knowledge of good and evil before she could possibly know that it was wrong to disobey his instruction not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil; and a supposedly loving and just god who not only punished the culprit of this ludicrous non-crime, but every human and animal that would ever live; a supposedly loving god, who couldn’t simply forgive the creatures he had made (the way, incidentally, you and I can simply choose to forgive people who have hurt us), but had to torture his own son to death first before he could do it; a supposedly loving god whose idea of justice is to throw those who don’t believe in it into an everlasting pit of fire. Justice? Love? No – such a deity would be nothing short of a tyrant, a monster. And, given the design faults in its creation, an under-achieving one at that. Is the Christian god hurt by my saying so? No – because it doesn’t exist. And even if it did, that wouldn’t for one moment make the list of accusations against it less justified.

In any case, I suspect it’s not a god’s feelings you want us to avoid hurting – but the feelings of the religious, because they don’t like hearing that what they believe simply doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Well, tough. The religious force their beliefs down our throats at every turn, demanding that we collude in the myth of their superior morality, that we enshrine their beliefs and prejudices in law, that they should get a free hand to indoctrinate our children, tax exemption to perpetuate their nonsense at our expense. And on top of all that, you want us to refrain from challenging their beliefs too! If it weren’t so outrageous, it would almost be funny.

Posted: July 28th 2010

See all questions answered by Paula Kirby

brian thomson www

To address your last bit first: yes, we do have enough evidence on which to base a judgement: it’s my judgement that there are no gods out there – yours or anyone else’s. “Judgement” is a good word for it, actually: I’ve weighed the evidence, or lack thereof, and came to a conclusion that I can use today. Note that this is not a dogmatic assertion, nor does it preclude the possibility that I may be proven wrong in the future. As things stand, the existence of gods may be theoretically possible, but the odds against it are very high. It’s all about the evidence – and no, the Bible / Koran / Bhagavad-Gita / whatever are not evidence for the existence of the gods they portray, they are testimony.

It’s like anything else in life: if you insist on suspending judgement until all possible evidence is in, you won’t get anything done. Do you expect to drive a new car for 100,000 miles before you decide whether or not to buy it? Do you live in fear of something that is highly unlikely to happen, such as being struck by a meteorite? Sometimes you just have to make a decision, “adopt & go” in corporate speak, and live your life – knowing you can look at the problem again in the future if necessary.

As for the “Blasphemy” question: just who is offended? If your god exists, do you think he needs your help in dealing with blasphemers? It’s his problem, let him deal with it. Unless, of course, it’s really you who are offended, in which case, perhaps you need to ask yourself just why you are offended, on behalf of a deity who doesn’t need you to be offended.

PS: we may be “sophisticated” thinkers, but only in the sense that we have put a lot of thought in to what we believe – or not – and why. This is not the way to engage the average believer, kneeling in a church, mosque or temple: devout belief doesn’t have the shades of grey that we see. So, in my opinion, blasphemy ought to serve as a wake-up call. “I’m offended? Why am I offended? What did he say, specifically, that offended me?”

Posted: July 28th 2010

See all questions answered by brian thomson

SmartLX www

By His supposed actions may we judge Him.

Judgements on a god’s character by atheists are based on the hypothetical scenario that 1. it exists and 2. it is as a specific religion describes it.

According to that hypothesis, the Christian God really did the things which are attributed to Him in the Bible, including the Old Testament, and takes responsibility for it all. Based on His supposed actions in those texts it is reasonable to say that if He exists, He can be a terrible “person” by any standards we humans apply to each other.

If that’s a factually incorrect judgement, and He exists but either is not as described or has a rationale for genocide and whatnot other than “I’m a god and I can do what I like,” He’s welcome to come along and tell us.

Posted: July 28th 2010

See all questions answered by SmartLX


Then I better not insult the Pink Unicorn, any order of fairies, etc., either. God, like those figures, is highly improbable.

It is your concept of god that is under the radar, not god, as there is no evidence to take any possible existence seriously. God belief is well known, especially certain brands, like Christianity where I live. The characteristics that the believers in the various non-evidential faiths give to their highly improbable god are quite clear, and quite stupid to any one who is not taken in by the con. After all, you are atheistic on all other gods.

Atheists may not know god, but these believers claim that they do. Mr. Deity has a delightful skit on that angle, that god is so upset that his followers misunderstood him so much, that they thought he commanded them to do such cruel, evil, and stupid things.

Then should the holder of such beliefs be not insulted? I would go for that approach in most cases, except for young earth creationists, who only deserve outright and sustained ridicule. However, the beliefs themselves are up for critical analysis, and satire is one honored, traditional method of criticizing.

Posted: July 28th 2010

See all questions answered by logicel


Is your atheism a problem in your religious family or school?
Talk about it at the atheist nexus forum