A Dissenting View About Blasphemy Day

September 29, 2009

The celebrating of "Blasphemy Day" by the Center for Inquiry by sponsoring a contest encouraging new forms of blasphemy, I believe is most unwise. It betrays the civic virtues of democracy. I support the premise that religion should be open to the critical examination of its claims, like all other institutions in society. I do have serious reservations about the forms that these criticisms take. For example, cartoons have been recently circulated ridiculing key figures in Christianity, such as a cartoon depicting a feminine Jesus painting his "nails" with red nail polish, or the drawing of the Pope with a long nose like Pinocchio.

When we defended the right of a Danish newspaper to publish cartoons deploring the violence of Muslim suicide bombers, we were supporting freedom of the press. The right to publish dissenting critiques of religion should be accepted as basic to freedom of expression. But for CFI itself to sponsor the lampooning of Christianity by encouraging anti-Catholic, anti-Protestant, or any other anti-religious cartoons goes beyond the bounds of civilized discourse in pluralistic society. It is not dissimilar to the anti-semitic cartoons of the Nazi era. Yet there are some fundamentalist atheists who have resorted to such vulgar antics to gain press attention. In doing so they have dishonored the basic ethical principles of what the Center for Inquiry has resolutely stood for until now: the toleration of opposing viewpoints.

It is one thing to examine the claims of religion in a responsible way by calling attention to Biblical, Koranic or scientific criticisms, it is quite another to violate the key humanistic principle of tolerance. One may disagree with contending religious beliefs, but to denigrate them by rude caricatures borders on hate speech. What would humanists and skeptics say if religious believers insulted them in the same way? We would protest the lack of respect for alternative views in a democratic society. I apologize to my fellow citizens who have suffered these barbs of indignity.


#1 Randy on Tuesday September 29, 2009 at 4:10pm

Two problems I have with this post:

(1) Nazi reference, already in the second paragraph.  Really, do we need to go there every time?

(2) “What would humanists and skeptics say if religious believers insulted them in the same way?” I nearly fell off my chair.  This happens on a daily basis, in all media, and usually is not meant as a lighthearted joke either.

#2 wandering on Tuesday September 29, 2009 at 5:19pm

It is not dissimilar to the anti-semitic cartoons of the Nazi era.

There is a great difference between denigrating a living person, or an existing nation and a mythical god/leader of religion.  A person has rights; God, Jesus and Mohammed have no rights.

What would humanists and skeptics say if religious believers insulted them in the same way?

How is drawing Jesus an insult to anyone that is not Jesus, and the drawing of the pope, an insult to anyone that is not the pope?  People have no rights to be insulted on the behalf of a third party, just because they believe something about that party…


Some criticisms are vulgar. So what?

It is silly to say that vulgarity is “against the civic virtues of democracy”, or “
violates the key humanistic principle of tolerance”, or “borders on hate speech”, or ” not dissimilar to the anti-semitic cartoons of the Nazi era”.

Vulgarity is just that… vulgarity. But saying that one cannot be vulgar when it comes to criticizing a certain issue - that is against the civic virtues of democracy - I lack the words.

Yes, one can be vulgar about atheism. One can make cartoons about Voltaire, Nietzche, Feirbach, Darwin, and so on as much as he wants. And you know how would I react? Laugh. And so would every intelligent atheist that I know. If someone would make a a cartoon depicting a feminine Darwin painting his “nails” with red nail polish, or the drawing of Darwin with a long nose like Pinocchio, no atheist would care too much. And no one would even consider to publish a dissenting voice such as you did.  Religion should have zero benefits to every other opinion - that means that it shouldn’t have the right “to be protected from vulgar remarks”.

We do have the freedom to be silly. I am tired of old aunts that tell us that stupid things should be respected. I am happy to be free in other ways than reading articles. I am happy to be free in that I can say that thee Beatles are more popular than Jesus.

The reason religious people are so touchy is not because they are vulnerable, sensitive people. It is because they are dogmatic. And they don’t like people laughing about their dogmas. There is no reason for us to give up to such smugness.

I really have no idea why you wrote this. If you think some views of vulgar, just say “I prefer intellectual criticisms to silly cartoons”. That would be enough.


By the way, your remark about the Pope is especially troubling. The Pope is a political leader. Every possible kind of freedom to criticize a leader such as the Pope should be granted. And yet, you seem to think a political leader is immune from ridicule. Just because it is religion? So if you call communism a religion, and add some supernatural beliefs, then one cannot make vulgar caricatures about communist leaders???

#3 Reba Boyd Wooden on Tuesday September 29, 2009 at 6:38pm

I agree with Paul when he says:

It is one thing to examine the claims of religion in a responsible way by calling attention to Biblical, Koranic or scientific criticisms, it is quite another to violate the key humanistic principle of tolerance. One may disagree with contending religious beliefs, but to denigrate them by rude caricatures .......
I think we need to hold our heads above the fray of rude criticisms and not stoop to the level that some in society do.

#4 Jeremy Brindlethorpe (Guest) on Tuesday September 29, 2009 at 6:59pm

There is something to be said for taking the high road. Humanists are often accused of being “bad people”. Paul Kurtz has spent years attempting to demonstrate, in part by being a living example, that this is not true. Often people start to open their minds to other points of view by discovering that they know, and like, someone whose views differ markedly from their own. But it is all too easy to dismiss differing points of view if one can write off those who hold them as rude, boorish, or morally reprehensible.

#5 Craig (Guest) on Tuesday September 29, 2009 at 7:21pm

I am VERY concerned about a Blasphemy Contest and a Blasphemy Day.  Atheists have a hard enough time being accepted in the mainstream without being In Your Face about it.

Besides, there’s no reasonable reason for intentionally insulting people or offending their sensibilities.  Aren’t we supposed to be encouraging tolerance?  It only hurts our causes to inflame people about things like racism, homosexualism, atheism, etc.

#6 Steve Hall (Guest) on Tuesday September 29, 2009 at 8:45pm

Sorry.  When you bring in Nazis, you immediately lose the argument.  Everyone should know that rule.  But then you really lose me with “fundamentalist atheist”.  Thank you to the (current) CFI for getting in on the fun of Blasphemy Day.

#7 David (Guest) on Tuesday September 29, 2009 at 9:36pm

When it comes to not getting in your face, let’s take the case of the Gay and Homosexual community.  Did they become tolerated in society because they were quiet, meek, and did their best to not offend?  Not as I recall ... they took the anger that was piled upon them and were exuberant.  They didn’t let others tell them how they were to act or behave.  And so we have Gay Pride.

What’s wrong with forcing the debate over what is or is not acceptable to say?  We force them to say why what they say is all right, but what we say isn’t.  And in that contrast, we give them as much rope as they desire.  As I read recently, we’re not going to convince the dyed in the wool religious folk that what we’re doing is okay, but instead convince the ‘undecided’ that we can say what we want to because it’s our right to do so.  Particularly in the face of religion.

#8 DavidMWW on Wednesday September 30, 2009 at 4:18am

It is nonsensical to associate ridicule with intolerance. People are free to believe what they want - but they can’t expect those beliefs to be shown respect which they are not due.

Ridicule and satire are not only well within the bounds of “civilized discourse in pluralistic society,” they are essential to its health and progress.

Ridicule is a powerful weapon against unintelligible propositions, and we should not be afraid to use it.

Yes, the religiously committed are more likely to be enraged than persuaded, but so what? It is good to cause psychological discomfort to the pious - they deserve it, and it might just cause them think twice before asserting themselves in the public square, and maybe even eventually encourage a reassessment of their fundamentals.

Ridicule also serves to discourage the undecided from following the ridiculous path. Why chose a belief system that leaves them open to such mockery? If your philosophy is immune to satire, you’re more likely to be on solid ground.

Finally, ridicule - particularly blasphemous ridicule - can be very funny indeed, as I hope the best entries to CFI’s blasphemy contest will demonstrate.

I can’t believe Paul Kurtz is trying to tell us not to laugh at religion. Has he lost his marbles?

#9 Fenton (Guest) on Wednesday September 30, 2009 at 5:51am

I think well-mannered, well-argued criticism is one thing. Flat out ridicule is quite another.

If someone wishes to criticize beliefs or positions held, bring intelligible arguments and try to dissuade, by all means, have at it. But certainly you should know that flatly denouncing those beliefs with no argumentation and/or continually resorting to ad hominems does nothing to either advance your own cause nor dissuade the person you’re attacking. In fact, it tends to have the opposite effect in that 1) You’re effectively solidifying your opponent’s position, and 2)You’re effectively solidifying a possible stereotype your opponent might have about you.

If that’s your thing, good for you. Just don’t expect anyone to take you seriously.

#10 just one voice (Guest) on Wednesday September 30, 2009 at 7:12am

How you treat someone when they disagree with you says a lot about how human you are.  What I believe Paul Kurtz is noticing is the lack of civility and “humanness” in the dialog between atheists/agnostics and theists. 

In a culture that proclaims that “God is dead,” mankind also becomes dead and demonstrates that “deadness” in the way she/he treats others, with a lack of kindness and increasing violence. 

In the medallion made by William Wilberforce (when, as a Christian, he was fighting with all his might and personal fortune to abolish slavery in England) we see a slave on his knees in shackles stating “am I not a man and brother?” 

To my atheist “friends” I ask you, “Am I (as a theist) not a man and brother?”  Why do you treat theists as you do, when I am open to listen to your point of view and dialog with you, person to person. Is your world view as truly “human” as you say it is?  Your actions will surely demonstrate what you believe.

#11 Lee Crocker on Wednesday September 30, 2009 at 8:01am

Tolerance is an obligation of listeners, not speakers.  Blasphemy—and yes, even outright hate speech—must be tolerated in a free society, though I agree that I wouldn’t want to associate with an organization that promoted real hate speech.

But blasphemy is different.  Hate speech denigrates people based on characteristics with which they were born, and therefore had no choice.  It would certainly be wrong to have a holiday celebrating speech that ridiculed race, gender, or ethnicity.  Likewise, it is wrong to ridicule someone for the religion into which they were born.  But once a person reaches the age of majority, religion is no longer a condition of birth—it is a choice.  People who willingly and knowingly choose to believe ridiculous things deserve to have those ideas heaped with all the ridicule we can muster.

#12 DavidMWW on Wednesday September 30, 2009 at 8:07am

Oh for god’s sake. The object of blasphemous ridicule is BELIEF, not believers. Who said anything about “ad hominem”?

Clearly, if you are having a one-to-one debate with a person, you are going to use a tone which is conducive to civil debate. Duh!

Blasphemous satire as promoted by the CFI competition is an entirely different form of discourse and, for reasons already stated, a perfectly legitimate, acceptable, commendable, and necessary one. Nobody is forcing believers to look at the blasphemous art. Nobody is pinning them down and shouting blasphemous haiku in their ears.

Religious people believe in funny things, often for equally funny reasons. If they chose to take blasphemous ridicule personally, then boo-hoo. That’s their problem. They shouldn’t believe in funny things.

#13 Gerry Dantone (Guest) on Wednesday September 30, 2009 at 8:13am

Dr. Kurtz is correct to make the distinction between defending the right to criticize a religious system, even to the point of mocking it, and promoting the mocking in a contest.

Constructive criticism is indespensible; making fun of the beliefs of others, while a human right, is not as useful, and as a public relations gambit, very questionable.

I don’t think our society is at the point where this, a blasphemy contest, is the best possible move; the best way to influence others to accept non-believers (and non-belief itself) is to set a good example.

I’d rather see a contest that points out the intolerance and bigotry of religious systems while contrasting the rights upheld by secular and humanistic social systems such as our Constitution.

We should be promoting the numerous and popular non-believers in the world who make the world a better place.  They do not have to be philosophers or great thinkers; they can range from rock stars, actors, business leaders to politicians and heads of state.

#14 DarronS on Wednesday September 30, 2009 at 8:28am

“There is currently a movement worldwide to prohibit any form of expression that blasphemes a religion; cartoons critical of religion would no doubt be considered blasphemous. We need to defend that right—to affirm the right to blaspheme by exercising it.”

Do those words sound familiar, Paul? They should. They are your words from the Spring 2006 issue of The Secular Humanist Bulletin.

Now that we are affirming our right to blaspheme by exercising that right you call us out for being uncivil. Paul, but you were right in 2006 and you are wrong now. I will exercise my right to blaspheme any time I wish. Satire and ridicule are long-cherished traditions in this country, and I will not quit using them as weapons against ignorance.

#15 traveler on Wednesday September 30, 2009 at 8:44am

From the outside looking in, I cannot tell just how much of this bickering is viewpoint versus viewpoint and how much is man versus man.

Obviously we are all entitled to our own viewpoint. But as an organization, don’t we offer those who are searching for truth an island of reason? We are free to stick our tongues out to others as they do to us, but don’t we then both look silly?

I would not hide from blasphemy in some context, but I do not favor blasphemy for blasphemy’s sake. But that’s just me. Have fun everyone. You won’t hurt my feelings.

#16 Anon (Guest) on Wednesday September 30, 2009 at 10:45am

I seem to remember hearing an anecdote about a dinner in a restaurant, attended by the author of this piece. When asked, jokingly, if he would like to say grace, Mr Kurtz lifted his glass and said something extremely blasphemous and quite funny, when taken in context.
His position now seems somewhat hypocritical. It is such a shame to hear

#17 Ophelia Benson on Wednesday September 30, 2009 at 11:09am

“But for CFI itself to sponsor the lampooning of Christianity by encouraging anti-Catholic, anti-Protestant, or any other anti-religious cartoons goes beyond the bounds of civilized discourse in pluralistic society. It is not dissimilar to the anti-semitic cartoons of the Nazi era.”

But Paul - is CFI even doing that? Is it not sponsoring anti-CatholiCISM cartoons? A job which is rendered almost superfluous by the church’s “explanation” of its history of child abuse a couple of days ago.

#18 Jeff K (Guest) on Wednesday September 30, 2009 at 12:45pm

Dr. Kurtz was careful to point out it was “new forms” of blasphemy.  If you want out of a religion, you blaspheme it in public in a standard way, and you’re out, you don’t need a particular day.  All you do is reject publicly Dr. Atkin’s negative proofs, Dr. Dawkin’s alien-worship, Justin Trottier and poof you’re out of “new-atheism”.  Now you’re just a humble agnostic/ignostic who hasn’t been pigeon-holed who reads Joel Shermer for insight.  You can still call yourself atheist now and again, just not “new atheist”.
  There, the spell is broken.

#19 Kosmic on Wednesday September 30, 2009 at 2:45pm

There is way too much thought going into This post.  All of us understand what Kurtz is trying to say – it’s okay to blaspheme as long as it’s done for the right reasons. When it’s done for spite, just to pick on someone, it’s wrong. When it’s done to protest an injustice or to make a point, it is okay.

I respect Kurtz’ position and I truly agree that for atheists and other non-believers to make gains in popularity, there needs to be “some” moderation. The negative stigma attached to us is horrible and events like this do not help. However, who is going decide what is tastefully proper and what is inappropriate. Secular Humanism posits specific worldviews that, although meaningful to most of us, are very ambiguous and can be widely interpreted to support opposing positions. If someone (Kurtz?) gets to decide how far we can go; that is a form of censorship – regardless of its intended purpose.

To restate what others here have posted, no one is attacking individual people. What is being attacked is the idea of blasphemy itself. Religion is a hurtful, hateful enterprise. To disagree with a dogmatic religious doctrine is to commit blasphemy.  So, we commit blasphemy to show the religious how silly it really is. Paul Kurtz thinks it is in poor taste. That is his opinion. I understand his argument and his reasoning but respectfully arrive at a different conclusion. The mere existence of an act being called blasphemous begs for the act to be committed in the first place.

As far tolerance goes, why should anyone have tolerance for ideas that are false, offensive and destructive (religion)? There is a clear line between the ignorant and the foolish. If you wish to believe in the talking-snake-bastard-child-myth, for example; by all means, believe. However, after you have been shown that your belief is ridiculous, vacuous, unsupported by even the smallest bit of evidence and goes against the very fabric of the reality we live in, yet you still maintain it, I will mock your belief every chance I get. Blaspheme away!

Atheist Realm

#20 Russell Blackford (Guest) on Wednesday September 30, 2009 at 2:48pm

I do think that it’s worth raising whether it’s good for the CFI itself to engage in Blasphemy Day activities, rather than merely defending the right of others to do so. There’s a debate that I’d like to see worked through about the extent to which CFI should alwaysmaintain a certain dignity, while letting others use more aggressive tactics to combat religion. I’m not sure which side I’d take on that particular issue; I’d like to see the issue debated more thoroughly.

But talk of “fundamentalist atheism” loses me. I do concede that there are some potential dangers in current more-or-less organised forms of atheism. We could become apocalyptic (proclaiming a total end of religion in our own lifetimes) or totalitarian (trying to impose our own comprehensive views by force). Those are dangers for any movement with a political element.

But I don’t think those are VERY big dangers for atheism right now, as long as we’re aware of them. In particular, I don’t think it makes sense to refer to this danger as relating to an alleged “fundamentalist atheism” or category of “fundamentalist atheists”. This loses the perfectly useful original meaning of “fundamentalism” and its cognates.

Talk of how we being intolerant also loses me. People are entitled to tolerance from the state, which should not attempt to stop them associating together, worshipping, and much else in their own way. I do worry when I see some atheists proposing that we use the power of the state to abridge freedom of religion in favour of non-belief or in favour some anodyne form of religion. But when we make fun of absurd ideas and practices we do not thereby use the power of the state to suppress them. You can oppose ideas and practices, via rational persuasion, satire, and a range of other non-coercive means, while also tolerating the ideas and practices in that you don’t try to stamp them coercively.

All that religious believers are entitled to in a pluralistic society is recognition of their right to believe, worship, organise, etc., without unnecessary state interference. They are not entitled to be beyond criticism, satire, or even mockery.

#21 Russell Blackford (Guest) on Wednesday September 30, 2009 at 2:52pm

Apologies for leaving out so many prepositions - that’s what I get for writing in a hurry.

#22 Dennis (Guest) on Wednesday September 30, 2009 at 3:14pm

But talk of “fundamentalist atheism” loses me. I do concede that there are some potential dangers in current more-or-less organised forms of atheism.

“Fundamentalist atheism” is a term that was coined to describe an attitude that is as militant about promoting its atheist belief as fundamentalists religious zealots are about promoting theirs. There comes a point when you stop engaging in useful criticism against religion and become a mindless cheerleader for your ideology. That’s exactly what happens when you throw a “Blasphemy Day” celebration. Whether or not you believe in Jesus, you’re never going to take the guy who preached universal love and peace and make him into a villan. It’s immoral to delight in mocking others for their religious (or nonreligious convictions) and it paints a bad picture of atheists. Many atheists I know don’t like to be associated with atheist groups for this reason.

#23 Jen (Guest) on Wednesday September 30, 2009 at 5:22pm

“... it is quite another to violate the key humanistic principle of tolerance.”

That’s the attitude that groups like Scientologists use to force their way onto the public stage. And then use relentless PR to try to influence free speech laws and “blasphemy” type legislation.

I am not willing to let religious groups set the ground rules on what should and shouldn’t be said. I understand the hearts and minds approach to winning public approval, but the religious groups have money and power, and they’re winning. I’m not taking a back seat anymore.

I will work against any group who tries to prevent our valid criticism.

#24 Parrhesia (Guest) on Wednesday September 30, 2009 at 6:04pm

I don’t think there is anything “low” or “crude” about Blasphemy Day, just like I don’t think there is anything “low” or “crude” about International Women’s Day.  I think implying that Blasphemy Day is “low” or “crude” is a way of sneaking the very same pernicious ideas that blasphemy laws are founded on in through the back door.

The point is, blaspheming doesn’t hurt anyone.  But blasphemy laws DO hurt people.  It is the blasphemy laws that are “low” and “crude”.  We should not shrink from saying so, even humorously.  Why are people getting upset over Blasphemy Day, but turning a blind eye to the real problem: blasphemy laws?

#25 victor on Wednesday September 30, 2009 at 7:22pm

Why would you take the views of William Wilberforce as accurate?  He was an enormous hypocrite.  He was a slave captain for a number of years and only in his old age did he say it was wrong.  But that did not change the fact that he enslaved/transported thousands of slaves from Africa to the new world.  This is akin to taking the words of Aquinas regarding morality as accurate.  For a man who slept around and had sex with children, he has an awful lot to say about restraint.

On a different note, there is nothing wrong with blasphemy.  If anything I like the idea of saying that Jesus was a commie before communism came around.  Spread the wealth, the meek shall inherit the earth, etc.  The first Christians lived in communes.  furthermore, I don’t recall anywhere in the Blasphemy day notice did it say to target one group or another, if anything it could target atheist or agnostics or any other group.  We are all open to ridicule and if you cannot laugh at it or learn something from it, you need to get off your high-horse.

Lastly, in my not so humble opinion, religion does not deserve any special treatment.  Sure it has done some amazing things, but it is just as easy to point out all the horrible things it has done.  It has helped people, it has destroyed people.  It allows for peace and potential civility among those in your own group, but creates conformity and destroys creativity.  Religion is a man made construct to try and explain the situations we find ourselves in.  It is nothing different than the idea of politics, the economy, the law or any other idea.  Make fun of it, just be ready to be on the receiving end.

#26 Benjamin (Guest) on Thursday October 01, 2009 at 12:19am

Let us hold ourselves internally accountable for our thinking and its effects as honest, reasoning persons. In so doing, let us recognize conflation in our motives and the targets towards which we would act: Mythoreligious figures may exist in a state beyond being offended, but it is not them we would seek to offend. A religious belief may be rationally objectionable but it is not to the belief alone to which we object.

To state that one can jeer at a mythoreligious icon out of RESPECT for the humanistic inclusion of its adherents is a bald-faced lie. It pretends that our actions are informed exclusively by ideological objection, that we find said idea worthy of rejection and ridicule, and that the conflict of ideas has no grounding in the human realm. It pretends that our objections borrow now impetus from the actions of persons and that our actions intend no impact on said persons. It belies the retaliatory nature of ridicule. The implicit disconnection between ideological conflict and the muck and sweat of human dealings pretends to a level of transcendental mysticism that many a vicar would find untenable.

Secularism, skepticism, and humanism are distinct propositions. Kurtz is speaking in an effort to preserve all three. Secularism holds forth the hope and necessity of opposing viewpoints to productively coexist, that in the dynamism of pluralism no iota of value in human inspiration is lost. Skepticism demands that none of those views be held exempt from scrutiny. Humanism recognizes human thought to be the only innately inexhaustible natural resource available to address the worlds mounting problems and holds forth that those solutions will be the product of our choices, not a spontaneous suspension of them.

Secularism is too often misconstrued as the building of a society in which we are freed from the shadowy “them” by annihilation of the opposed voice rather than annihilation of the “them” concept. Skepticism is too often selective, up to and including cries of “same team! same team!” when it is applied to processes we thought protected. Humanism is too often espoused with a sneer for those who believe there is more than human agency at play in observable affairs.

In a rhetorical environment with no shortage of contempt, what purpose does “Blasphemy Day”, or its accompanying events, truly serve? Will we find soundly reasoned, nuanced criticism in 20 words (or less), or will we find jingoism, a cathartic chuckle, and a handy phrase for self congratulation?

“Drawing attention to the issue” is a wan excuse for indulging in return fire.

#27 DavidMWW on Thursday October 01, 2009 at 1:07am

Another thing.

At a time when the CFI’s Austin Dacey, along with the International Humanist and Ethical Union, is fighting a battle at the United Nations against the introduction of an international law against “defamation of religions”, it is unfortunate that Paul Kurtz should come out with a statement which, with its references to the “bounds of civilised discourse in a pluralistic society,” bogus appeals to “tolerance” and outrageous Nazi comparisons, sounds like he’s channeling the General Secretary of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference.

You can be sure that it will be used against us at the UN. Thanks, Paul.

#28 Alphonsus (Guest) on Thursday October 01, 2009 at 6:03am

I would like to thank Dr. Kurtz for expressing a reasonable view on celebrating a “Blasphemy Day.”  Although I’m sure he and I would disagree on many philosophical, theological, political, and ethical issues, I don’t think it’s in the best interests of either the religious or non-religious to highlight blasphemy in this way.  Indeed, I predict it will do little to advance the cause of secularism.  Any religious individual whose mind is changed by a day of anti-religion jokes almost certainly wasn’t religious in a sincere/meaningful way.  Indeed, such a person would probably have been a de facto secularist already.  Furthermore, sponsoring a “Blasphemy Day” only supports the common (and frequently untrue) stereotype that atheists and secularists are arrogant jerks who get their kicks maligning the beliefs that most Americans hold dear.  Although atheists are often slighted in our culture, this will only add more fuel to the fire.  Stereotypes are ended by bucking them, not by conforming to them.

#29 Alphonsus (Guest) on Thursday October 01, 2009 at 6:25am

“Why would you take the views of William Wilberforce as accurate?  He was an enormous hypocrite.  He was a slave captain for a number of years and only in his old age did he say it was wrong.  But that did not change the fact that he enslaved/transported thousands of slaves from Africa to the new world.”

I you’re referring to John Newton, the writer of “Amazing Grace.”

“This is akin to taking the words of Aquinas regarding morality as accurate.  For a man who slept around and had sex with children, he has an awful lot to say about restraint.”

First, where the heck did you hear that about Aquinas?  What’s your source?  Where’s your evidence

Second, are ad hominem attacks now the standard for philosophical discourse?  How doe the personal life of a thinker affect the truth of their ideas/arguments?

#30 PLaClair on Thursday October 01, 2009 at 8:05am

This firestorm isn’t about anyone’s right. No one here disagrees that everyone has the right to “blaspheme.”

This is about effective strategies. Advertising “Blasphemy Day” is not an effective strategy, for reasons that have been expressed by many others. I only wish to add this:

For us to champion reason and empiricism, only to fly by the seat of our pants in deciding how to present ourselves, is indefensible. CFI should consult with people who have expertise in the fields of communications and/or marketing so that we will at least know how our message is likely to be received. This will be seen, and has been seen as a gratuitous slap at religion. We have plenty of grounds to oppose and even hit theism. I can see no sound strategy to support the gratuitous mocking implied by the title “Blasphemy Day.” The message from the title is that we are encouraging people to urinate on Bibles, etc. If that’s not our mission - and it clearly isn’t - then let’s not say things that suggest it.

There may be times when we decide to go “in your face.” I am quite certain that any expert in communications or marketing would tell us this is not such a time.

#31 Kam Perez (Guest) on Friday October 02, 2009 at 7:32am

When a law tells you you have to sit at a special table or eat in the back of a restaurant because of your race (or belief), you do nothing to help your cause by packing your lunch from then on. Even if it makes you a criminal and upsets those who agree with the law in question, you refuse to move from your seat at the front of the restaurant, you call your friends and have them do the same.

You can either think protesting Ireland’s anti-blasphemy law is appropriate, or not. If you do, then blasphemy is the only way to protest, the law does not prohibit civil discourse on religion so engaging in that would serve no purpose. Blasphemy is by definition offensive to whatever religion it targets, so you can forget the concept of protesting this bill in a non-offensive manner.

If you think a government should be allowed to fine you for offending someone’s beliefs about a cosmic space-wizard, then you are either a believer in space-wizardy or a coward.

#32 PLaClair on Friday October 02, 2009 at 8:19am

There are other ways to protest, including educational programs focusing on free speech and in particular the history of religious oppression; and demonstrations in support of a group’s values, as opposed to mocking one’s adversaries.

#33 David R. Koepsell on Sunday October 04, 2009 at 7:55am

You know I agree with much of Kurtz’s sentiment, but what irks me most is that when I made many of the same points as Kurtz when I suggested that it was unnecessary for Free Inquiry to reprint the Danish cartoons (I felt that it was a cheap ploy to sell magazines, and we weren’t even the first US magazine to print them), even while we should obviously and vociferously support the unfettered freedom of speech and the right for the cartoons to be printed, I was accused of trying to “split the Humanist movement!”  Amazing to see such a reversal now, and such an awkward attempt to try to portray the same acts as somehow not equivalent.  It’s puzzling, to say the least.

#34 Ophelia Benson on Sunday October 04, 2009 at 11:03am

Well this is odd because I mostly disagree with Kurtz’s post, but I don’t think he’s necessarily being inconsistent. I do think he’s right that there’s a difference between actively defending cartoons that have already been published, and encouraging the publication of new cartoons. I mostly disagree with his view that new cartoons shouldn’t be encouraged, but I agree with him that the two actions are different.

On the other hand there’s an underlying unity, to do with social pressure and what is or is not acceptable and how that gets decided. That’s why I disagree with the post. I think accepting the idea that cartoons and jokes about religion are offensive in some special way just feeds into the line of thinking that makes ‘blasphemy’ illegal. I think that line of thinking should be challenged and disobeyed, not further entrenched.

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