Oh, God! Yet More About Blasphemy Day?

October 2, 2009

If you're like me, you may be blasphemed out just now, but I have decided to post a link to my interview on the Rob Breakenridge show, which is broadcast on CHQR, AM-770 in Calgary. Some have raised questions about the goals of Blasphemy Day. If you listen to the interview , you will get a better understanding of what CFI was trying to accomplish through Blasphemy Day, and why restrictions on so-called blasphemy are of continuing concern.


#1 diogenes99 on Friday October 02, 2009 at 10:14am

This is quite a bit of intellectually interesting information touched on by Lindsay in this radio show.  Here is my proposal for a CFI Blasphemy Day 2010 event:

A live video webcast conference featuring speakers on the following topics:  (1) History of blasphemy laws, cases and “criminals” in Europe; (2) History of blasphemy laws, cases and “criminals” in Middle East; (3) Overview of UN blasphemy proposals; (4) Blasphemy social taboos in Western countries; and (5) Rational and deliberate engagement to end blasphemy laws and taboos.

I suggest avoiding making “say anything” megaphone hours on campuses, slogan contests, etc. as the marquee events. I will avoid piling on with more arguments about these approaches.

#2 J. (Guest) on Friday October 02, 2009 at 4:51pm

I and other friends of CFI had a problem with the Blasphemy Day and contest and we expressed our thoughts, to no avail. It seems to have brought out something in the direction of the worst in many of the CFI community. (To call it the worst would be immoderate and an exaggeration.)

The result has been divisiveness at least, and in my opinion, a diversion from the social mission of CFI. It is unfortunate, unseemly and a most serious issue that interpersonal frictions and hostility were fed in to the discussion, especially from the level of leadership.

I hope that the incident and the process that produced it will be addressed with some serious discussion at the levels of leadership and of friends and with some accounting by leadership about if there are any lessons to be learned and if any changes to the process of deciding on programs may be of value.

My suggestion would be to consider all proposed programs in terms of rationale and the likelihood of furthering or impeding the goals of CFI. I do not expect that all leaders and friends will always agree. Few good ideas born or executed in haste are likely to be ruined by a brief delay to consider if feedback that may not have been welcomed may yet have a point.

#3 Jean (Guest) on Saturday October 03, 2009 at 6:52am

Blasphemy Day was just flat out a bad idea. We don’t need to have special days to assert free speech rights; opportunities to do so come up often enough without inventing them.  When you invent them,it comes across as trivializing the offense that’s caused to believers. Think how atheists would perceive a group that established “Atheist Bashing Day” just to make a point about free speech. I really think it’s sad to see the sane and constructive orientation of the Center for Inquiry being subverted. I’d like to see a new “Paul Kurtz” at the helm.

#4 SimonSays on Saturday October 03, 2009 at 8:49am

I’ve been reading the blog posts between Paul Kurtz and Ronald Lindsay, two people I’ve met and respect very much as well as all the comments (also many by people I’ve met through the organization). Many of the thoughts I’ve been having have already been expressed. However IMO there are a few other things that have yet to be mentioned by bloggers and commentators alike. I’ll try stick to the latter here so as not to be repetitive.

First I’d like to point out -unlike most of the commentators who were against Blasphemy Day- I volunteered and attended an event. In particular the one in DC were we had an artist showcase by a talented and highly acclaimed local artist Dana Ellyn. She created -among others- the “Jesus Painting His Nails” image that Paul Kurtz found so distasteful. I’d encourage everyone to see her work for themselves by either visiting her website or stopping by the DC Center in the next month or so that the work will be displayed. If you like the paintings I would also encourage you to buy one. They’re quite affordable and a portion of the proceeds goes to CFI DC.

I don’t recall who thought that displaying her work would classify us as some kind of “radical” organization, but here in the real world, the response by the local artistic community (composed of both believers and non I’m sure) has been overwhelmingly positive to Dana Ellyn’s work over the past few years-long before CFI DC had the pleasure of showcasing it.

I think that creating a day out of the year and calling it Blasphemy Day in order to bring attention to threats on freedom of expression and the dangers or history of blasphemy laws with organized and coordinated events is a great idea. We can quibble internally about what type of events are most beneficial etc. but the concept has IMO already proved successful if we judge by the amount of informative and fairly balanced press coverage where CFI was able to tell people about the organization and what pas and current blasphemy legislation is all about.

To be honest, I never understood why a Blasphemy Day celebration would even be that controversial in the secular community to begin with. For me, the best analogy is when libraries have “banned books month”, something quite widespread and common. It highlights both the history and perils of censorship, while at the same time showcasing some pretty good books that used to be banned. I hope that the CFI community will show similar open-mindedness and support Blasphemy Day both this year and beyond with continued participation and donations. I know I will.

#5 Reba Wooden (Guest) on Sunday October 04, 2009 at 4:05am

I don’t see anything wrong with displaying the paintings as examples of art that could be considered blasphemy.  My quarrel was with the contest where CFI was encouraging people to make blasphemy statements and with some of the suggestions to students on college campuses.  I know that Ron says that the intent was not to offend and that CFI was going to monitor it for things that were profane or whatever but I think the line was pretty thin and wavey and very easy for people to misunderstand its intent which is what has happened.

#6 Alan C. Baird (Guest) on Monday October 05, 2009 at 10:57am

What happened to CFI’s Blasphemy Contest? Was it censored? The page seems to have disappeared:

#7 PLaClair on Monday October 05, 2009 at 8:58pm

Ron, why do you continue to ignore the problem, and why do you continue to air CFI’s laundry in public? I’m commenting publicly only because that is how this is being raised.

CFI can do most of what you want to do, with good effect, but “Blasphemy Day” is an ill-advised title. When this many of your own members tell you publicly it’s a bad idea, you know what the larger community is thinking. There is a difference between persistence and stubbornness.

There are two things that CFI can do to make this a good event: (1) act like we want to be taken seriously and (2) change the title.

The other point I don’t understand is why CFI insists on flying by the seat of its pants instead of studying what effects this has had. We reject theism because it is data-free. That claim loses its credibility when we treat a public relations issue like this.

Ron, forget about your history with Paul Kurtz. You’re the leader now. Act like it.

#8 SimonSays on Wednesday October 07, 2009 at 6:04am

@PLaClair: Based on a brief examination of the blog archive, it was Paul Kurtz who posted a blog against Blasphemy Day on September 29: http://bit.ly/12Vqli

Timing of the blog post aside, CFI could either:

a) Remove/not publish the blog
b) Publish a response

Seeing as how CFI has a tradition of posting opposite viewpoints on several issues with Free Inquiry (2 recent examples are the Iraq War and the Mohammed cartoons), its not entirely unexpected that Paul’s blog post would be published along with a response by Ron.

How would you have preferred this be handled?

@Reba, thanks for clarifying. It seems however that one aspect of the event which received very little press attention (the contest) is being conflated with another that did (the artist showcase in DC). At least this is the impression I get when reading Paul’s first blog post (see link above for full source):

The celebrating of “Blasphemy Day” by the Center for Inquiry by sponsoring a contest encouraging new forms of blasphemy, I believe is most unwise…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.

The “Jesus Does His Nails” painting (not cartoon) was created (along with all others by the artist) before Blasphemy Day was even announced: http://www.danaellyn.com/best.html. Dana’s work was therefore also not “recently circulated” nor commissioned just for this event as the above passage seems to imply. IMO someone not familiar with the events on the ground might read Paul’s post above and get a completely different idea of what occurred.

CFI chose to display Dana’s work in DC because it would be a good fit for Blasphemy Day. If I understand correctly, we are in agreement that this was not objectionable, correct?

Therefore, based on the above and knowing that Paul always has CFI’s best interests at heart, my guess is that he simply received mistaken or incomplete information on the specifics of the Blasphemy Day events that took place across North America.

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