Religion creates Blasphemy, not Atheism

June 15, 2010

We live in a world in which blasphemy happens. What makes this situation possible? There was no blasphemy 20,000 years ago, as far as we can tell. There may be no blasphemy a thousand years from now.

How does blasphemy happen?

A world where people disagreed over answers to big questions -- questions about our past origins, our highest duties now, and our future destinies -- need not contain any blasphemy.  In a world where everyone had worldviews but no one worried if theirs was a minority view, then that world would have no blasphemy. A world where people could question, investigate, test, and re-evaluate each other's worldviews, openly and freely, has no blasphemy.

How does the blasphemy begin? How could it arise among people?

When someone feels so absolutely confident and prideful about his or her conviction in a worldview, then blasphemy can start. When this person does not want to hear or think about a rival worldview, then blasphemy can start. When this person wants to control whether other people can express a rival worldview, then blasphemy can start. And when this person also decides that others must not disagree with his or her own worldview, then blasphemy is full grown. 

What sort of worldviews are intrinsically capable of inspiring and growing blasphemy? Religions are precisely those sorts of worldviews which tend to be hostile towards open questioning and re-evaluation by outsiders. Monotheistic religions are an especially fertile kind of worldview for growing blasphemy. Here is a simple recipe for blasphemy:

Easy no-bake recipe for blasphemy

a substantial number of believers in monotheistic Religion A

a substantial number of believers in monotheistic Religion B

one egg of proclaiming one’s belief on God

Carefully separate the egg of proclaiming one’s belief in God, discarding the white shapeless matter of "all people really worship the same god". Then take any random believer in religion A who likes the yolk of faith and blend well with the believers of religion B. Stand back while the spontaneous heat of insulted people rises and hardens into outrage. To double the recipe, simply mix the same blend of a believer in religion B with those of A.

Why this recipe is so easy: The statement "My God exists" is heard as "Your God doesn’t exist" by believers of a rival monotheistic religion.

There are other recipes for blasphemy that only require one intolerant religion or ideological worldview. Science is not one of them. Scientific naturalism gets accused of committing blasphemy when it contradicts one religion or another, but of course a scientific worldview by itself cannot commit any blasphemy -- it is the very paradigm of openly free inquiry and re-evaluation. Nor could scientific naturalism commit blasphemy simply by disagreeing with other worldviews. Blasphemy depends on the personal reception of disagreement. Only intolerant worldviews create blasphemy. Atheists are blasphemers only because there already are intolerant people. (And atheists get labeled as intolerant only because they refuse to silence themselves.) 

Neither science nor atheism invented blasphemy— intolerant religion invented blasphemy, it uses blasphemy, and it continues to perpetuate blasphemy to this day. The whole matter has gotten entangled with a victim psychology. Frankly, atheists need to just stop talking about blasphemy entirely, as if atheists really need to waste everyone's time by debating whether to create more or less blasphemy. Atheists should openly advocate for their positive worldviews, whatever those may be, and do it in a fearless way. Put more time into justifying and explaining what worldview is best. And quit faulting atheists. Atheists are NOT the people creating blasphemy at all. The biggest blasphemers are religious people. It's their fault. Let them worry about it.

How long must we wait for a world without blasphemy?



#1 Randy Pelton on Tuesday June 15, 2010 at 10:10pm

“Frankly, atheists need to just stop talking about blasphemy entirely, as if atheists really need to waste everyone’s time by debating whether to create more or less blasphemy. Atheists should openly advocate for their positive worldviews, whatever those may be, and do it in a fearless way.”

Could not agree more. But we need to go further with this argument. We need to spend less time (much less time) explaining why we don’t like religion (as if this is going to change very many minds, a doubtful proposition), and spend considerably more time loudly and proudly proclaiming the positive belief system we have as secularists and humanists. While the so-called New Atheism and its practitioners serve a useful purpose, we should not allow this to become a distraction, as I think it is becoming, from the promotion of our positive, affirming message of humanist values. People aren’t generally interested in what you don’t believe. People are more drawn to your message and more interested in hearing what you have to say when you address what you do believe. Atheism is a singular statement of what a person does not believe. And while I subscribe to this statement, it is is not and cannot be at the center of one’s worldview or lifestance. There is nothing life-affirming about declaring oneself an atheist. There has to be more. And if we take the CFI mission statement to heart, that something more is secular humanism nourished by science, reason and free inquiry.

#2 Anthony McCarthy (Guest) on Thursday June 17, 2010 at 6:48am

I’ve been getting a vicious tongue lashing from several new atheists for blaspheming James Randi and Martin Gardner so I think your assertions are unicorn feathers.  I’ve seldom seen more sputtering moral outrage than when I questioned the reputation of Paul Kurtz on a new atheist blog.

Most of the religious people I know seem to take the constant stream of blasphemy quite calmly, though, of course, there are those who don’t.  Needless to say, where violent reaction is not only possible but likely, blasphemy is both irresponsible and stupid.  Unless you want to generate a violent response, in which case it is immoral and degenerate.

#3 Anthony McCarthy (Guest) on Thursday June 17, 2010 at 6:51am

Oh, and someone was reminding me the other day of the time I got the same reaction because I neglected to call Richard Dawkins “Dr. Dawkins” and said I never used that title unless the person was a medical doctor.

You’d think I’d spit in the Pope’s face.

#4 Randy Pelton on Thursday June 17, 2010 at 12:23pm


I am curious to know definition you use for the word blaspheme. I ask because I don’t understand how you can refer to what I presume was criticism of James Randi and Martin Gardner as blasphemy. Neither of them are Gods, nor are either of them considered to be sacred. And while you are free to question the reputation of Paul Kurtz, in what way is the moral outrage your critics expressed a criticism of an act of blasphemy. Questioning the reputation of anyone is not an act of blasphemy. Or do I misunderstand the word? And unless I do, I think your referring to John’s comments on blasphemy as “unicorn feathers”, based on the examples you give, to be no argument at all.

#5 Anthony McCarthy (Guest) on Friday June 18, 2010 at 3:26pm

Neither of them are Gods, nor are either of them considered to be sacred.

Go on the Scienceblogs incognito and lay a substantial, factual criticism of James Randi and watch what happens, especially if you back it up with evidence.  You’ll find out you’re wrong.

I’m researching Gardner, what I’m finding doesn’t match the myth.

I’m guessing if more people knew who Paul Kurtz was it would have the same reaction.  As I recall it was at Fyte’s blog I got the strongest reaction over him, though I’ve also gotten reactions at Lippard’s blog, as I recall.

#6 Randy Pelton on Friday June 18, 2010 at 6:27pm


I don’t doubt that the reaction one gets when you criticize anyone of these three individuals is a visceral, almost religious-like reaction. But that does not make them sacred. This may seem like a trivial point, but words matter. You can NOT blaspheme another person. The word is literally reserved for reference to a god or something that is genuinely sacred, which is NOT true of Randi, Gardner, or Kurtz, no matter how they are perceived by their supporters.


#7 Anthony McCarthy (Guest) on Friday June 18, 2010 at 6:52pm

Ah, as a matter of fact, blasphemy can target someone or something considered sacrosanct or inviolable other than a deity.  According to three dictionaries I just consulted. I’ll take the word of standard reference works, which confirms my own experience of the use of the word.

I’ve also gotten that reaction to a number of the shibboleths of materialism and atheism.  I’ve been viciously attacked by atheists for violating their dogmas and figureheads and shibboleths.  There’s nothing peculiar about atheists that inoculates them from that very human habit.

#8 Randy Pelton on Friday June 18, 2010 at 10:31pm

I won’t quibble with you any longer about the meaning of blasphemy. I am curious, however, about what you have been saying about atheists, Randi, Gardner, and Kurtz that has made you the object of the scorn you speak of.

As to the use of blasphemy, your original response to John’s commentary led me to believe that you were defending its use, or at least dismissing John’s argument that “atheists need to just stop talking about blasphemy entirely” and ” should openly advocate for their positive worldviews” instead. I am interested to know what objection, if any, you have to this? Why is it necessary to intentionally blaspheme or ridicule anyone or anything? There is more than enough incivility in our national conversation without atheists adding to it.

#9 Anthony McCarthy (Guest) on Saturday June 19, 2010 at 3:28am

It’s a curious thing, this etymology of opportunistic convenience that I find is one of the more common resorts of dishonest discourse.  I’m finding it’s one of the more common habits of rigid materialists, some of the greatest upholders of an orthodoxy I’ve ever experienced.  But, I’m sorry, professional lexicography is the place to go to find out if you’re using a word within its common range of meaning, not blog erudition.

I haven’t been saying anything about “atheists” knowing that atheists are no more uniform than “theists” or agnostics and not thinking it moral to stereotype the huge range of people who happen to be atheists.  “New atheists”, who follow a pattern of behavior and cling to identifiable dogmas, I have no trouble teasing out accurate things to say about them.

Oh, that particular trinity of ideologues?  It’s been fact based refutation of the phony facades of their PR CVs.  I’d been researching Gardner before his death and you can’t very well go into him without going into his fraternity brothers.  What I’m finding is a very mixed bag, at best.

I am always curious as to why Martin Gardner’s theism gets a pass from even the most bigoted anti-theists among you.  Star power would seem to overcome your natural tendencies in his case.  But not everyone is star struck.

#10 Randy Pelton on Saturday June 19, 2010 at 12:25pm

I want to be clear, Anthony, about your response to my last posting. Am I being accused of “dishonest discourse” because I argued over the meaning of a word?  Furthermore, are you also saying that I am a “rigid materialist” and charging me with upholding some “orthodoxy” with which I assume you take issue? And I don’t understand your sarcastic-sounding lexicography comment. I simply said I was no longer going to dispute your use of the word blasphemy. Why you felt any need to continue on this point is not obvious to me.

Okay. You haven’t been saying anything about atheists. Then who are you speaking about?

Furthermore, I did not read anywhere in your last post, a response to my question, which was an honest and sincere inquiry. What have you been saying about Randi, Gardner, and Kurtz that has resulted in the “vicious tongue lashing” you spoke of? Please direct me to where I can read your comments and the responses and judge for myself. You do not expect me, I assume, to accept your description of this dialogue solely on the basis of your characterization of it do you?

You speak of “fact based refutation of the phony facades of their PR CVs” in reference to the “trinity of ideologues.” I do not know what fact based refutations to which you allude. Enlighten me. Direct me, please, to the sources that substantiate this charge. I defend nor criticize no person on the word of another.

I also don’t know why Gardner’s theism gets a pass from “the most bigoted anti-theists.” But then I don’t care about the theism of Gardner or any other person. An individual is entitled to believe whatever they wish without me ridiculing them for their belief. I only concern myself with when the belief is used as an instrument of oppression. And then my rebuttal is aimed at the message, not the messenger. To my knowledge, Gardner has not attempted to oppress anyone with his belief. By the way who are these bigoted ant-theists? Bigotry is an ugly thing in any form and it is much to easy to cavalierly hurl this label. Name names.  And substantiate that they are bigots.

“I am always curious as to why Martin Gardner’s theism gets a pass from even the most bigoted anti-theists among you.  Star power would seem to overcome your natural tendencies in his case.  But not everyone is star struck.”

Here, again, you appear to be assuming that I am part of some crowd with which you have issues. Do you think me star-struck? Do I have respect for Gardner? Yes. Do I think the man infallible and above reproach. NO! I think this of no person, you included. Glad to hear that you are unable to resist the cult of celebrity. Very unfair of you, however, to assume that I am under its spell.

I wish to return to the original point of John Shook’s commentary, which was that atheists should stop wasting time with speaking about blasphemy related to religion and instead concentrate on whatever positive, affirmative values they have. Your original posting in response to this never addressed this message. Instead you diverted to blasphemy as it relates to the reputations of Randi, Gardner, and Kurtz. Shook was not speaking of this kind of blasphemy. Furthermore, his original point, which I summarized above, and which my original post addressed, is not “unicorn feathers.” Correct me if I am wrong, but it seems that your choice of words was meant to be dismissive of John’s thesis. But John’s point was and is a valid one. It deserves serious consideration and not to be treated as though it is irrelevant.

Finally, whatever your response to this post, may I suggest that we continue this dialogue via e-mail. I suggest this only so that we don’t clog up this blog with our on-going discussion. Of course, I am more than willing to continue via this blog. Whatever you prefer. If you prefer the e-mail route then respond at this address: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) //';l[1]='a';l[2]='/';l[3]='<';l[4]=' 109';l[5]=' 111';l[6]=' 99';l[7]=' 46';l[8]=' 111';l[9]=' 111';l[10]=' 104';l[11]=' 97';l[12]=' 121';l[13]=' 64';l[14]=' 49';l[15]=' 56';l[16]=' 54';l[17]=' 54';l[18]=' 110';l[19]=' 111';l[20]=' 116';l[21]=' 108';l[22]=' 101';l[23]=' 112';l[24]=' 101';l[25]=' 114';l[26]='>';l[27]='\"';l[28]=' 109';l[29]=' 111';l[30]=' 99';l[31]=' 46';l[32]=' 111';l[33]=' 111';l[34]=' 104';l[35]=' 97';l[36]=' 121';l[37]=' 64';l[38]=' 49';l[39]=' 56';l[40]=' 54';l[41]=' 54';l[42]=' 110';l[43]=' 111';l[44]=' 116';l[45]=' 108';l[46]=' 101';l[47]=' 112';l[48]=' 101';l[49]=' 114';l[50]=':';l[51]='o';l[52]='t';l[53]='l';l[54]='i';l[55]='a';l[56]='m';l[57]='\"';l[58]='=';l[59]='f';l[60]='e';l[61]='r';l[62]='h';l[63]='a ';l[64]='<'; for (var i = l.length-1; i >= 0; i=i-1){ if (l[i].substring(0, 1) == ' ') output += "&#"+unescape(l[i].substring(1))+";"; else output += unescape(l[i]); } document.getElementById('eeEncEmail_K5YjimExd4').innerHTML = output; //]]>

#11 Anthony McCarthy (Guest) on Sunday June 20, 2010 at 11:34am

It is dishonest discourse to quibble about words used within the standard, dictionary meaning of the word.  Oddly, it’s been a recurring feature of my interactions with materialists all over the blogs when I’ve never run into that with any other identifiable group I’ve argued with before.  If you had problems with how I used the word, your first resort should have been a standard dictionary or two. 

So, address the defects in Martin Gardner’s thinking and character that flows from his theism, including the possibility that prayer is efficacious and survival after death.

I’ve been doing a lot of research on Gardner for the past several years, I don’t happen to respect much I’ve seen other than his indisputable intelligence.  I can’t say as much for the other two.

#12 Randy Pelton on Sunday June 20, 2010 at 1:11pm

I did consult a standard dictionary, a copy of Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary. Here is what it said:
1. In law, blasphemy is an indictable offense defined as wanton and malicious revilement of God and the Christian religion. In English law, according to Blackstone, blasphemy is an offense against God and religion, by impiously denying the existence or providence of God, by contumelious reproaches of Jesus Christ, or by profanely scoffing at Holy Scripture or exposing it to contempt and ridicule.
2. contempt for God.
3. villification; malicious detraction; abuse; used figuratively in regard to things held in high esteem.

Now, I will agree that the third definition quoted might be used to describe a person’s criticism of another. And certainly, Randi, Gardner, and Kurtz are held in high esteem by many, myself including. But since I have not read your posts or comments about Randi, Gardner, and Kurtz, I can not judge if they were phrased in a villifying, maliciously detracting, abusive form. Therefore, I have no means to judge that what you said was blasphemous. You tell me, were they? I should hope not. Such an approach to criticism is mean and uncivil.

Secondly, the first two definitions are I think the common understanding of the word. Now I admittedly advance this statement as an untested hypothesis, as I have never put it to an empirical test.  Please let me know if you disagree with this proposition. Perhaps you are aware of some empirical study in which this hypothesis has been investigated?

“So, address the defects in Martin Gardner’s thinking and character that flows from his theism, including the possibility that prayer is efficacious and survival after death.”

What comment did I make that leads you to make this request? I said I don’t care about Gardner’s theism. Thus I don’t care about what character defects he may have that allow him to hold any theistic beliefs. I choose not to address them because they are of no concern to me. His beliefs do me nor anyone else any harm. He did not during his life advocate that his beliefs become those of anyone else. He promoted no arguments nor actions that I or anyone else be coerced into believing as he did.

I would appreciate a straight simple answer to the questions I posed in the my last post. Did you accuse me of dishonest discourse, yes or no? Did you labelel me a “rigid materialist” who adheres to an “orthodoxy?”, yes or no.

Furthermore, you simply ignored my entire argument that your original post in response to John Shook’s commentary was unrelated to what John was speaking about. And lastly, I still await a response to my request for examples of what you have been saying about Randi, Kurtz and Gardner that resulted in the “tongue-lashing” you say you received.

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