As current news is filled with the appalling murders, floggings, beheadings and various other evil acts committed in the name of some or other religion, we are hearing a lot more of this word: Blasphemy. Defined by the first Google hit as “the action or offence of speaking sacrilegiously about God or sacred things; profane talk.”
Articles are springing up, arguing various angles. One I read today explained how non-believers simply don’t understand that gods are as real and beloved to some people as their own families, hence the Pope metaphorically wading in with fists flying at the prospect of a ‘yo mama’ joke.
The thing is, we do understand. We understand that to believers their god, be it a big old man in the sky, an all-pervading force for good, or any other permutation of supreme being, is as real and beloved as anything can be, and that perceived or obvious slights offend you.
What believers don’t understand is just how offensive religion is.
The holy books of all religions contain problematic passages that promote inequality and violence. But even leaving those aside, religion itself is deeply offensive to many of us.
Everyone is free to believe whatever they want, regardless whether or not it is real or true. But no one has the right to expect others to accept those beliefs without challenge. Just as I accept your right to your beliefs (but not your actual beliefs), you must accept my right not to believe in anything for which there is no proof or satisfactory evidence.
This, of course, is where all the problems start. For someone who believes in god and perhaps follows a religion (those two things are not the same, though often go together), the reality of said god and religion is equal to the reality of the Earth being a sphere (though it wasn’t always believed to be so), and they feel their holy books provide proof enough.
But these things are not proof. They are not even evidence. When non-believers speak irreverently about gods and sacred things it is sometimes in an attempt to help people see religion for what it really is: a system of control. In the UK, some of our highest clergy members have hinted that they don’t believe in god per se, yet feel that religious structures have a use in society. Do you really think a god, a supreme being, would care whether or not a woman showed her face in public? Do you think it would care whether people ate meat and cheese from the same plate? Or if two people of the same sex fell in love? These are the rules of men, not gods, taken from books written by men who claim to speak for gods.
This is why I find the concept of religion so offensive. Holy men live in palaces filled with fine art and treasures while their people go hungry. Loving couples are shunned because they don’t fit an ancient brief. Women are murdered for being raped. Children’s bodies, girls and boys, are mutilated. If there was a god, it would be disgusted at the words men have put into its mouth, at what is done in its name, at how the vulnerable are held to ransom with promises of all being well in the hereafter.
Therefore I understand perfectly why religious people don’t want their beliefs scrutinised, and why they sometimes defend the indefensible so strongly.
When people resort to violence, abusive language, or other displays of aggression, they have lost the argument. Some may feel that a loss of temper underscores how passionately they feel about something. I disagree. When passions rise, reason is lost, and arguments can only be won via reason.
When an animal displays aggression, it is to mask intense fear. Same for people.
When people become violent or aggressive because someone has disagreed with or challenged them, it is because they fear they are wrong but have gone too far along a certain path to back down without losing face. People who are confident of their opinions, views, and beliefs do not need to attack. They simply sit back calmly and wait for others to catch up.
Believe whatever makes sense to you, but only after careful consideration. Examine your texts, screeds, and books, and make sure you know exactly what you’re agreeing to before signing on the dotted line, and understand that when non-believers shine light onto the dark, unquestioned corners of your holy books, we do so to free you from the shackles of religion in the hope that we will also become free to live without fear of vengeance from the disciples of man made monsters.