Monday, May 08, 2017

Oh, do shut up!

Actually, it's people who want to be protected from getting their feelings hurt.
  But a strict enforcement of blasphemy laws would outlaw seminaries....

Once upon a time, on Irish television, Stephen Fry said something that may have violated this Irish law:

36.— (1) A person who publishes or utters blasphemous matter shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable upon conviction on indictment to a fine not exceeding €25,000.

(2) For the purposes of this section, a person publishes or utters blasphemous matter if—

(a) he or she publishes or utters matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion, and

(b) he or she intends, by the publication or utterance of the matter concerned, to cause such outrage.

(3) It shall be a defence to proceedings for an offence under this section for the defendant to prove that a reasonable person would find genuine literary, artistic, political, scientific, or academic value in the matter to which the offence relates.

(4) In this section “ religion ” does not include an organisation or cult—

(a) the principal object of which is the making of profit, or

(b) that employs oppressive psychological manipulation—

(i) of its followers, or

(ii) for the purpose of gaining new followers.

This is what he said:

"How dare you create a world in which there is such misery? It’s not our fault? It’s not right. It’s utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid god who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain?"

He went on to say that if he was met by the Greek gods he would accept them quicker because, "they didn’t present themselves as being all seeing, all wise, all beneficent."

He added: "Because the god who created this universe, if it was created by god, is quite clearly a maniac, an utter maniac, totally selfish.

"We have to spend our lives on our knees thanking him. What kind of god would do that?"
The Irish Independent says the interview "caused a big reaction."  I don't doubt it, although it's hardly as challenging as anything I went through in seminary.  I'd say it's about on the grade school level of theodicial critique, actually.  But someone in Ireland responded with what we might call a "big reaction":

"I told the Garda I wanted to report Fry for uttering blasphemy and RTE for publishing/broadcasting it and that I believed these were criminal offences under the Defamation Act 2009.

"The garda then took a formal written statement from me in which I quoted Fry’s comments in detail. This written statement mentioned both Fry and RTÉ specifically."

He said he was asked by the garda if he had been personally offended by the programme and If he wished to include this in the written statement.

"I told the Garda that I did not want to include this as I had not personally been offended by Fry's comments - I added that I simply believed that the comments made by Fry on RTÉ were criminal blasphemy and that  I was doing my civic duty by reporting a crime."
The interview was aired in February 2015; the complaint was made in "late 2016"; the Gardai responded in 2017.  The mills of God grind slowly.  And what are the odds of prosecution?  "A well-placed source said it was 'highly unlikely' that a prosecution would take place."

So, legally, this is a nullity.  You might be surprised how many blasphemy laws are still on the books in the world; and who has them, and where they came from.  Denmark still has one, though it hasn't been enforced since 1946.  Pakistan has one, but that's a holdover from colonial times; the British were the first to impose it.  10 countries out of 35 have them in the Americas, although not in America itself.  But then the key issue is whether they are enforced, or not.

Mr. Fry probably won't be charged with blasphemy.  I'd rather see him charged with childishness.  His argument sounds a great deal like the Marcion heresy, the idea that the Creator God was a demiurge, and a greater God was the God of Jesus.  Thus was Jesus allowed to escape the problem of evil.  Fry, of course, isn't looking for an escape, so he stops with the demiurge idea.  Then he tosses in some further nonsense about God requiring our worship:  "We have to spend our lives on our knees thanking him.  What kind of god would do that?"

The kind you made up as a straw man?

I mean, there are better arguments about theodicy than this, and more intelligent challenges than this bleating. I don't wish Mr. Fry to be charged with heresy, much less tried for it, or convicted. It's pretty clear he meant to cause outrage; how else would be get any attention for his opinion?  He sounds more like a child who thinks he's being daring than a serious adult whose thought about this issue.  If it came to that he might defend himself on artistic grounds, a provision put into the law to avoid banning Ulysses again, I presume.   But if you're going to get some attention for being blasphemous, at least raise your remarks above the level of the school yard.

Can't the atheists of the world do better than have these kind of people for their standard-bearers?

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