Today, September 30, is International Blasphemy Day. There are people around the world imprisoned for blasphemy, some even marked for execution for it. PZ has a list, and there are more in the comments. People’s lives are being threatened because of something they said.
I wasn’t going to post anything for Blasphemy Day, because I’ve had this thing in my head lately that I should actually have something to say when I post, even if it’s pretty much just me thinking out loud, so to speak. Didn’t seem worthwhile to post something just to say “all gods are bastards”, really.
Two things changed my mind. The first was a quote I stumbled over, which will get its own post later. The second was thinking about free speech, which I’ll pontificate about here for a bit.
It’s important to remember that free speech is only a useful concept if it protects unpopular speech, which I’m pretty sure is the whole point of Blasphemy Day. Keep in mind, we don’t need laws to protect speech that everyone approves of.
In the United States, the freedom of speech is probably broader than just about anywhere else in the world. Courts have consistently ruled in its favor for pretty much everything short of direct threats of violence or other clear immediate dangers. The usual cliché is “Yelling ‘fire!’ in a crowded theater” to define the edges. This means that things like blasphemy, hate speech, and sedition are not crimes in the U.S.
Some people aren’t happy about that. I can sort of understand, I guess. It makes me angry when someone derides something I care about, or says hateful or cruel things about people. I suppose I can imagine how someone could shortsightedly miss the point of free speech.
See, the point is that people still get imprisoned and tortured and executed for speaking their mind. Even if you’re the kind of heartless bastard who’s okay with that as long as it’s nobody you know or care about, it’s still a practical matter for the good of everyone, because you can’t make things better if you can’t plainly say what’s wrong.
And there’s always something wrong. Always something that can be improved. How can they improve if people are afraid to speak for fear of sounding disloyal?
That’s not even getting into tyrannical rulers who casually imprison or execute anyone who shows less than enthusiastic loyalty. I remember a scene from a novel I read years ago where a kingdom was sinking into tyranny and the headsman’s axe swung like a pendulum, treason, sedition, treason, sedition… A chilling thought.
The connection to blasphemy is a simple one, every single religion has concepts and scriptures which are blasphemous to some other religion. All of them. If you were to truly enforce a blasphemy law fairly in a multicultural nation, you’d be arresting pretty much everybody. In fact, probably the only way such a law could be used with something that might, on paper, look vaguely like justice, is if there’s only one privileged religion which it is used to defend. Which will inevitably slide into treason, sedition, treason, sedition, if history is any guide.
Speech must be free. That doesn’t mean that all speech is socially equal, though. There’s a big difference between “You’re breaking the law by saying that” and “You’re being an asshole by saying that.” This really seems like it should be obvious, but I recall someone (Ann Coulter?) complaining on national television that she wasn’t allowed to say things. I don’t recall what the things were, but while complaining that she wasn’t being allowed to say them on national television she repeatedly said them, so I felt that the interview somewhat undermined her point.
The phrase “politically correct” really should have faded away soon after the movie PCU was released. All the good jokes had been made by then.
So anyway, yeah. Guess I should do some blaspheming.
All the gods and angels and demigods and saints and heroes and idols and miracles and commandments and divinity in all of existence combined are worth less than any single human being. All of them.
We are the best minds active on this world, and we are capable of so much more. We are risen apes, and we are rising higher. We don’t need to rise above the gods, for we did that long ago, we need only rise above our own fear, anger, and weakness, and we can create a better world.