by Perry Bulwer
I was recently a runner-up in a blasphemy contest held as part of The Center for Inquiry's campaign for free expression, and in conjunction with commemorations for Blasphemy Day International. Although the contest was somewhat tongue-in-cheek, and there was no consensus within humanist/atheist circles that such a contest was appropriate, which is what you would expect amongst free-thinkers, the contest addressed a very serious development. Ever since the uproar over Danish editorial cartoons four years ago, Islamic countries have been working to enact anti-blasphemy laws. And it is not just Islamic countries. Recently, the Irish government has also been toying with the idea of criminalizing blasphemy. The human rights and free speech aspects of this trend towards outlawing the ridicule of religious beliefs is what prompted me to enter the contest. I happened to win a t-shirt (woo hoo!) but that's not why I entered. I could care less about a prize. What I was really interested in was creating a meme, and then watching to see how far it would spread. My winning entry? "I Survived the God Virus". I mean that in a very literal way; I know many people who did not survive that deadly infection. Unlike the other winning entries, mine makes most sense to those, like me, who are former believers who have escaped the God delusion. Following is the official announcement of the contest winners.
CFI Announces Blasphemy Contest Winners
November 16, 2009
The Center for Inquiry is pleased to announce that Ken Peters of California is the Grand Prize winner of its Blasphemy Contest, which asked contestants to submit statements of no more than twenty words critical of religious beliefs. The entry Mr. Peters submitted was: “Faith is no reason.” Regarding Mr. Peters’ entry, CFI president and CEO Ronald A. Lindsay observes, “This entry, using only four words, summarizes nicely one of the key principles of post-Enlightenment thought. Beliefs should be based on evidence and reason. Faith is not a basis for logically sound belief.”
In addition to the Grand Prize winner, there were four other winners.
“There’s no religion like no religion,” submitted by Daniel Boles of Thailand;
“I wouldn’t even follow your god on Twitter,” submitted by Michael Hein of South Carolina;
“The reason religious beliefs need protection from ridicule is that they are ridiculous,” submitted by Michael Nugent of Ireland; and
“I survived the God virus,” submitted by Perry Bulwer of British Columbia, Canada.
All top five winners will receive a CFI T-shirt with their submission imprinted on the shirt. Ken Peters, the Grand Prize winner, will also receive a coffee mug with his slogan and he will be officially recognized in a forthcoming issue of Free Inquiry, the magazine published by CFI’s affiliate, the Council for Secular Humanism. Also, as indicated in the contest rules, Ken Peters will likely be able to look forward to eternal damnation, although that prize is not entirely within CFI’s control.
The T-shirts featuring the individual winning phrases can be viewed and ordered for purchase in the CFI On-line Store.
Many will recall that when CFI decided in September to hold a contest in conjunction with its commemoration of International Blasphemy Day, it generated a firestorm of controversy. Some observers claimed that CFI was soliciting hate speech, and they likened CFI to Nazis publishing anti-Semitic attacks.
CFI rejected those mischaracterizations then and continues to reject them now. “In holding a blasphemy contest, we wished to underscore our position that religious beliefs are subject to examination and criticism, just like other beliefs,” said Lindsay. “Sometimes that criticism may take the form of a scholarly essay; sometimes the criticism may take the form of a pithy, pointed remark. Both are appropriate forms of free expression.”
In its contest, CFI emphasized it wanted clever, concise statements that might capture some of the flaws of religious beliefs. CFI was not interested in crude attacks on believers. Overall, CFI was not disappointed in quality of the entries.
Nor was CFI disappointed in the quantity of entries. About 650 individuals submitted well over 1,000 entries (contestants could submit two entries). In fact, deciding which entries deserved to make it into the top five was difficult. Accordingly, the judges have decided that the following entries deserved honorable mention.
"Think outside the pew."
"GodLess is more."
"Minds harbor incongruous memes:
Religion and fairytale dreams.
They turn brains to putty,
Inculcating scurrilous schemes."
"A fool says in his heart, 'There is no God.'
A wise man shouts it from the rooftops."
"Jesus has all the answers...to your vague, non-specific questions to which you already know the answer."
aaoe98 (no name accompanied the email)
"God is incredible."
J. Laudig and George Tipton (submitted separately)
"A perplexing entity, God
Exhibited properties odd
A generous savior
With wrathful behavior
Both Barney and Marquis de Sade."
:–) <-- Muhammad
"Religion is the blasphemy of reality."
"Our Father, Heavenly King
Stop watching me sleep.
Finally, the judges decided that a blasphemous joke uttered by CFI Founder Paul Kurtz at a CFI event in early November merited special mention—even though the joke is longer than twenty words, it was made after the contest ended, Dr. Kurtz is disqualified from making an entry, and Dr. Kurtz never formally submitted the joke as an entry. But, hey, it’s our contest. Anyway, here’s the joke:
A priest and a nun went golfing. On the priest's first swing, the ball went wide of the green.
"Shit," said the priest. "I missed!"
"Oh Father, please don't speak like that," said the nun. "God wouldn't like it."
On the priest's second swing, the ball went into the rough.
"Shit," said the priest. "I missed!"
"Oh Father, you mustn't curse," said the nun. "God will strike you dead if you use such language."
On the priest's third swing, the ball went right into the water hazard.
"Shit," said the priest. "I missed!"
Suddenly it got very dark. Black clouds boiled up. There was a flash of lightning, an ear-splitting crack of thunder.
And the nun was gone.
"Shit," said a great voice from above. "I missed!"
Note that when Dr. Kurtz told this joke, he decorously substituted “merde” for “shit” about halfway through. But we don’t want to imply that God is French. Not even the French deserve that.
CFI thanks everyone who took the time to submit an entry. Your participation helped make the contest a success.
January 1, 2010
From today, 1 January 2010, the new Irish blasphemy law becomes operational, and we begin our campaign to have it repealed. Blasphemy is now a crime punishable by a €25,000 fine. The new law defines blasphemy as publishing or uttering matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby intentionally causing outrage among a substantial number of adherents of that religion, with some defences permitted.
This new law is both silly and dangerous. It is silly because medieval religious laws have no place in a modern secular republic, where the criminal law should protect people and not ideas. And it is dangerous because it incentives religious outrage, and because Islamic States led by Pakistan are already using the wording of this Irish law to promote new blasphemy laws at UN level.
We believe in the golden rule: that we have a right to be treated justly, and that we have a responsibility to treat other people justly. Blasphemy laws are unjust: they silence people in order to protect ideas. In a civilised society, people have a right to to express and to hear ideas about religion even if other people find those ideas to be outrageous.
Publication of 25 blasphemous quotes
In this context we now publish a list of 25 blasphemous quotes, which have previously been published by or uttered by or attributed to Jesus Christ, Muhammad, Mark Twain, Tom Lehrer, Randy Newman, James Kirkup, Monty Python, Rev Ian Paisley, Conor Cruise O’Brien, Frank Zappa, Salman Rushdie, Bjork, Amanda Donohoe, George Carlin, Paul Woodfull, Jerry Springer the Opera, Tim Minchin, Richard Dawkins, Pope Benedict XVI, Christopher Hitchens, PZ Myers, Ian O’Doherty, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor and Dermot Ahern.
Despite these quotes being abusive and insulting in relation to matters held sacred by various religions, we unreservedly support the right of these people to have published or uttered them, and we unreservedly support the right of any Irish citizen to make comparable statements about matters held sacred by any religion without fear of being criminalised, and without having to prove to a court that a reasonable person would find any particular value in the statement.
Campaign begins to repeal the Irish blasphemy law
We ask Fianna Fail and the Green Party to repeal their anachronistic blasphemy law, as part of the revision of the Defamation Act that is included within the Act. We ask them to hold a referendum to remove the reference to blasphemy from the Irish Constitution.
We also ask all TDs and Senators to support a referendum to remove references to God from the Irish Constitution, including the clauses that prevent atheists from being appointed as President of Ireland or as a Judge without swearing a religious oath asking God to direct them in their work.
If you run a website, blog or other media publication, please feel free to republish this statement and the list of quotes yourself, in order to show your support for the campaign to repeal the Irish blasphemy law and to promote a rational, ethical, secular Ireland.
List of 25 Blasphemous Quotes Published by Atheist Ireland
1. Jesus Christ, when asked if he was the son of God, in Matthew 26:64: “Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.” According to the Christian Bible, the Jewish chief priests and elders and council deemed this statement by Jesus to be blasphemous, and they sentenced Jesus to death for saying it.
2. Jesus Christ, talking to Jews about their God, in John 8:44: “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him.” This is one of several chapters in the Christian Bible that can give a scriptural foundation to Christian anti-Semitism. The first part of John 8, the story of “whoever is without sin cast the first stone”, was not in the original version, but was added centuries later. The original John 8 is a debate between Jesus and some Jews. In brief, Jesus calls the Jews who disbelieve him sons of the Devil, the Jews try to stone him, and Jesus runs away and hides.
3. Muhammad, quoted in Hadith of Bukhari, Vol 1 Book 8 Hadith 427: “May Allah curse the Jews and Christians for they built the places of worship at the graves of their prophets.” This quote is attributed to Muhammad on his death-bed as a warning to Muslims not to copy this practice of the Jews and Christians. It is one of several passages in the Koran and in Hadith that can give a scriptural foundation to Islamic anti-Semitism, including the assertion in Sura 5:60 that Allah cursed Jews and turned some of them into apes and swine.
4. Mark Twain, describing the Christian Bible in Letters from the Earth, 1909: “Also it has another name - The Word of God. For the Christian thinks every word of it was dictated by God. It is full of interest. It has noble poetry in it; and some clever fables; and some blood-drenched history; and some good morals; and a wealth of obscenity; and upwards of a thousand lies… But you notice that when the Lord God of Heaven and Earth, adored Father of Man, goes to war, there is no limit. He is totally without mercy - he, who is called the Fountain of Mercy. He slays, slays, slays! All the men, all the beasts, all the boys, all the babies; also all the women and all the girls, except those that have not been deflowered. He makes no distinction between innocent and guilty… What the insane Father required was blood and misery; he was indifferent as to who furnished it.” Twain’s book was published posthumously in 1939. His daughter, Clara Clemens, at first objected to it being published, but later changed her mind in 1960 when she believed that public opinion had grown more tolerant of the expression of such ideas. That was half a century before Fianna Fail and the Green Party imposed a new blasphemy law on the people of Ireland.
5. Tom Lehrer, The Vatican Rag, 1963: “Get in line in that processional, step into that small confessional. There, the guy who’s got religion’ll tell you if your sin’s original. If it is, try playing it safer, drink the wine and chew the wafer. Two, four, six, eight, time to transubstantiate!”
6. Randy Newman, God’s Song, 1972: “And the Lord said: I burn down your cities - how blind you must be. I take from you your children, and you say how blessed are we. You all must be crazy to put your faith in me. That’s why I love mankind.”
7. James Kirkup, The Love That Dares to Speak its Name, 1976: “While they prepared the tomb I kept guard over him. His mother and the Magdalen had gone to fetch clean linen to shroud his nakedness. I was alone with him… I laid my lips around the tip of that great cock, the instrument of our salvation, our eternal joy. The shaft, still throbbed, anointed with death’s final ejaculation.” This extract is from a poem that led to the last successful blasphemy prosecution in Britain, when Denis Lemon was given a suspended prison sentence after he published it in the now-defunct magazine Gay News. In 2002, a public reading of the poem, on the steps of St. Martin-in-the-Fields church in Trafalgar Square, failed to lead to any prosecution. In 2008, the British Parliament abolished the common law offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel.
8. Matthias, son of Deuteronomy of Gath, in Monty Python’s Life of Brian, 1979: “Look, I had a lovely supper, and all I said to my wife was that piece of halibut was good enough for Jehovah.”
9. Rev Ian Paisley MEP to the Pope in the European Parliament, 1988: “I denounce you as the Antichrist.” Paisley’s website describes the Antichrist as being “a liar, the true son of the father of lies, the original liar from the beginning… he will imitate Christ, a diabolical imitation, Satan transformed into an angel of light, which will deceive the world.”
10. Conor Cruise O’Brien, 1989: “In the last century the Arab thinker Jamal al-Afghani wrote: ‘Every Muslim is sick and his only remedy is in the Koran.’ Unfortunately the sickness gets worse the more the remedy is taken.”
11. Frank Zappa, 1989: “If you want to get together in any exclusive situation and have people love you, fine - but to hang all this desperate sociology on the idea of The Cloud-Guy who has The Big Book, who knows if you’ve been bad or good - and cares about any of it - to hang it all on that, folks, is the chimpanzee part of the brain working.”
12. Salman Rushdie, 1990: “The idea of the sacred is quite simply one of the most conservative notions in any culture, because it seeks to turn other ideas - uncertainty, progress, change - into crimes.” In 1989, Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran issued a fatwa ordering Muslims to kill Rushdie because of blasphemous passages in Rushdie’s novel The Satanic Verses.
13. Bjork, 1995: “I do not believe in religion, but if I had to choose one it would be Buddhism. It seems more livable, closer to men… I’ve been reading about reincarnation, and the Buddhists say we come back as animals and they refer to them as lesser beings. Well, animals aren’t lesser beings, they’re just like us. So I say fuck the Buddhists.”
14. Amanda Donohoe on her role in the Ken Russell movie Lair of the White Worm, 1995: “Spitting on Christ was a great deal of fun. I can’t embrace a male god who has persecuted female sexuality throughout the ages, and that persecution still goes on today all over the world.”
15. George Carlin, 1999: “Religion easily has the greatest bullshit story ever told. Think about it. Religion has actually convinced people that there’s an invisible man living in the sky who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever ’til the end of time! But He loves you. He loves you, and He needs money! He always needs money! He’s all-powerful, all-perfect, all-knowing, and all-wise, somehow just can’t handle money! Religion takes in billions of dollars, they pay no taxes, and they always need a little more. Now, talk about a good bullshit story. Holy Shit!”
16. Paul Woodfull as Ding Dong Denny O’Reilly, The Ballad of Jaysus Christ, 2000: “He said me ma’s a virgin and sure no one disagreed, Cause they knew a lad who walks on water’s handy with his feet… Jaysus oh Jaysus, as cool as bleedin’ ice, With all the scrubbers in Israel he could not be enticed, Jaysus oh Jaysus, it’s funny you never rode, Cause it’s you I do be shoutin’ for each time I shoot me load.”
17. Jesus Christ, in Jerry Springer The Opera, 2003: “Actually, I’m a bit gay.” In 2005, the Christian Institute tried to bring a prosecution against the BBC for screening Jerry Springer the Opera, but the UK courts refused to issue a summons.
18. Tim Minchin, Ten-foot Cock and a Few Hundred Virgins, 2005: “So you’re gonna live in paradise, With a ten-foot cock and a few hundred virgins, So you’re gonna sacrifice your life, For a shot at the greener grass, And when the Lord comes down with his shiny rod of judgment, He’s gonna kick my heathen ass.”
19. Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion, 2006: “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” In 2007 Turkish publisher Erol Karaaslan was charged with the crime of insulting believers for publishing a Turkish translation of The God Delusion. He was acquitted in 2008, but another charge was brought in 2009. Karaaslan told the court that “it is a right to criticise religions and beliefs as part of the freedom of thought and expression.”
20. Pope Benedict XVI quoting a 14th century Byzantine emperor, 2006: “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.” This statement has already led to both outrage and condemnation of the outrage. The Organisation of the Islamic Conference, the world’s largest Muslim body, said it was a “character assassination of the prophet Muhammad”. The Malaysian Prime Minister said that “the Pope must not take lightly the spread of outrage that has been created.” Pakistan’s foreign Ministry spokesperson said that “anyone who describes Islam as a religion as intolerant encourages violence”. The European Commission said that “reactions which are disproportionate and which are tantamount to rejecting freedom of speech are unacceptable.”
21. Christopher Hitchens in God is not Great, 2007: “There is some question as to whether Islam is a separate religion at all… Islam when examined is not much more than a rather obvious and ill-arranged set of plagiarisms, helping itself from earlier books and traditions as occasion appeared to require… It makes immense claims for itself, invokes prostrate submission or ‘surrender’ as a maxim to its adherents, and demands deference and respect from nonbelievers into the bargain. There is nothing-absolutely nothing-in its teachings that can even begin to justify such arrogance and presumption.”
22. PZ Myers, on the Roman Catholic communion host, 2008: “You would not believe how many people are writing to me, insisting that these horrible little crackers (they look like flattened bits of styrofoam) are literally pieces of their god, and that this omnipotent being who created the universe can actually be seriously harmed by some third-rate liberal intellectual at a third-rate university… However, inspired by an old woodcut of Jews stabbing the host, I thought of a simple, quick thing to do: I pierced it with a rusty nail (I hope Jesus’s tetanus shots are up to date). And then I simply threw it in the trash, followed by the classic, decorative items of trash cans everywhere, old coffeegrounds and a banana peel.”
23. Ian O’Doherty, 2009: “(If defamation of religion was illegal) it would be a crime for me to say that the notion of transubstantiation is so ridiculous that even a small child should be able to see the insanity and utter physical impossibility of a piece of bread and some wine somehow taking on corporeal form. It would be a crime for me to say that Islam is a backward desert superstition that has no place in modern, enlightened Europe and it would be a crime to point out that Jewish settlers in Israel who believe they have a God given right to take the land are, frankly, mad. All the above assertions will, no doubt, offend someone or other.”
24. Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, 2009: “Whether a person is atheist or any other, there is in fact in my view something not totally human if they leave out the transcendent… we call it God… I think that if you leave that out you are not fully human.” Because atheism is not a religion, the Irish blasphemy law does not protect atheists from abusive and insulting statements about their fundamental beliefs. While atheists are not seeking such protection, we include the statement here to point out that it is discriminatory that this law does not hold all citizens equal.
25. Dermot Ahern, Irish Minister for Justice, introducing his blasphemy law at an Oireachtas Justice Committee meeting, 2009, and referring to comments made about him personally: “They are blasphemous.” Deputy Pat Rabbitte replied: “Given the Minister’s self-image, it could very well be that we are blaspheming,” and Minister Ahern replied: “Deputy Rabbitte says that I am close to the baby Jesus, I am so pure.” So here we have an Irish Justice Minister joking about himself being blasphemed, at a parliamentary Justice Committee discussing his own blasphemy law, that could make his own jokes illegal.
Finally, as a bonus, Micheal Martin, Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, opposing attempts by Islamic States to make defamation of religion a crime at UN level, 2009: “We believe that the concept of defamation of religion is not consistent with the promotion and protection of human rights. It can be used to justify arbitrary limitations on, or the denial of, freedom of expression. Indeed, Ireland considers that freedom of expression is a key and inherent element in the manifestation of freedom of thought and conscience and as such is complementary to freedom of religion or belief.” Just months after Minister Martin made this comment, his colleague Dermot Ahern introduced Ireland’s new blasphemy law.
Bid for blasphemy ban: Wrong tack on religion
Chronicle Herald Editorial
WHAT constitutes blasphemy?
In this secular age, many people might say it’s the act of swearing, or taking the Lord’s name in vain. But that’s the lowest common denominator of irreverence. To the religious, blasphemy is much more than that. For example, to speak ill of God, or to claim God-like qualities, is to blaspheme. It is also blasphemous to desecrate or denigrate religious texts or symbols.
Even in the free-thinking West, where it is possible to discuss such concepts more dispassionately, it is impossible to find agreement on where the tripwire is. If there is a line not to be crossed, it’s a blurry one. There only exists a vague consensus that it is impolite, at the very least, to needlessly run roughshod over people’s religious sensibilities.
But how people frame the debate in Western democracies bears no resemblance to the mindset of people in other parts of the globe. In the Islamic world, blasphemy is not only a clear-cut concept but an extremely broad one. There is a litany of ways in which one can cause offence, in deed and in word.
For example, it is blasphemy to find fault with Islam or the Prophet Muhammad, to depict him in any manner, to espouse atheism or another faith, and if you are an infidel, to touch a Qur’an.
In Muslim countries, there are serious penalties for such transgressions. Anti-blasphemy laws are used to persecute dissidents.
Clearly, stifling prohibitions like these cannot be reconciled with freedom of thought, religion and expression and other basic human rights, which are upheld in the West.
Therefore, one should be wary of the current longshot lobby effort by the Organization of the Islamic Conference, an umbrella group representing 56 member states, to develop a UN treaty aimed at shielding religious symbols and beliefs from mockery. This would be a step up from the non-binding resolutions passed by the General Assembly condemning the "defamation of religions."
The intent would be to prohibit by law, in countries that would ratify such a treaty, sacrilegious deeds, like the publication four years ago of cartoons of Muhammad by a Danish newspaper.
The difficulty is that any ban on grossly abusive speech is grossly abusive in and of itself, and wide open to abuse. A global treaty on blasphemy would have the practical effect of sparing Islam from criticism while leaving other faiths wide open to it.
That’s because there is no common ground upon which to base a claim of defamation. In the West, to deny Christianity is not considered defamatory to that religion. But in the Middle East, to suggest that Islam is patently false is a grievous insult, although, manifestly, that’s what millions of adherents of other faiths believe.
There is no need for kid gloves here. On the contrary, people should be able to duke it out on matters of religion in the free marketplace of ideas, no matter where they live. The real problem is that they are often banned from doing so in Islamic countries.
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