Dear believers: Blasphemy is good for you
By JOHN GRAY - THE GLOBE AND MAIL
Added: Thu, 05 Jul 2012 20:27:36 UTC
Title: The Future of Blasphemy Speaking of the Sacred in an Age of Human Rights
Author: Austin Dacey
Near the end of this bracingly provocative and forcefully argued book, Austin Dacey quotes a dictum of Nietzsche’s: “And ever again the human race will from time to time decree: ‘There is something one is absolutely forbidden henceforth to laugh at.’” Reading this, I couldn’t help thinking of Monty Python’s Life of Brian, the 1979 film comedy. Featuring a young Jewish man who is mistaken for the Messiah, the film was condemned by a variety of religious groups and banned from being shown in a number of British cities. Though some attacked it as blasphemous, the film actually belongs in a genre of iconoclastic satire. But there can be no doubt that it offended the sensitivities of many believers, and for that reason alone it would be practically impossible to make anything like it today.
In a twist that illustrates how religion continues to be at the heart of public debate, what was once punished as blasphemy is now being condemned as a violation of human rights. As Dacey writes succinctly, “Blasphemy has been reframed within the secular idiom of respect for persons.” Understood in the past as disrespect for the Deity, blasphemy has been turned into a lack of respect for human beings. The European Court of Human Rights has asserted a universal “right to respect for religious feelings,” while the United Nations has condemned anything that could be categorized as “advocacy of religious hatred.” We have reached a state of affairs in which acts that used to be defined as sacrilege against God are being criminalized as disrespect for humanity.
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[That documentary] allows us to think out of the comfortable narrative that has been concocted for us by the state and its right-wing allies. Watching it allows us to digest opinions wildly diverse from ours and still give them their due consideration and appreciation. This is what made me happy.
Kenan Malik - Pandaemonium 15 Comments
But in the real world where societies are plural, then it is both inevitable and important that people offend the sensibilities of others. Inevitable, because where different beliefs are deeply held, clashes are unavoidable. And we should deal with those clashes rather than suppress them. Important because any kind of social change or social progress means offending some deeply held sensibilities. The right to ‘subject each others’ fundamental beliefs to criticism’ is the bedrock of an open, diverse society.
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