Laws Against Blasphemy Are Always Wrong

August 24, 2012 at 9:44 am | Posted in Enemies of Freedom, Judicial Injustice | Leave a comment
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The Trial of Giordano Bruno (bronze bas relief), obtained via Wikipedia

Giordano Bruno being tried. Bronze relief by Ettore Ferrari (1845-1929), Campo de’ Fiori, Rome. Photographed in 2006 by Jastrow. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giordano_Bruno)

If there are N different religions, at most one of them can be correct.  Then the only way of expressing the truth is blasphemy against at least N – 1 of them.

Blasphemy is not always good.  But laws against blasphemy are always bad.

Every law against blasphemy announces to the world that those who enacted that law do not believe that what they are shielding can withstand critical scrutiny.  It is an admission of weakness.  It announces a belief in the fragility of whatever is being shielded by that law.  It says, “People’s belief in these claims is brittle.  It anyone voices any doubt or question, the whole structure will collapse.”

In that way, every law against blasphemy, itself blasphemes against what it claims to shield.

A law against blaspheming the Koran, or Mohammed, or Allah, or Islam, itself blasphemes the Koran, or Mohammed, or Allah, or Islam.

A law against blaspheming the Bible, or Jesus, or Christianity, itself blasphemes the Bible, or Jesus, or Christianity.

A law against blaspheming the Torah, or the God of Abraham, or Judaism, itself blasphemes the Torah, or the God of Abraham, or Judaism.

So punish for blasphemy anyone who accuses someone else of violating a law against blasphemy, any judge who sentences the accused, and anyone who proposed or voted for or enforces a law against blasphemy.

Laws that prohibit criticism of a leader or a government, or a country’s policy, laws against political disrespect, are really laws against blasphemy: against political blasphemy instead of religious blasphemy.

Blasphemy and public criticism of governments and officials are good.  They expose weaknesses, and the glare of publicity then motivates fixing the weaknesses.  The result is a more coherent and intellectually defensible system of beliefs, or a stronger and better society.

The benefits from allowing public criticism are among the greatest strengths of an open society.  If leaders learn about problems only via official channels, they learn only information that has been filtered by a long chain of sycophants.  So the leaders don’t know what their major problems really are.  They hear only what their echo chamber repeats back at them, plus at most a few muffled contrary voices.

Turkey, China, Russia – are you listening?  (I included Turkey because it is so achingly close to being an open society, and its leaders are honorable patriots.  The other two are less advanced.)

Crowd-sourcing is a remarkably effective and comprehensive way of obtaining information, and of generating ways of solving problems.  One of the advantages of open societies is that they benefit from the crowd-sourcing of information and of ideas for solutions.  But crowd-sourcing works only when everyone can speak freely.

Ancient Athens was a democracy, but it was not an open society.  It used laws against blasphemy to stifle political discussion.  That is demonstrated by the trial of Socrates (URL1, URL2).

I continue to subscribe to the Washington Post, despite its increasing scrawniness and its increasing number of pushy ads (oversized pages, offset pages, pages that are deliberately made unavoidable by wrapping them around other pages).  I subscribe because the Washington Post so effectively uses exposés to force abuses to be fixed.  Watergate is a historic example.  The exposé on the Walter Reed Army Medical Center is a more recent one.  There have been many others.

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