Posts Tagged “apostasy”

bygging þar sem Alþingi Íslendinga situr, síðan 1881 (Íslenska); Parliament Building in Reykjavík, Iceland (English)For years now I’ve pointed out that the “crime” of blasphemy is really no crime at all; it doesn’t actually harm anyone or anything else. Consider: If (for example) someone expresses disrespect for a deity, what does that accomplish? It can’t harm the deity, since — if they exist — deities are metaphysical entities unaffected by such things. The deity — again, if it existed prior to the blasphemy — will continue to exist and in the same state as before. It can’t harm the deity’s religion, because it will go on just as it had previously; it will still have followers, its teachings won’t vanish, its various artifacts (objects/locations of worship, sacred texts, etc.) will go on as before. It also can’t harm the deity’s worshippers; they can keep on worshipping him/her/it as they always did, and continue believing as they did, prior to the blasphemy having been uttered.

Thus, blasphemy damages nothing and no one. People might be offended by it, but that doesn’t really mean anything, since they aren’t harmed in any meaningful way.

Despite this, a lot of countries have outlawed blasphemy, as well as apostasy (refusal to adhere to the prevailing religion, which is related). As noted, because blasphemy never harms anyone or anything, these laws accomplish nothing, except to protect believers in those countries from the terrible burden of being offended by someone outside their faith. This has the corollary effect of sensitizing people to any expression of blasphemy, and this in turn infantilizes them, fooling them into thinking the entire world believes as they do and they’re entitled never to have to know that not everyone does. This leads them to do insanely juvenile things like riot, maim and murder when they hear someone might burn a Qur’an (for example), or kill people over rumored blasphemies that never actually happened.

There really is no reason, therefore, for any jurisdiction on earth to have a blasphemy law.

I’m glad to hear, therefore, that — as the BBC reports — earlier this month, Iceland repealed its old blasphemy law (WebCite cached article):

Iceland’s parliament has abolished its blasphemy laws, despite opposition from some of the country’s churches.

A bill was put forward by the minority Pirate Party [cached], which campaigns for internet and data freedom.

It came after the deadly attack the same month against French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris.

The bill said it was “essential in a free society that the public can express themselves without fear of punishment”.

It’s too bad it took a massacre to bring this to their attention … but at least they managed to get this done, driven by Iceland’s Pirate Party, which had been small but is growing in both numbers and political influence (cached). What’s also gratifying is that Iceland’s largest church supported repeal of the blasphemy law (cached):

The Iceland Monitor website said that the Church of Iceland supported the change [cached], and quoted them as saying that “any legislative powers limiting freedom of expression in this way is at variance with modern-day attitudes towards human rights”.

The Catholic Church of Iceland, along with a couple others, opposed it, claiming that allowing people’s religion to be insulted somehow reduces their religious freedom. I haven’t a fucking clue how that works — and I suspect they don’t either — but that’s what they said.

It’s time the entire world grew the fuck up and did what Icelanders did, which is to get rid of blasphemy laws. Because that’s what this is all about, ultimately … the maturity it takes to let people say what they want, even if it offends their religious senses. We can no longer afford the alternative. We just can’t.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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The Watchtower and Awake from The Jehovah's WitnessesI’m not sure why it took a couple of months for this to become generally known, but a July 2011 edition of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ official magazine, The Watchtower, included an article which declared former members of the J.W.s “mentally diseased.” The (UK) Independent reports on the controversy that’s been kicked up over this (WebCite cached article):

The official magazine for Jehovah’s Witnesses has described those who leave the church as “mentally diseased”, prompting an outcry from former members and insiders concerned about the shunning of those who question official doctrine.

An article published in July’s edition of The Watchtower warns followers to stay clear of “false teachers” who are condemned as being “mentally diseased” apostates who should be avoided at all costs. “Suppose that a doctor told you to avoid contact with someone who is infected with a contagious, deadly disease,” the article reads. “You would know what the doctor means, and you would strictly heed his warning. Well, apostates are ‘mentally diseased’, and they seek to infect others with their disloyal teachings.”

So you see, according to the Jehovah’s Witness religion, apostasy is more or less the same as an infectious disease you can catch from someone who already has it, and your only defense is to stay as far away from them as possible.

What’s odd about this is that some of the so-called “New Atheists,” such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, have suggested that religious belief may be a form of mental illness — but they’ve been widely vilified, by believers, for having said so. I wonder how many of their fellow believers are going to vilify the leaders of the Jehovah’s Witnesses for claiming — explicitly and overtly rather than just by implication or suggestion — that anyone who dares leave their sect is by definition mentally ill? My guess is the number of such people will be zero.

Added: In a comment below I explain a better way to understand the original Greek expression used in the Bible:

Let me use a similar example that actually is very close to the same thing, from the English language. Let’s say someone tells you that a friend is “heartsick” over something that happened. This is a common expression, which means someone is intensely upset. And it’s used all the time. But, it most assuredly is not the same thing as a diagnosis of heart disease (which is what the JW’s New World Translation does with the verse in question). They’re interpreting a “figure of speech” in the most literal way possible, because they have no fucking clue what that expression meant in koine Greek or how it was used in that language … because none of the translators is literate in koine Greek!

Photo credit: Dan Patterson.

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