Blasphemy is defamation of God or gods, and by extension of gross irreverence towards any person or thing worthy of exalted esteem. In this broader sense the term is used by Sir Francis Bacon in the Advancement of Learning , when he speaks of "blasphemy against learning". Many cultures disapprove of speech or writing which defames the God or gods of their established religions, and these restrictions have the force of law in some countries.
The public domain 1913 Webster's Unabridged Dictionary defines blasphemy as:
- Blasphemy (Blas"phe*my) n. [L. blasphemia, Gr. : cf. OF. blasphemie.]
- An indignity offered to God in words, writing, or signs; impiously irreverent words or signs addressed to, or used in reference to, God; speaking evil of God; also, the act of claiming the attributes or prerogatives of deity. When used generally in statutes or at common law, blasphemy is the use of irreverent words or signs in reference to the Supreme Being in such a way as to produce scandal or provoke violence.
- Figuratively, of things held in high honor: Calumny; abuse; vilification.
The Catholic Encyclopedia has a more extensive article on Blasphemy http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02595a.htm .
There has been a recent tendency in Western countries towards the repeal or reform of blasphemy laws, and these laws are only infrequently enforced where they exist. Such laws still exist in several countries, such as in Austria (Articles 188, 189 of the criminal code), Finland (Section 10 of chapter 17 of the penal code), Germany (Article 166 of the criminal code), Italy, The Netherlands (Article 147 of the criminal code), Spain (Article 525 of the criminal code) and United Kingdom. In the United States, the First Amendment guarantees a relatively unlimited right of free speech, although some US states still have blasphemy laws on the books. Chapter 272 of the Massachusetts General Laws states, for example:
- Section 36. Whoever wilfully blasphemes the holy name of God by denying, cursing or contumeliously reproaching God, his creation, government or final judging of the world, or by cursing or contumeliously reproaching Jesus Christ or the Holy Ghost, or by cursing or contumeliously reproaching or exposing to contempt and ridicule, the holy word of God contained in the holy scriptures shall be punished by imprisonment in jail for not more than one year or by a fine of not more than three hundred dollars, and may also be bound to good behavior.
British author Salman Rushdie's novel The Satanic Verses was seen by many Muslims to be blasphemes against Islam, and Iranian clerical leader Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwah in 1989 calling for Rushdie's death (although strictly this was in response to Rushdie's claimed apostasy, not the novel's supposed blasphemy). The fatwa was not accepted universally by the Muslim Ulema as the way to deal with the problem of Rushdie's salacious book. Some British Muslims called for Rushdie to be tried under English law for blasphemy, but no charges were laid, as the English legal system recognises blasphemy only against the Christian faith. The Rushdie case stimulated debate on this topic, with some arguing the same protection should be extended to all religions, while others claimed the UK's ancient blasphemy laws were an anachronism and should be abolished. Despite much discussion surrounding the controversy, the law was not amended.
Many take the view that accusations of blasphemy and anti-blasphemy legislation are examples of the special pleading logical fallacy where the chosen religion is extended protection from rational enquiry and ridicule that is not extended to other topics.
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Last updated: 05-03-2005 02:30:17