On Oct. 27, the Irish Republic quietly declared that blasphemy is no longer a punishable offense.
“About bloody time too,” most Irish responded.
In case anyone needs reminding, the dictionary defines blasphemy as, “The act of insulting, or showing contempt, or lack of reverence for God.” So as of this week, Ireland’s blasphemers are probably still hell-bound, but they won’t be fined or jailed for cursing God while on this side of the veil. Progress.
Blasphemy is a curious concept. The premise is that it’s fine for me to be critical, even insulting, about your religion (no sin there, just common sense), but it is gravely wrong for you to be critical or insulting about mine. Not much logic here, but then, we are talking religion, not logic.
Blasphemy is a textbook example of victimless crime. Who gets hurt? Nobody. It can’t be blasphemous to call Santa Claus, for example, “a red-faced, bewhiskered old buffoon with a fetish for chimneys,’’ unless everyone believes the fellow exists.
There’s another problem. Assuming God to be — as all good Jews, Christians, and Muslims (probably all religions) claim — all-powerful and all-knowing, how can mere mortals possibly utter any words that will offend, dismay, or anger Him (or Her)? We can’t. He’s just too big. It’s probably blasphemous even to suggest we can ever upset God at all. He doesn’t give a damn.
But people love to be offended and outraged on His behalf. “How dare you say that?” they howl, “Is nothing sacred?” Well, not much anymore, thank God. Not in Ireland, anyway.
But let’s not get too complacent. Six nations still put blasphemers to death: Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran, Nigeria, Afghanistan, and Somalia, some of whom President Trump described in rather colorful terms. He and I agree for once. No sane person would visit any of them.
Safer, and far less horrible, to head for an increasingly godless Ireland, where they have Guiness on tap, intelligent conversation in pubs, and a people who, “... treat a joke as a serious thing, and a serious thing as a joke,” as playwright Sean O’Casey said. The Irish responded that way last year, when Stephen Fry, the English actor, wit, and atheist, described God, as “... capricious, mean-minded, and stupid,” in a TV interview. (An odd way for an atheist to describe a deity he says is nonexistent.) The Irish police briefly considered bringing blasphemy charges against Mr. Fry, but they learned that not one soul had been agitated sufficiently to intervene on God’s behalf.
Which is how the notion of removing blasphemy from the Irish statute books came about — via a British celebrity unbeliever. Clearly, God works in many strange ways. Although, it’s probably blasphemous to suggest that.
Patrick O'Gara, a former Blade editor, was a journalist all his working life. He now lives in Northern Spain with five dogs, two cats and eight hens, and a tolerant American wife. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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