First Annual Blasphemy Day Draws…Controversy?

By Traci Scott,
Oregon Faith Reporter,

People from around the world observed the first-ever International Blasphemy Day on September 30 by participating in a variety of organized events, including blasphemy poem, essay and cartoon contests, public discussion forums, petition drives and a new website launch.

The Center for Inquiry, based in Amherst, New York, is the organization that called for Blasphemy Day in order to call attention to human rights, particularly the right to free expression and the right to openly criticize unreasonably shielded ideas.  It is part of its larger “Campaign for Free Expression”, which is an effort to focus attention on the right of individuals to express their viewpoints and opinions about all subjects, especially religion.

The choice of September 30 to commemorate Blasphemy Day is based on that date in 2005 when the publication of cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad sparked outrage and protests in the Muslim world and threats toward the West.

Ron Lindsay, the CEO and president of CFI, told CNN that people are willing to tolerate the harshest statements about the president of the U.S., but that talking about Jesus Christ or Muhammad is a whole different matter.

“We think religious beliefs should be subject to examination and criticism just as political beliefs are,” Lindsay told CNN, “But we have a taboo on religion.”

According to Religion News Service blasphemy remains punishable by death in countries such as Pakistan and Afghanistan.  In addition, Ireland recently enacted a defamation law making blasphemy punishable by fines of up to 25,000 Euros.  And in the U.S., six states—Massachusetts, Michigan, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Wyoming—have laws that prohibit or regulate blasphem.

But according to Politics Daily, many believe that CFI has crossed a line that even its own founder, Paul Kurtz, deems unacceptable.  Kurtz posted a condemning statement on the CFI website the day before Blasphemy Day criticizing the observance.  “The right to publish dissenting critiques of religion should be accepted as basic to freedom of expression,” wrote Kurtz, “But for CFI itself to sponsor the lampooning of Christianity by encouraging anti-Catholic, anti-Protestant, or any other anti-religious cartoons goes beyond the bounds of civilized discourse in pluralistic society.  It is not dissimilar to the anti-Semitic cartoons of the Nazi era.  Yet there are some fundamentalist atheists who have resorted to such vulgar antics to gain press attention.  In doing so they have dishonored the basic ethical principles of what the CFI has resolutely stood for until now:  the toleration of opposing viewpoints.”

Lindsay responded to Politics Daily that Blasphemy Day is not about making fun of religion.  “We’re not really out to ridicule religion,” Lindsay said, for example, for the blasphemy contest “we want people to be creative, to come up with some kind of concise phrase that might indicate some of the flaws of religion, but we don’t want something crude because what’s the point of that?”

According to Christian, the Blasphemy Day events are intended to draw media attention, which is the whole point of the observance. “That is how a group like CFI can gain publicity for itself and its cause,” states guest columnist R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

Mohler advises Christians to take no offense and refuse to play into the game.  “Christianity is not an honor religion,” states Mohler, “Believers in the Lord Jesus Christ are not commanded to defend his honor, but to be willing to share in the scorn direct to him.”

Mohler goes on to advise Christians to mourn the blasphemers because blasphemy has eternal consequences.  “We must mourn the blasphemy, not because honor is at stake, but because souls are at stake with eternal consequences,” states Mohler, and he adds that we need to “see this observance for what it really is—an unintended testimony to the existence of God and the foolishness of those who deny him.”

Religion News Service points out that St. Thomas Aquinas described blasphemy as a sin “committed directly against God … more grave than murder.” In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus said, “Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.”

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