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Blasphemy is the act of insulting or showing contempt or lack of reverence to a deity, to religious or holy persons or sacred things, or toward something considered sacred or inviolable.[1][2][3][4]

Some religions consider blasphemy to be a religious crime.[5] As of 2012, anti-blasphemy laws existed in 32 countries, while 87 nations had hate speech laws that covered defamation of religion and public expression of hate against a religious group.[6] Anti-blasphemy laws are particularly common in Muslim-majority nations, such as those in the Middle East and North Africa,[6] although they are also present in some Asian and European countries.

Contents

EtymologyEdit

The word "blasphemy" came via Middle English blasfemen and Old French blasfemer and Late Latin blasphemare from Greek βλασφημέω, from βλάπτω "injure" and φήμη "utterance, talk, speech". From blasphemare also came Old French blasmer, from which English "blame" came. Blasphemy: 'from Gk. blasphemia "a speaking ill, impious speech, slander," from blasphemein "to speak evil of."'[7] "In the sense of speaking evil of God this word is found in Ps. 74:18; Isa. 52:5; Rom. 2:24; Rev. 13:1, 6; 16:9, 11, 21. It denotes also any kind of calumny, or evil-speaking, or abuse (1 Kings 21:10 LXX; Acts 13:45; 18:6, etc.)."[8]

Blasphemy lawsEdit

 
  Local restrictions
  Fines and restrictions
  Prison sentences
  Death sentences

In some countries with a state religion, blasphemy is outlawed under the criminal code. Such laws have led to the persecution, lynchings, murder or arrest of minorities and dissident members, after flimsy accusations.[9][10]

As of 2012, 33 countries had some form of anti-blasphemy laws in their legal code.[6] Of these, 21 were Muslim-majority nations – Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Malaysia, the Maldives, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Turkey, the UAE and the Western Sahara. The other twelve nations with anti-blasphemy laws in 2012 were Denmark (abolished in 2017)[11], Finland, Germany, Greece, India, Ireland, Italy, Malta (abolished in 2016), the Netherlands (abolished in 2014), Nigeria, Poland and Singapore.[6] Blasphemy was treated as a capital crime (death penalty) in many Muslim nations.[5]

Other countries have removed the ban of blasphemy. France did so in 1881 to allow freedom of religion and freedom of the press and blasphemy was abolished or repealed in Sweden in 1970, England and Wales in 2008, Norway with Acts in 2009 and 2015, the Netherlands in 2014, Iceland in 2015, Malta in 2016 and Denmark in 2017[11].

Where blasphemy is banned, it can be either some laws which directly punish religious blasphemy,[12] or some laws that allow those who are offended by blasphemy to punish blasphemers. Those laws may condone penalties or retaliation for blasphemy under the labels of blasphemous libel,[13] expression of opposition, or "vilification," of religion or of some religious practices,[14][15] religious insult,[16] or hate speech.[17]

JudaismEdit

In Leviticus 24:16 the punishment for blasphemy is death. In Jewish law the only form of blasphemy which is punishable by death is blaspheming the name of the Lord.[18]

The Seven Laws of Noah, which Judaism sees as applicable to all people, prohibit blasphemy.[19]

In one of the texts of the Dead Sea Scrolls, called the Damascus Document, violence against non-Jews (also called Gentiles) is prohibited, except in cases where it is sanctioned by a Jewish governing authority “so that they will not blaspheme.”[20]

ChristianityEdit

Christian theology condemns blasphemy. It is spoken of in Mark 3:29, where blaspheming the Holy Spirit is spoken of as unforgivable—and eternal sin. However, there is dispute over what form this blasphemy may take and whether it qualifies as blasphemy in the conventional sense; and over the meaning of "unforgivable". In 2 Kings 18, the Rabshakeh gave the word from the king of Assyria,[clarification needed] dissuading trust in the Lord, asserting that God is no more able to deliver than all the gods of the land.

In Matthew 9:2–3, Jesus told a paralytic "your sins are forgiven" and was accused of blasphemy.

Blasphemy has been condemned as a serious, or even the most serious, sin by the major creeds and Church theologians (apostasy and infidelity [unbelief] were generally considered to be the gravest sins, with heresy a greater sin than blasphemy, cf. Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologiae).[21]

  • Thomas Aquinas says that “[if] we compare murder and blasphemy as regards the objects of those sins, it is clear that blasphemy, which is a sin committed directly against God, is more grave than murder, which is a sin against one's neighbor. On the other hand, if we compare them in respect of the harm wrought by them, murder is the graver sin, for murder does more harm to one's neighbor, than blasphemy does to God.”[22]
  • The Book of Concord calls blasphemy “the greatest sin that can be outwardly committed”.[23]
  • The Baptist Confession of Faith says: “Therefore, to swear vainly or rashly by the glorious and awesome name of God…is sinful, and to be regarded with disgust and detestation. …For by rash, false, and vain oaths, the Lord is provoked and because of them this land mourns.”[24]
  • The Heidelberg Catechism answers question 100 about blasphemy by stating that “no sin is greater or provokes God's wrath more than the blaspheming of His Name”.[25]
  • The Westminster Larger Catechism explains that “The sins forbidden in the third commandment are, the abuse of it in an ignorant, vain, irreverent, profane...mentioning...by blasphemy...to profane jests, ...vain janglings, ...to charms or sinful lusts and practices.”[26]
  • Calvin found it intolerable “when a person is accused of blasphemy, to lay the blame on the ebullition of passion, as if God were to endure the penalty whenever we are provoked.”[27]

Catholic prayers and reparations for blasphemyEdit

In the Catholic Church, there are specific prayers and devotions as Acts of Reparation for blasphemy.[28] For instance, The Golden Arrow Holy Face Devotion (Prayer) first introduced by Sister Marie of St Peter in 1844 is recited "in a spirit of reparation for blasphemy". This devotion (started by Sister Marie and then promoted by the Venerable Leo Dupont) was approved by Pope Leo XIII in 1885.[29] The Raccoltabook includes a number of such prayers.[30] The Five First Saturdays devotions are done with the intention in the heart of making reparation to the Blessed Mother for blasphemies against her, her name and her holy initiatives.

The Holy See has specific "Pontifical organizations" for the purpose of the reparation of blasphemy through Acts of Reparation to Jesus Christ, e.g. the Pontifical Congregation of the Benedictine Sisters of the Reparation of the Holy Face.[31]

PunishmentEdit

The most common punishment for blasphemers was capital punishment through hanging or stoning, justified by the words of Leviticus 24:13–16.

Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Bring out of the camp the one who cursed, and let all who heard him lay their hands on his head, and let all the congregation stone him. And speak to the people of Israel, saying, Whoever curses his God shall bear his sin. Whoever blasphemes the name of the Lord shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall stone him. The sojourner as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death."

The last person hanged for blasphemy in Great Britain was Thomas Aikenhead aged 20, in Scotland in 1697. He was prosecuted for denying the veracity of the Old Testament and the legitimacy of Christ's miracles.[32]

Blasphemy (and blasphemous libel) remained a criminal offence in England & Wales until the passing of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008, but was last successfully prosecuted in the case of Whitehouse v Lemon (1977), where the defendant was fined £500 and given a nine-month suspended prison sentence (the publisher was also fined £1,000).

Disputation of ParisEdit

During the Middle Ages a series of debates on Judaism were staged by the Roman Catholic – including the Disputation of Paris (1240), the Disputation of Barcelona (1263), and Disputation of Tortosa (1413–14)- and during those disputations, Jewish converts to Christianity, such as Nicholas Donin (in Paris) and Pablo Christiani (in Barcelona) claimed the Talmud contained insulting references to Jesus.[33][34][35]

The Disputation of Paris, also known as the Trial of the Talmud, took place in 1240 at the court of the reigning king of France, Louis IX (St. Louis). It followed the work of Nicholas Donin, a Jewish convert to Christianity, who translated the Talmud and pressed 35 charges against it to Pope Gregory IX by quoting a series of alleged blasphemous passages about Jesus, Mary or Christianity.[36] Four rabbis defended the Talmud against Donin's accusations. A commission of Christian theologians condemned the Talmud to be burned and on June 17, 1244, twenty-four carriage loads of Jewish religious manuscripts were set on fire in the streets of Paris.[37][38] The translation of the Talmud from Hebrew to non-Jewish languages stripped Jewish discourse from its covering, something that was resented by Jews as a profound violation.[39]

Between 1239 and 1775 the Roman Catholic Church at various times either forced the censoring of parts of the Talmud that were theologically problematic or the destruction of copies of the Talmud.[40]

IslamEdit

 
Sufi teacher Mansur Al-Hallaj was executed in Baghdad amid political intrigue and charges of blasphemy in 922.[41]

Blasphemy in Islam is impious utterance or action concerning God, Muhammad or anything considered sacred in Islam.[42][43] The Quran admonishes blasphemy, but does not specify any worldly punishment for blasphemy.[44] The hadiths, which are another source of Sharia, suggest various punishments for blasphemy, which may include death.[45][46] However, it has been argued that the death penalty applies only to cases where there is treason involved that may seriously harm the Muslim community, especially during times of war.[47] Different traditional schools of jurisprudence prescribe different punishment for blasphemy, depending on whether the blasphemer is Muslim or non-Muslim, a man or a woman.[44] In the modern Muslim world, the laws pertaining to blasphemy vary by county, and some countries prescribe punishments consisting of fines, imprisonment, flogging, hanging, or beheading.[48] Blasphemy laws were rarely enforced in pre-modern Islamic societies, but in the modern era some states and radical groups have used charges of blasphemy in an effort to burnish their religious credentials and gain popular support at the expense of liberal Muslim intellectuals and religious minorities.[49] In recent years, accusations of blasphemy against Islam have sparked international controversies and played part in incidents of mob violence and assassinations of prominent figures.

The United NationsEdit

In the early 21st century, blasphemy became an issue in the United Nations. The United Nations passed several resolutions which called upon the world to take action against the "defamation of religions".[50]

The campaign for worldwide criminal penalties for the "defamation of religions" had been spearheaded by Organisation of Islamic Cooperation on behalf of the United Nations' large Muslim bloc. The campaign ended in 2011 when the proposal was withdrawn in Geneva, in the Human Rights Council because of lack of support, marking an end to the effort to establish worldwide blasphemy strictures along the lines of those in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. This resolution had passed every year since 1999, in the United Nations, with declining number of "yes" votes with each successive year.[51]

In July, 2011, the UN Human Rights Committee released a 52-paragraph statement, General Comment 34 on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) 1976, concerning freedoms of opinion and expression.[52] Paragraph 48 states:

Prohibitions of displays of lack of respect for a religion or other belief system, including blasphemy laws, are incompatible with the Covenant, except in the specific circumstances envisaged in article 20, paragraph 2, of the Covenant. Such prohibitions must also comply with the strict requirements of article 19, paragraph 3, as well as such articles as 2, 5, 17, 18 and 26. Thus, for instance, it would be impermissible for any such laws to discriminate in favor of or against one or certain religions or belief systems, or their adherents over another, or religious believers over non-believers. Nor would it be permissible for such prohibitions to be used to prevent or punish criticism of religious leaders or commentary on religious doctrine and tenets of faith.

Colloquial usageEdit

Blasphemy has been used to mean "irreverence" in a non-religious context. Sir Francis Bacon uses "blasphemy" in this way in Advancement of Learning, where he speaks of "blasphemy against teaching".

The word "blasphemy" may be used as a substitute for "profanity" or "cursing" as it is used in this sentence: "With much hammering and blasphemy, the locomotive's replacement spring was finally fitted."

In contemporary language, the notion of blasphemy is often used hyperbolically. This usage has garnered some interest among linguists recently, and the word 'blasphemy' is a common case used for illustrative purposes.[53]

Blasphemy DayEdit

International Blasphemy Day encourages individuals and groups to openly express criticism of religion and blasphemy laws. It was founded in 2009 by the Center for Inquiry.[54] A student contacted the Center for Inquiry in Amherst, New York to present the idea, which CFI then supported. Ronald Lindsay, president and CEO of the Center for Inquiry, said, regarding Blasphemy Day, "[W]e think religious beliefs should be subject to examination and criticism just as political beliefs are, but we have a taboo on religion", in an interview with CNN.[55]

Events worldwide on the first annual Blasphemy Day in 2009 included an art exhibit in Washington, D.C. and a free speech festival in Los Angeles.[56]

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ Miriam Díez Bosch and Jordi Sànchez Torrents (2015). On blasphemy. Barcelona: Blanquerna Observatory on Media, Religion and Culture. ISBN 978-84-941193-3-0. 
  2. ^ "Blasphemy". Random House Dictionary. Retrieved 12 January 2015. Quote: impious utterance or action concerning God or sacred things.; the crime of assuming to oneself the rights or qualities of God. 
  3. ^ Blasphemy Merriam Webster (July 2013); 1. great disrespect shown to God or to something holy
    2. irreverence toward something considered sacred or inviolable
  4. ^ Blasphemies, in Webster's New World College Dictionary, 4th Ed,
    1. profane or contemptuous speech, writing, or action concerning God or anything held as divine.
    2. any remark or action held to be irreverent or disrespectful
  5. ^ a b Blasphemy Divide: Insults to Religion Remain a Capital Crime in Muslim Lands The Wall Street Journal (January 8, 2015)
  6. ^ a b c d Laws Penalizing Blasphemy, Apostasy and Defamation of Religion are Widespread Pew Research (November 21, 2012)
  7. ^ "Online Etymology Dictionary – Blasphemy". Etymonline.com. Retrieved 10 November 2011. 
  8. ^ (from Easton's Bible Dictionary) Romans.2:24Revelation.13:1, 6; Rev.16:9, 11, 211Kings.21:10; Acts.13:45; Acts.18:6
  9. ^ Bad-mouthing: Pakistan’s blasphemy laws legitimise intolerance The Economist (November 29, 2014)
  10. ^ Sources of claims:
  11. ^ a b Denmark scraps 334-year-old blasphemy law 2 June 2017 the Guardian
  12. ^ See Blasphemy law
  13. ^ Kerr, ine (9 July 2009). "Libel and blasphemy bill passed by the Dail". The Irish Independent. Retrieved 17 November 2009. 
  14. ^ "Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 – Sect 124A: Vilification on grounds of race, religion, sexuality or gender identity unlawful". Austlii.edu.au. Retrieved 10 November 2011. 
  15. ^ "Victoria Police – Racial and religious vilification". Police.vic.gov.au. Archived from the original on 27 September 2011. Retrieved 10 November 2011. 
  16. ^ "European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission), ''Report on the relationship between freedom of expression and freedom of religion: the issue of regulation and prosecution of blasphemy, religious insult and incitement to religious hatred'', 17–18 October 2008, Doc. No. CDL-AD(2008)026". Merlin.obs.coe.int. Retrieved 10 November 2011. 
  17. ^ See Blasphemy law and Hate speech.
  18. ^ "Blasphemy". JewishEncyclopedia.com. 
  19. ^ "The Seven Noachide Laws". JewishVirtualLibrary.org. Retrieved 8 November 2014. 
  20. ^ "Gentiles - Oxford Reference". Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-508450-4. Retrieved 2017-05-29. {{subcription|via=OUP
  21. ^ ST II-II q10a3, q11a3, q12. Q11A3: "With regard to heretics two points must be observed: one, on their own side; the other, on the side of the Church. On their own side there is the sin, whereby they deserve not only to be separated from the Church by excommunication, but also to be severed from the world by death. For it is a much graver matter to corrupt the faith which quickens the soul, than to forge money, which supports temporal life. Wherefore if forgers of money and other evil-doers are forthwith condemned to death by the secular authority, much more reason is there for heretics, as soon as they are convicted of heresy, to be not only excommunicated but even put to death."
  22. ^ Thomas Aquinas: Summa Theologica 2:2, q. 13.
  23. ^ The Book of Concord The Large Catechism, §55.
  24. ^ The Baptist Confession of Faith Archived 7 April 2010 at the Wayback Machine. Ch. 23, §2–3.
  25. ^ The Heidelberg Catechism Archived 13 June 2009 at the Wayback Machine. Q. 100.
  26. ^ Westminster Larger Catechism Q. 113.
  27. ^ Jean Calvin: Harmony of the Law vol. 4. Lev. 24:10.
  28. ^ Act of Reparation for Blasphemies Uttered Against the Holy Name, Righting Wrongs Through Prayer By Scott P. Richert, About.com
  29. ^ * Dorothy Scallan. The Holy Man of Tours. (1990) ISBN 0-89555-390-2
  30. ^ Joseph P. Christopher et al., 2003 The Raccolta, St Athanasius Press ISBN 978-0-9706526-6-9
  31. ^ Letter for 50th anniversary of the Benedictine Sisters of Reparation of the Holy Face, 2000 Archived 2 May 2008 at the Wayback Machine. Vatican archives
  32. ^ "Thomas Aikenhead". 5.uua.org. Archived from the original on 1 October 2011. Retrieved 10 November 2011. 
  33. ^ Carroll, James, Constantine's sword: the church and the Jews : a history, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2002
  34. ^ Seidman, Naomi, Faithful renderings: Jewish-Christian difference and the politics of translation, University of Chicago Press, 2006 p 137
  35. ^ Cohn-Sherbok, Dan, Judaism and other faiths, Palgrave Macmillan, 1994 , p 48
  36. ^ Naomi Seidman, Faithful Renderings: Jewish-Christian Difference and the Politics of Translation, pp. 136–138
  37. ^ Rodkinson, Michael Levi (1918). The history of the Talmud, from the time of its formation, about 200 B. C. Talmud Society. pp. 66–75. 
  38. ^ Maccoby, Hyam (1982). Judaism on Trial: Jewish-Christian Disputations in the Middle Ages. Associated University Presses. 
  39. ^ Naomi Seidman, Faithful Renderings: Jewish-Christian Difference and the Politics of Translation, pp. 136–38
  40. ^ Jonathon Green, Nicholas J. Karolides (2009). Encyclopedia of Censorship. Infobase Publishing. p. 110. Retrieved 13 February 2014. 
  41. ^ Avery, Kenneth (2004). Psychology of Early Sufi Sama: Listening and Altered States. Routledge. p. 3. ISBN 978-0415311069. 
  42. ^ "Blasphemy" at dictionary.com
  43. ^ Wiederhold, Lutz. "Blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad and his companions (sabb al-rasul, sabb al-sahabah): The introduction of the topic into shafi'i legal literature and its relevance for legal practice under Mamluk rule". Journal of semitic studies 42.1 (1997): 39–70.
  44. ^ a b Saeed, 2004 & p. 38–39.
  45. ^ Saeed, 2004 & p. 38–9.
  46. ^ Siraj Khan. Blasphemy against the Prophet, in Muhammad in History, Thought, and Culture (ed: Coeli Fitzpatrick Ph.D., Adam Hani Walker). ISBN 978-1610691772, pp. 59–67.
  47. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 19 February 2015. Retrieved 18 September 2015. 
  48. ^ P Smith (2003). "Speak No Evil: Apostasy, Blasphemy and Heresy in Malaysian Syariah Law". UC Davis Journal Int'l Law & Policy. 10, pp. 357–73.
    • N Swazo (2014). "The Case of Hamza Kashgari: Examining Apostasy, Heresy, and Blasphemy Under Sharia". The Review of Faith & International Affairs 12(4). pp. 16–26.
  49. ^ Juan Eduardo Campo, ed. (2009). "Blasphemy". Encyclopedia of Islam. Infobase Publishing. 
  50. ^ U.N. Resolutions:
  51. ^ An Anti-Blasphemy Measure Laid to Rest Nina Shea, National Review (March 31, 2011)
  52. ^ General Comment 34
  53. ^ Recanati, F. (1995) The alleged priority of literal interpretation. Cognitive Science 19: 207–32.
    Carston, R. (1997) Enrichment and loosening: complementary processes in deriving the proposition expressed? Linguistische Berichte 8: 103–27.
    Carston, R. (2000). Explicature and semantics. UCL Working Papers in Linguistics 12: 1–44. Revised version to appear in Davis & Gillon (forthcoming).
    Sperber, D. & D. Wilson (1998) The mapping between the mental and the public lexicon. In Carruthers & Boucher (1998: 184–200).
    Glucksberg, S. (2001) Understanding Figurative Language: From Metaphors to Idioms. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    Wilson, D. & D. Sperber (2002) Truthfulness and relevance. Mind 111: 583–632.
  54. ^ "Penn Jillette Celebrates Blasphemy Day in "Penn Says"". Center for Inquiry. 2009-09-29. Retrieved 2013-09-30. 
  55. ^ Basu, Moni (September 30, 2009). "Taking aim at God on 'Blasphemy Day'". CNN.com. 
  56. ^ Larmondin, Leanne (2 October 2009). "Did you celebrate Blasphemy Day?". USATODAY.com. 

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit