Through the years I have come to find the term blasphemy quite hilarious and stupid, a term for the wailings of a spoiled selfish brat. But so-called “blasphemous” acts (and thoughts apparently) do, sadly, carry real-world consequences in many places on earth. The great lengths that theists the world over are willing to go to protect their absurd beliefs is very remarkable. Any idea which needs to suppress dissenting views in order to be believed is surely on shaky ground.
Here are just a few of the themes and interesting points I found were made by the IHEU. Here is a link to the report:
The report is an assessment of the national policies and specific cases of intolerance or prosecution towards religious dissent. What struck me first was the number of countries which are ostensibly secular while disregarding or directly violating their own constitutional requirements to protect religious freedom. The hypocrisy belies a widespread (mis)understanding that religious freedom should only be granted to certain designated groups which rarely extends to nonbelievers.
Another underlying theme is collusion between majority religious factions of many nations to restrict or punish the views of minorities or the commingling of religions (i.e. laws prohibiting interfaith marriage).
Most of the cases brought against individuals or institutions in Europe are particularly ridiculous. Most stem from some insult towards the founding cult leaders of either Islam or Christianity, expressing doubt as to their historical existence, and in a few cases calling Muhammad a pedophile which by our modern definition he most certainly was. But don’t worry systematic denigration of humanity and our earthly existence is still safe from prosecution.
The Middle East provides the most egregious examples of religious intolerance. Many of the countries don’t even attempt to protect freedom of conscience. I find this no less appalling but perhaps a bit more honest. As Abraham Lincoln wrote: “When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty — to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy [sic].” While I’m not moving to Saudi Arabia any time soon, our 16th President has a point. Particularly striking news comes from that fledgling democracy of Egypt. I will conclude my views on this report with a few comments on the importance of freedom of conscience and a bill of rights to a functioning democracy.
With the “Arab Spring” we are witnessing the birth of several democratic governments in the Middle East and Africa. Can they handle the transition? It is important to understand that there are no “true” democracies in the world today (that I am aware of). They are representative democracies where citizens are elected as representatives to vote on policy and law. “True” democracies, where each citizen votes on every policy or law, are too cumbersome in nations with populations over a few thousand. The closest we come to “true” democracy is when citizens vote on referendums and the like (as California does very often for example). And this, in my opinion, is usually for the best. Like our other governmental checks and balances it helps curb the passionate excesses of popular opinion at any given moment. The same is true with a “bill of rights.” Although there are well-governed democracies without a bill of rights (i.e. United Kingdom) the policies of freedom and equality are a part of a shared cultural zeitgeist rather than a foundation of constitutions. There are sad anomalies such as Ireland’s newly emphasized Anti-Blasphemy laws (http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/05/08/ireland_blashpemy/).
New democracies, especially in the wake of the “Arab Spring,” raise new and pressing concerns about the viability of democratic government in former dictatorship states. I do not think that these new democracies can function without a bill of rights which protect the rights of the minority and the majority alike. What if citizens vote their own rights away? Is it democratic to do such a thing? Do the citizens have the right to take away their own or other’s freedom and still be considered democratic? It may seem condescending to suggest that there may be people who are not able, at present, to handle the obligations and necessary correlates of democratic rule, but the present turmoil in Egypt suggests that this may be the case. Despite some apprehension, I think the United Nations needs to play a greater role as an advisor and potential enforcer in setting up functional democracies in these newly liberated lands. While I believe, for the most part, in national self-determination, I also feel these fledgling states are also prone to self-destruction, without an understanding of what exactly democratic government entails.
The report is well worth a read, if only as a reminder of the work that still needs to be done to protect freedom of thought, speech, and conscience.