Jesus Sucks Some Nuts: Restrictive Irish Blasphemy Law Goes into Effect Today

Where would humor be if you couldn’t tell the one about a priest, a rabbi and a witch walking into bar or watch an episode of South Park about a litigious, celebrity-filled space alien cult or their classic “All About  Mormons“? Where would art, music literature and film be without reactions against religion?

But as of today in the Irish Republic–a nation known for its poets, authors, musicians and artists, a nation which has had tens of thousands of its citizens beset upon by pedophile priests who’ve now been ordered to pay $242 million in victims’ aid to the children they raped, and nuns who systematically abused children and have since offered to pay $193 million in restitution–blasphemy is punishable by a € 25,000 fine–about $40,000.

The new law defines blasphemy as publishing or uttering matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby intentionally causing outrage among a substantial number of adherents of that religion, with some defences permitted.

Really, the first people who should be fined for blasphemy are those who use the church as a shield as they committed crimes against children and their flocks as whole. And fine those who covered up the abuse as well. I can think of no greater blasphemies. But alas, instead this law could and sadly will be used by anyone who is offend by the printing of  “Godammit, Christ on cracker, Holy Buddha’s toenail, my sister-in-law is such a witch, and here’s drawing of her next to the Prophet” or any publication–and by extrapolation, broadcast–of jokes about whatever faith one chooses to laugh at.

Yes, bigotry and insensitivity are problems which can lead to further, bigger problems. But so is being really uptight. Any religion that can’t laugh at itself is still a cult, taking itself way too seriously. Religion is inherently goofy–and I say this as a very religious person and a licensed minister. A religion is silly unless you are in it, and even if you are it can feel kind of surreal at some points. Let’s face it, the Catholic Mass is sort of dinner and a show, or at least a drink and a cracker; and to outsiders–and at time practitioners–there are few things funnier than a group of computer nerds and artsy types dressed in synthetic blend pseudo-Egyptian costumes muttering around a cauldron. But no matter how ludicrous, some religions work for some people.

“Blasphemy” is a vague term and could be applied to any discussion or questioning of faith. Recall the heresies of ancient times? Raising theological questions? Blasphemy!

Uttering matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion

is fairly open to interpretation, and could put a number of comedians out of business plus cause everything from The Satanic Verses to Woody Allen’s essays to be pulled from shelves of Irish bookshops.

There is no point getting big time butt hurt over jokes, theological debates, narrow minded essays, literary flights of fancy or even Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ, which was arguably  more jejuene and peurile than actually blasphemous–the “Oooh Let’s See What I Can Do That Will Make A Statement” school of art. Expressions for and against religions allow for discussion and ultimately tolerance.

Earlier this year, the Irish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Michael Martin spoke out against attempts by the United Nations’ Organization of the Islamic Council to make defamation of religion a crime at UN level. Martin said:

We believe that the concept of defamation of religion is not consistent with the promotion and protection of human rights. It can be used to justify arbitrary limitations on, or the denial of, freedom of expression. Indeed, Ireland considers that freedom of expression is a key and inherent element in the manifestation of freedom of thought and conscience and as such is complementary to freedom of religion or belief.

Just months after Minister Martin made this comment, his colleague Dermot Ahern introduced Ireland’s new blasphemy law.

The Islamic states, led by Pakistan, are still trying to get a new United Nations blasphemy law passed as a human rights violation, and are already using the wording of this Irish law to promote the UN law which would, explains the Christian Science Monitor

give the religious antidefamation idea legal teeth by making it part of an international convention, or legally binding treaty.

Suppression of free speech is more of a violation of human rights–and far more dangerous–than a cartoon in a Danish newspaper.  The OIC proposes

“legal prohibition of publication of material that negatively stereotypes, insults or uses offensive language” on matters regarded by religious followers as “sacred or inherent to their dignity as human beings.”

As an editorial in the Christian Science Monitor points out

suppression of speech in the name of religion can come with a negative effect – suppression of people and theological fault lines that at some point will erupt. It is, conversely, open debate, interfaith dialogue, and righting of misconceptions that will allow religion to flourish…

Thus under the proposed UN laws an anti-Catholic comic book by Jack Chick or an editorial indictment of the Jews by Louis Farrakhan could be a human rights violation, rather than an opportunity to discuss why, or just to condemn the ideas as really dumb and ignorant, which is always an option…

Oh heck, if this passed, all of Halloween could be an effing human rights violation: Witches might take offense at being called Satanic by rightwing Christians while the fundie Christians could see the promotion of Halloween as an attempt to infringe on their rights since you know, it’s people celebrating demons, witches, ghouls and the undead, along with being the one day women and men can both go prance about in public in skimpy lacy underwear.

Then  practitioners of demonism could claim that dominionist Christian texts which teach the casting out of demons are harmful to their faith, while Pat Robertson’s comments on non-Christians could start a class action human rights violation suit.

Can you imagine the cluster fuck this would cause in the The Hague? Between all the blasphemy violations, would there be time to handle serious human rights violations like human trafficking and war crimes?

In response to the new Irish law, Atheist Ireland has published 25 blasphemous quotes by everyone from Jesus and Muhammad to George Carlin, from Frank Zappa to Rev Ian Paisley and Pope Benedict XVI.  The webpage also included this comment by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor:

Whether a person is atheist or any other, there is in fact in my view something not totally human if they leave out the transcendent… we call it God… I think that if you leave that out you are not fully human.

So the good cardinal believes atheists aren’t fully human. And as Atheist Ireland points out

Because atheism is not a religion, the Irish blasphemy law does not protect atheists from abusive and insulting statements about their fundamental beliefs. While atheists are not seeking such protection, we include the statement here to point out that it is discriminatory that this law does not hold all citizens equal.

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Lisa Derrick

Lisa Derrick

Los Angeles native, attended UC Berkeley and Loyola Marymount University before punk rock and logophilia overtook her life. Worked as nightclub columnist, pop culture journalist and was a Hollywood housewife before writing for and editing Sacred History Magazine. Then she discovered the thrill of politics. She also appears frequently on the Dave Fanning Show, one of Ireland's most popular radio broadcasts.