On January 1, a new law in Ireland bans publication or uttering of material grossly abusive or insulting to matters held sacred by any religion and thereby intentionally causing outrage among a substantial number of adherents of that religion. The law carries a 25,000 Euro fine and permits some defenses. The website blasphemy.ie declares it “both silly and dangerous.”
It is silly because medieval religious laws have no place in a modern secular republic, where the criminal law should protect people and not ideas. And it is dangerous because it incentives religious outrage, and because Islamic States led by Pakistan are already using the wording of this Irish law to promote new blasphemy laws at UN level.
Athiest Ireland marked the law’s coming into force by publishing 25 blasphemous quotations by such notables as Jesus Christ, Muhammad, Mark Twain, Tom Lehrer, Randy Newman, James Kirkup, Monty Python, Rev Ian Paisley, Conor Cruise O’Brien, Frank Zappa, Salman Rushdie, Bjork, Amanda Donohoe, George Carlin, Paul Woodfull, Jerry Springer the Opera, Tim Minchin, Richard Dawkins, Pope Benedict XVI, Christopher Hitchens, PZ Myers, Ian O’Doherty, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor and Dermot Ahern. A sample:
Mark Twain: “[Y]ou notice that when the Lord God of Heaven and Earth, adored Father of Man, goes to war, there is no limit. He is totally without mercy — he, who is called the Fountain of Mercy. He slays, slays, slays! All the men, all the beasts, all the boys, all the babies; also all the women and all the girls, except those that have not been deflowered. He makes no distinction between innocent and guilty… What the insane Father required was blood and misery; he was indifferent as to who furnished it.”
Jesus Christ, speaking of Jews: “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him.”
Richard Dawkins: “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”
Salman Rushdie aptly expressed the philosophical danger such laws pose:
The idea of the sacred is quite simply one of the most conservative notions in any culture, because it seeks to turn other ideas – uncertainty, progress, change – into crimes.
The practical danger is that it will fuel fanaticism like the attempted New Year’s Day murder of Danish artist Kurt Westergaard, one of the 12 cartoonists whose 2005 satirical depiction of the Prophet Mohammed sparked riots a year later in which dozens of people died.