One clear difference between atheists and the religious (among many) is each group’s willingness to silence opposition. A good atheist is someone who is scientific-minded, and therefore, has no problem justifying his or her own beliefs and pointing out flaws in bad arguments. Also, a good atheist should have the ability to constantly rework his or her beliefs when presented with the proper evidence. This process of analysis is almost entirely opposite of the process that religious people use. However, just because religious folk do not like to hear opposing viewpoints or see their gods, demigods, prophets, and saints portrayed as fiction or disrespected does not mean that the rest of the world must abide. In fact, when any group reaches the level of delusion that causes them to kill or riot simply because they feel offended, we as a community are faced with two options: avoid confrontation at the expense of our rights and progressive discourse or decide that we will not allow these extremist groups to dictate the limits of our free speech.
“But Brian, we will turn off the religious moderates if we go out with the intention of offending!”
First, I would question how moderate these “moderates” really are if they become offended by words or images alone. More importantly though, the reactions of these “moderates” are precisely the problem to begin with. Religious belief has been allowed a free pass in our society, and even atheists are responsible for this. This idea that religious belief is different from other belief and, therefore, should be exempt from criticism is bullshit. There is no other way to put it. Withholding criticism in this scenario will allow millions of religious people to continue their blissfully ignorant lifestyle that they have come to enjoy, but at the expense of what? I’ve already mentioned the cost of constitutional rights as well as societal progress, but what about our moral obligation? In general, I think that most atheists can agree that religion causes and promotes absolutely horrific events to occur throughout the world on a daily basis. Are these people’s comfort worth suicide bombings, oppression of women, female genital mutilation, abortion clinic bombings, opposition of stem cell research (and science in general), continued spread of AIDs, slavery, and child abuse? I’m not saying we should go to nursing homes or cancer wards to tell the occupants that their faith is pointless. I’m not advocating going to people’s homes to tell them they are wrong. I’m simply saying that as a community we should be indifferent as to whether or not the religious community is offended by what we have to say. We need to call a spade a spade. It NEEDS to be understood that NO idea is immune from criticism, and blasphemy is a nice reminder of that.
The best way to utilize blasphemy in my opinion is to not discriminate. If you hold all beliefs to the same standard then you create a level playing field. Similarly, if you set a up campus display that depicts Jesus in a bottle of urine, Zeus molesting a farm animal, Mohammad with a bomb strapped to his head, the Pope fellating little boys, Thor masturbating, and so on…you would likely find that individuals are most offended by the images of their God or gods, and least offended by the others. This would be an ideal opportunity to ask them why their deity is so special that it requires freedom of speech to be limited, but the other examples do not. This is just one example of how blasphemy can be used as a means of promoting critical thinking, but if you get creative I’m sure you can come up with your own.
To me it seems like such an obvious and important tool for atheists to use but I know many, even within our own group, who can’t seem to understand that to create change you may need to ruffle some feathers. Forming alliances with religious groups to show how tolerant we are can only take you so far. In fact, they may just take you as far as being forgotten about as a group entirely. That’s why I plan to celebrate this Blasphemy Day International and hope that others will join me.
“Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit; touch it and the bloom is gone.”- Oscar Wilde The Importance of Being Earnest
AAS Vice President