What is blasphemy, and is it worth it? Questions about life, faith and meaning on International Blasphemy Day

I started this blog about a decade ago, when I was young and bold and idealistic.

I believed that everything should be challenged: especially beliefs that we hold dear, because they can be dangerous. Every idea, belief, and concept should be tested and either found strong and valuable, or weak and useless. Nothing should be prioritized over reason, pursuit of knowledge, Truth.

But I’ve mellowed. Or you could say, I’ve been distracted.

I still research and write what interests me, and I’ll probably continue publishing books that many will view as blasphemous (although I’m rethinking my whole strategy now, from being bold and abrasive to being simple and inclusive).

I still believe that blasphemy is, at its core, simply the defense in our abilities to think and speak freely.

It is our right to congregate, to question, to challenge. If you take away our basic rights of dissent, freedom will absolutely disappear. We will be living with a corrupt, totalitarian government, and – if it’s a religious regime – will probably face unconscionable violence, persecution, racism and worse.

We are living in an age where rebellion is applauded on the surface: the Arab Spring; the Occupy Movement; Wikileaks. We love the idea of standing up in togetherness and revolting against a higher bureaucracy of government. We like to believe that Real Change is Possible.

That “Yes We Can.”

But in fact, we probably can do very little to change anything. We’ve seen successful revolutions go sour, as is the case in Egypt. What started as a fight for freedom led to a repressive religious takeover and years of complete systematic collapse. Despite the unimpeached pursuit of technology by corporations, and the active social use of billions of people of smartphones and the internet, we are, as a whole, less educated and more inclined to religious belief today than we were 100 years ago.

Occupy Wall Street has accomplished little: we all understand just how terrible it is that investors are bankrupting our country, that we have a huge debt and no financial options… we know that our ecosystem is destroyed but we don’t change our lifestyle or habits. Nobody is looking out for the human race. Stephen Hawkings has asked whether mankind will live another 100 years. I’m doubtful.

This inspired a Christian blogger to claim “Hawking demonstrates that non-religious thinkers have a dooms-day scenario of their own” and muse:

Interestingly, when Christians offer their hope in the future (or lack thereof), the “faith” that they have is seen as an ignorant bliss, serving to keep them from going insane if they knew the truth. Why is this? Of course you know where this is going. It is because the Christian’s faith is seen as that of the religious nature. And this kind of faith by definition must be blind, naive, and ignorant. It creates a bliss that has only one benefit–keeping its subscribers from suicide.

What’s the difference? Science looks towards a possible doomsday in order to change our habits, or invent a solution (like migrating to another planet). Religion looks forward to a possible doomsday when they will receive the proof and justification for their faith, and the destruction of their enemies. And – importantly – the biblical prophecy of the end of times may be what spurred reckless human overconsumption and effectively became self-fulfilling.

The difference is, the religious aren’t trying to avoid the end of the world, they’re hoping it will come sooner.

But who cares? It’s all just opinion these days. Facts and proof don’t matter. Evolution and Global Warming aren’t “real” – they’re just “opinions.

Citing the over-powering influence blog comments have on readers of a research articles, Popular Science shut down its comments section last week, in recognition that it didn’t need to give a platform for groundless accusations, where everybody’s voice was given equal weight to the data involved in the research.

We live in a pluralistic, value-less world of gray where any loud voice can inspire belief, in just about anything.

Can’t we all just peacefully get along?

No – because religious beliefs separate us into groups. If you were agnostic, or atheist, or “you just didn’t care about that stuff”, or a spiritual hobbyist, or an inclusivist, or perhaps a moderate Buddhist, then we could all hold hands and accept each other’s beliefs.

But if you’re a Christian, you believe you are special, privileged, entitled, chosen, and that I am not.

You believe God loves you more than me. That I am expendable. You believe my feelings, opinions, beliefs are misplaced and don’t matter – because I’m wrong. Even though I’m not trying to control how you live your life, what you do with your body, or how you spend your Sundays, you righteously feel empowered to deny the same freedoms to me.

If I stay quiet, and “live and let life”, and abide your zany-ness without comment, then your brand of crazy will grow, until science and learning is banned, and we revert into a dark age of feudalism. So I speak out sometimes. I poke fun. I draw dirty pictures of Jesus and photoshop LOL bombs that can be spread on imgur.

I flex my muscles sometimes just to make sure I’m still able to do these things; that this right has not yet been taken away from me.

But I’ve also learned not to care. I’ve learned it doesn’t matter. I’ve learned only money and influence, the ability to provide for yourself and your family, decides what happens in the world, and if you want a lot of either, you need to share a message a lot of people can get behind.

Non-believers are challenged in this respect. But luckily the internet loves funny pictures and makes it easy to share them. Digital blasphemy, the quick and instant shock+gratification of mocking sacred things with funny pictures, has probably deconverted more people than any Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins book, because it makes it OK to laugh at religion.

All it takes is one laugh, and not getting struck down by lightning, to get past the “boogeyman” fear of an omniscient God, and begin searching for some heavier reading material.

Christianity has always been aided by the simplicity of its message. It is a very powerful story, capable of radical motivation, able to provide hope, meaning and comfort. It is not easily replaced. Science has no meta-narrative to take its place. Research articles and information and philosophical arguments all fail at deconversion (unless the subject has already begun to doubt).

So how do you place the seed of doubt in a non-believer’s mind?

Make him the strange one

Make sure all the cool kids, the celebrities, the winners, the heroes laugh at religion. Deny him the comfort of a supporting community. Humiliate him. Call on him to defend his faith, his beliefs, his holy text, then point at to him the folly of his arguments. In frustration he’ll call out to God for help, and he’ll find no one answers.

And that’s basically what International Blasphemy Day is all about.