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In Defense of Blasphemy Day

Yesterday was Blasphemy Day and some atheists have been critical of the holiday. I don’t really have a problem with that. Not all atheists have to agree on this or anything else for that matter except of course the lack of belief in deities. But I would like to address some of the criticisms.

One criticism is that Blasphemy Day is only about ridiculing religion and just reinforces the angry atheist stereotype. This is a valid criticism and while I see where this criticism comes from, it really does miss the point of the holiday. Blasphemy Day isn’t about ridiculing religion (although that does occur as a result of this holiday). The purpose of this holiday as I understand it is about free speech. In 2005, many in the Muslim community went into full riot mode when on September 30th a Danish newspaper published a series of cartoons seem by many in the Muslim world as Blasphemous. This is the reason why September 30th was chosen as the day to Blaspheme.

But let’s not kid ourselves, many Christians and Jews also have issues with free speech and claim that speech which ridicules their silly beliefs are blasphemous too. The main difference is that Christians and Jews no longer kill people over blasphemous speech the way that the Danish Muslim rioters did. The holiday is geared toward reminding people that Christians and Jews once were just as violent about Blasphemy as Islam is today and to also remind people that many in the Muslim community do take these things seriously. We are not and should not be afraid. We should not silence our criticism or water it down because some people are easily offended.

This brings me to the second point. I don’t have a problem ridiculing ridiculous beliefs. And quite frankly neither do most people. How many people laugh at Tom Cruise’s expense? Or as Sam Harris pointed out in a debate, what about people who seriously believe that Elvis is still alive? What would happen if someone went into a job interview or on a date and voiced this sincere belief? People would laugh and mock that belief. The believer would probably not get a second date and it is rather doubtful they would get a job after voicing such a belief. Is that wrong? I don’t think it is. If people don’t want to be ridiculed for their beliefs, then they should not believe ridiculous things.

As for the atheist image problem, I don’t really think that is going to change just because we don’t have a Blasphemy Day. The fact is that our very existence is the cause of our demonization. There are many very vocal theists who hold the view that everyone should believe in their brand of mythology is exactly the same way they do. The fact that people don’t believe in their god is an affront to their beliefs (in their eyes). Those that believe in other myths are at least playing the same game. But atheists aren’t playing make-believe. This is a threat to their imaginary world. So you can play nice with them all you want, but they are still going to marginalize atheism and demonize atheists. Those in the middle, don’t seem to really care.

Since the fundamentalists are going to demonize us in any event, I choose not to cooperate. So I will not spell “god” with a hyphen. I will not pretend that their ridiculous beliefs are legitimate points of view with any degree of merit. I am not trying to be mean or hateful, but I just don’t want to play make-believe with those people and call it reality when it is not.

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