Founded in 2009 by the Center for Inquiry, International Blasphemy Day urges the non-religious to openly criticize religion; as Ronald Lindsay, the president of the Center for Inquiry, explains that “[W]e think religious beliefs should be subject to examination and criticism just as political beliefs are, but we have a taboo on religion” (1). Essentially Lindsay hopes to protect a person’s rights to ridicule, criticize religion and God. Especially since criticism of religion is deemed a social taboo in America. Atheists Paul Kurtz and Tom Flynn said that atheists need “to affirm the right to blaspheme by exercising it” (2). The event showcases a series of events, exhibits and lectures in a host of mostly North American cities.
Blasphemy Day moreover expresses anger towards nations and authorities that execute blasphemers. Not only do they argue that this is inhumane but that it also undermines freedom of expression. Advocates usually place particular emphasis on Islamic theocracies such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan where such inhumane punishment is seen to be commonplace. They also express resentment towards countries that still have in place laws that deem blasphemy unlawful such as Portugal, Spain and Greece, to name a few (3).
In one interview Justin Trottier, a coordinator of Blasphemy Day, says that “We’re not seeking to offend, but if in the course of dialogue and debate, people become offended, that’s not an issue for us. There is no human right not to be offended” (4).
Trottier seems to be trying to paint a rosier picture than what the real situation presents to us. It’s thus not hard to see through his statement when shirts bearing taglines, “There’s nothing wrong with God that a dose of reality won’t cure,” are worn by attendees. Some of the entries were so crude they also couldn’t be published by CNN (5). The point of it all is to be “Deliberately provocative” (6). Such deliberate behaviour is not only outright bigotry but it also undermines Trottier’s words of attendees “not seeking to offend.” There is also certainly no honest intention to “dialogue and debate” with people who hold to other beliefs; instead the event is deliberately catered to offend and ridicule religious believers.
As I’ve argued before I think this sort of bigotry does atheism a huge disservice. Personally I have no quarrel with atheists wanting to get their views out into the world. Everyone should be afforded that right, but I’m sure that most would agree that there is a line that generally shouldn’t be crossed. I think most people realize that there is a fine line between critiquing religions and philosophies of other people and actually deliberately mocking and ridiculing them; which is, of course, International Blasphemy Day’s purpose. I agree that the idea of drawing awareness to religions that promote and institutionalize violence and barbaric laws, such as Islam, is a very good one. But that is not really the whole story, so to speak. Instead, International Blasphemy Day provides a space and an opportunity for atheists to spread their hate for religion in general whether that is Islam, Hinduism, Taoism, Judaism or Christianity. Which I think is quite sad considering so much more could be done to promote atheism in an attractive way that really shows that it has the well-being of persecuted people on its agenda. However, it is quite clear that the event is fueled by atheist hate and nearly nothing else. And, unfortunately for the atheist movement, it is this hate that is so commonly associated with contemporary atheism. Consider a few years ago at a Reason Rally where atheist Richard Dawkins urges his fellow unbelievers to “Mock them [the religious], Ridicule them in public” (6). Those in attendance laughed and clapped in agreement. Or consider an atheist conference involving Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Daniel Dennett where the repeated line was that religion must be destroyed and science must help do it (7). Add to this Blasphemy Day and further editions of Reason Rally and what we have is a movement that espouses hate and bigotry. The impression I get is that wherever and whenever atheists gather in numbers hate and bigotry tag along. This is why atheism is done such a disservice. Gathered atheists look more like hate groups than anything else.
Moreover, it’s momentously counterproductive. Common sense tells me that if one wishes to attract an outsider/unbeliever/opponent to one’s own cause it would be best not to mock and ridicule them. Many, if not most, atheists certainly want their movement to grow as well as for religion to diminish, but the process will struggle if they keep telling religious people how deluded and insane they are. I’m certainly not saying that atheists mustn’t criticize and oppose other belief systems; instead there is a line that shouldn’t be cross. That much is just plain common sense.
Campaign For Free Expression promotes International Blasphemy Day as a time “to support the right to challenge prevailing religious beliefs without fear of violence, arrest, or persecution” (8). As I already mentioned I think that this is quite noble. I also think it could prove to be some common ground where atheists and the religious, as well as others, could work together for a common good. The sane religious person should agree that it is wrong to arrest, persecute and even execute people for their beliefs and their challenging of other beliefs. Again, any hope of achieving this goal is dashed since atheists are only polarizing themselves further from most of the population who are usually religious in some way.
Studies have already shown that atheists are severely mistrusted by American society; even atheist Sam Harris concedes that adhering to atheism “is right next to child molester as a designation” (9). Likewise they are known to condone behaviours that many, if not most, Americans deem to be morally questionable (10). So, in general, atheism doesn’t seem to have a very good public image or brand name as it is. But how does one further drive a wedge to widen this chasm? Host events and designate days analogous to International Blasphemy Day.
1. Basu, M. 2009. Taking aim at God on ‘Blasphemy Day’. Available.
2. Center For Inquiry. 2009. Penn Jillette Celebrates Blasphemy Day in “Penn Says”. Available.
3. International Press Institute. 2015. In EU, calls to repeal blasphemy laws grow after Paris attacks: IPI research: blasphemy, religious insult still a crime in half of member states.
4. Larmondin, L. 2009. “Did you celebrate Blasphemy Day?” Available.
5. Basu, M. 2009. Ibid.
6. YouTube. Richard Dawkins espouses Militant Atheism: “Mock them, Ridicule them.” Available.
7. Bishop, J. 2016. Atheist Conference: Religion Must Be Destroyed. Available.
8. Campaign For Freedom of Expression. 2015. International Blasphemy Rights Day. Available.
9. Bishop, J. 2015. Atheists Severely Mistrusted by Society. Available.
10. Bishop, J. 2015. Atheists & Agnostics More Likely to Condone Morally Questionable Activities. Available.