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Blasphemy: Medieval Nonsense
Of all the crimes a person can be punished for, even put to death for, blasphemy is one of the most nonsensical and ranks in ridiculousness with others like spectral evidence. The crime of blasphemy is commented on in the Torah, the Bible and the Koran and the sentence is executed by stoning to death. Essentially, it is a crime against God such as denouncing God, his priests, pastors, popes, imams or other representatives, or in some cases, claiming to be God, or claiming God or gods do not exist or worshipping another god. It is also defined as insulting, vilifying, showing contempt and/or being irreverent toward religion and/or God or gods or holy persons or objects. A recent case in Pakistan makes the point clear when an Imam placed pages of a Koran in a young Christian girls burnt refuse ashes and claimed she committed blasphemy for burning pages of the Koran. She and her entire family were then under threat and the 14 year old was arrested and placed in prison. As he was witnessed placing the pages of a man made book there himself, he is now in line for the same accusation after traumatizing the girl and subjecting her to death threats not only to herself, but the family too. There is likely another crime being hidden behind this and it could be rape/adultery that also has a harsh punishment under Sharia law. In a world where the representatives of religion behave contemptibly or in an obvious criminal manner, blasphemy as defined, becomes and easy thing to commit. Such is the nature of dogma.
Religion has a long and diverse history and by now has divided into several main themes being Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, Zoroasterism and many, many sub-cults of these. Each and every one of them, such as well known among Christendom, are so divided that they acclaim to be the true holders of the truth and everyone else is either heretical, blasphemous, or of the devil or evil opposition. It has diverged away from nature, which is the true source of all religion. Perhaps the greatest real blasphemy of all, is the attitude of contempt that we collectively hold against nature. Anything else is speculation and/or dogma, but people and those who are family or friends suffer the threat of or are put to death over a concept that can neither be proven nor disproved. Further, when religious objects are concerned, there is plenty of uncertainty, such as claimed for various holy relics like the Shroud of Turin, true pieces of the cross, the spear of Longinus, Holy Grail, bones of saints and more. It is also true concerning the wine and bread that make up the host in the Eucharist where we are told that if we drink and eat of the blood and body of Christ as a non believer or in a non-confessed state of sinfulness, we drink and eat damnation unto ourselves, placing ourselves in imminent danger of hellfire. This act of partaking of the Eucharist in a sinful or contemptuous condition is considered the height of irreverence and fits the definition of blasphemy. There is plenty of contention on almost all of this, yet if we follow the injunctions of the Old Testament in Leviticus and the injunctions of religious leaders, many of us would be put to death for blasphemy. Jesus states in the New Testament that all manner of sins will be forgiven except for blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.
The Bible makes a reference in Leviticus (1) to putting to death anyone who challenges the authority of or is irreverent to the Old Testament religion and God along with others who are to be put to death such as adulterous women, witches and homosexual men. We know for a fact of history, that those who were accused of witchcraft or were witches, were put to death by various means. Often, as in the case of Salem, Massachusetts in the past, people were convicted of witchcraft on the strength of spectral evidence alone; on someones unfounded testimony of the accusation. Spectral evidence is that condition of coincidence and circumstance where links of cause and effect are made where there are none. A more contemporary example of this serves in India where those of various castes think it misfortune if even the shadow of an untouchable falls upon them. An untouchable can be severely punished if their shadow should fall on someone else of a superior class. Such is the nature of spectral evidence where coincidences can be transferred into indictable and solid evidence and severely punished.This is a clear case of the irrational in operation in history. In more objective circumstances, we require the presence of not only solid material evidence and connections, there must also be continuity of evidence. Otherwise, the case of prosecution would fall apart.
Blasphemy can thus be used to convict someone and put them to death simply because they did something like burning a Koran that is a man made manufactured book that contains the recorded sayings of Mohammed. Due to the length of time involved, we cannot fully vindicate the accuracy of the entire body of writing. The existence of multiple sects and contention between them suggests that there is a possibility of corruption in the text from the beginning til now. In Nazi Germany, book burnings put to flames many scriptures of various religions because they diverged from Hitler's program for the Third Reich. No one strongly denounced Hitler et al for blasphemy! In fact, solid evidence exists that the Catholic church supported Hitler up to 1935, where the record fades.
The Al Queada blew up a huge statue or Buddha and to the Buddhists, this was an act of blasphemy even though the Buddha was and self proclaimed atheist. The western press played up the destruction to heap scorn on the terrorist organization. In another instance, someone took a photo of a crucifix in a toilet bowl. This too would be considered an act of blasphemy. The photographer artist, though undergoing strong criticism, did not get executed for blasphemy. The crucifix that is an object of veneration, is also man made and in the strict definition from the Bible, is an idol. Idolatry is also forbidden even in the context of the ten commandments. Idolatry itself falls under the definition of blasphemy.
In the story of Moses, we read that upon coming down from the mountain with the ten commandments, he witnessed the Israelites engaged in idolatry, fornication and adultery. In anger he threw down the tablets of God's commandments and an earthquake ensued, swallowing up much the sinful gathering. As Moses destroyed a sacred object, would this not be considered blasphemy under the definition? Though Moses was then forbidden to enter the holy land, God did not smite him dead on the spot. In fact, according to the account, a second set of tablets was made.
As there are many sacred relics in many places for various peoples and ethnicity, it would be rather easy to commit the sin of blasphemy in someones eyes. There is little doubt that when the western hemisphere was conquered by Europe, that many sites sacred to the first nations were trashed. In response, especially during the Indian Wars, Indian warriors trashed and burned churches including the contents like Bibles, payer books, crucifixes, hosts and vestments. As many First Nations revered ancestors, the desecration of burial sites of ancestors by developers would be to them a type of blasphemy. There have been a few standoffs between First Nations and governments including on the national level over this very issue. In some instances, many people have been killed. When Salman Rushdie published the Satanic Verses, a price was placed on his head and a fatwah (holy war) declared by Islamic authorities against him. Although we do not place a price on a persons head today, when the “Last Temptation of Christ” was released, there was plenty of controversy.
Today in Uganda and Kenya, people are rounded up and burned alive in trenches for the crime of witchcraft along with homosexuals in the former case. In these cases, it it not for blasphemy, but it does have something in common and that is ignorance. Accepting the idea and act of putting someone to death based on hearsay and lack of any evidence except hear say, spectral evidence is hubris that is often unmatched in any other form of violence. So it is in many cases where blasphemy is charged. When it comes to so called holy or sacred relics, many of these are fake and to put someone to death for irreverence, even if that is in the form of comedy or art, is the height of ignorance. What we have here is the murder of those charged with the sin of blasphemy over a fraud. Two of the commandments are broken as a result, where a person is murdered due to false witness or a lie. In a case where real evidence is required, the charge of blasphemy often falls well short of the mark of evidential, linked cause and effect. Science is supposed to address situations such as this, replacing ill directed and uncontested faith in the absurd with hard empirical facts. But not everyone uses the scientific approach, relying instead on what some authority has to say about things based on faith. Censorship during the learning years does not help either, so that in a supposed age of science, we see the re-emergence of magical thinking that has no other support than blind faith, often in the absurd. Taken to a mass scale, we see the emergence of religious wars, where everyone believes they are fighting on God's side when in truth they are being led into a slaughterhouse. This kind of thing was prevalent in the Medieval period of history and it appears that in some ways, we are seeing a macabre repetition of that history.
1. Leviticus 24:16
see also 2 Samuel 12:14