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The truth shall set you free

By WizenedSage (Galen Rose) --

Below is my latest foray onto the Letters-to-the-Editor pages of a local weekly newspaper here in Maine. It was submitted with the title, “A Blasphemy Law for America?”, but printed with the title shown below… whatever. I offer it here to show what can be done in a public forum to provide readers with reasons to doubt the teachings of Christianity. Of course, I have a great advantage over many of you in living well outside the Bible Belt, but I urge you to consider submitting letters to your own local newspapers. You may have to be a bit less direct in your part of the world, but I have to believe that re-educating believers is the surest way to a sane and secular world. (Special thanks to Riz S. - “Leaving the Past Behind” 5/31/10) - from whom I borrowed parts of my last paragraph.)

"Isn’t open debate the best way to uncover the truth?"

Monty Pythons Holy Ail: Tempered over burning ...Image by dullhunk via Flickr
I read recently that Ireland has a new law against blasphemy. It defines blasphemy as "publishing or uttering matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters sacred by any religion, thereby intentionally causing outrage among a substantial number of adherents of that religion…”

What do you think? Would such a law be good for our country? Such a law would put the non-believers like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens out of business because no publisher would dare to publish their books. Although I have read numerous accounts of people who claimed those books improved their lives. Also, we wouldn’t have people writing letters-to-the-editor which seem intended to disrupt everyone’s religious comfort. Yet, again, sometimes a little discomfort can serve a greater social good. Most parents insist on the standard inoculations (measles, mumps, etc.) for their children, no matter how loudly they protest, for the protection of all of us.

You think it couldn’t happen here, where we have a Constitutional Amendment which forbids government entanglement with religion? Don’t be too sure. The US Congress, by law, put “God” in our national motto and in the Pledge of Allegiance back in the 1950s, despite that Amendment.

Clearly, the Irish law is pretty subjective. Where does one draw the line of “grossly abusive or insulting?” For some, the Bible itself is sacred and ANY criticism of it is an insult to their religion. For some, every word in it is the direct revealed word of God. This is illustrated by a post I recently read on an internet site; “To say the Bible was written by men and may contain inaccuracies completely contradicts the word of the Bible.” Did you get that?

Of course it could get awkward when someone points out, correctly, that the Biblical “wisdom” to be protected from dissent includes commands to kill disobedient sons (Deuteronomy 21:18-21), those who work on the Sabbath (Exodus 35:2), and homosexuals (Leviticus 20:13). After all, no one in our society believes this stuff anymore, even though it is in the Bible.

And one has to wonder if it should really be illegal to admit in print that one doesn’t believe in witches (Exodus 22), ghosts (Matt. 12:31), dragons (Isaiah 27:1), unicorns (Job 39:9), or 900 year-old men (Gen. 9:29).

We would also have to ask whether we should prosecute doctors who write that evil spirits are not the cause of disease, in contradiction to Matthew 8:16. And should we prosecute people for saying they don’t agree with the Bible where it says that women shouldn’t be teachers or leaders (1 Tim 2:12)? Does anyone in our society agree with this anymore?

The more I think about this, the more doubtful I become about a blasphemy law. As I reflect on history, I can’t think of any society which ever benefited in the long run from making dissent illegal. And I can think of many societies which stifled social, religious, and economic progress and unleashed horrible abuses on the public through such laws (think Inquisition, numerous monarchs, the Nazis, Maoist China, and Stalinist Russia).

Yes, there are those who don’t believe the Bible is the revealed word of a god. They think it was written by a few dozen primitive and very superstitious men (it was a very long time ago, after all). They don’t believe there ever was a Garden of Eden with a talking snake and a magical fruit tree (Exodus). Does it really harm society to let them say this in public? Isn’t open debate the best way to eventually uncover the truth? Hasn’t it always been the best way?

Now I would never argue that the Bible is useless; certainly there are many things we can learn from it which are still useful for our own age. Who would argue with John 8:32, “The truth shall set you free”? In fact, this passage would have made a good title for my letter.

The Bible is a useful window on history and on the thinking of ancient peoples. We should always study our past, sure, but only to learn from our mistakes and move past them, not to uncritically embrace them as “truth” and indoctrinate them into children as religion. Had our ancestors not fought for and achieved the right to criticize religious beliefs, we might still be burning “witches” today, as the Bible commands (“Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” Exodus 22:18).