Tuesday, August 4, 2009

'Scuse me Mr God

So the Irish Government, in their very finite wisdom, have passed a law to stop us criticising the infinite. It appears that poor old Mr. God , despite being all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving and the creator of all things, has the fragile ego of a Hollywood starlet who has passed her prime. He needs to be protected, by an act of government, from anybody saying anything nasty about him, lest we hurt his feelings.

The paltry excuse being used for this is that there was actually a blasphemy law on the books already, and that, as blasphemy is mentioned in the consititution, we had to create a new law so as not to leave a 'void'. Of course the constitution is also a document that states that the authority of the State comes from an entity called the Most Holy Trinity - something roughly equivalent to declaring The Easter Bunny to be one of the Founding Fathers.

Now we come to this little thing known as offence. The last sentence of the preceeding paragraph might be said by some to be 'offensive' to those who beleive in God. By comparing their holiest of holies to a creature that all sane adults agree is merely invented to please children, is 'offensive' we say, and we leave it at that. We all know what 'offensive' means, and we all agree that its not a good thing and there should be less of it. Or something like that.

My question is: Do we really know what 'offensive' means and is it something that need be of any interest to the law? To put it this way: I am an atheist. If I am at a dinner party and somebody starts talking about their deep personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, I will probably bite my lip and say nothing, to avoid 'offending' the person in question. Privately, of course, I consider his beliefs illusory, cretinous and unworthy of discussion by educated, first-world adults in the 21st century. But I probably won't tell him so.

This of course, is how all of us feel about all beliefs we do not share, but mostly for politeness' sake, we don't actually say so: If you are a Christian, you probably think that the idea that Buddha was born from a slit in his mother's belly pretty silly and if you are Islamic, you probably think it laughable that Hindus worship a god with the head of an elephant, and the body of a man. You can take it as read that if I introduce myself as an atheist, that I think all of the above are transparently false and furthermore that I think slightly less of the intellectual honesty of anyone that believes in them. Furthermore, any religious person reading this probably pities me for my blinkered refusal to accept the blindingly obvious reality that God loves me whether I beleive in him or not.

So why is it, that even though we are all perfectly well aware that anyone who does not share our beliefs, thinks they are profoundly, blatantly and obviously wrong, we consider it 'offensive' for them to admit to it? And why is it that we only do this where the beliefs in question are about things which we cannot see?

Imagine I were able to say to a right-winger "Your belief that market forces are the best arbiter of social justice offends me, and I think you shouldnt be allowed to express it." Instantly such an idea would raise the hackles of any democratically-minded person, of whatever political stripe: We all know that democracy is based on saying whatever you like about reality and the concept of 'offense' is given short shrift.

When the subject becomes religion, we become like a teacher in a remedial class, telling every student that he is 'special' and the best student in the class, as we know it will make him feel better to believe so. We walk on eggshells around people's religious beliefs, because we know how important they are to anybody that holds them. Though this is understandable, and socially probably a good move, it should in no way be enshrined in the laws of a country.

Let us admit to one thing: Anybody who does not hold the same religious beliefs as you, thinks that your deeply-held sacred tenets are guff, your God(s) non-existent, your prophet a deluded moron with delusions of grandeur and your Holy Book transparent twaddle invented by ambitious patriarchs. We think this even if we happen to have swallowed a different flavour of twaddle from somewhere else. Let us not pretend that this isn't so. If we take this as read there is nothing to be offended about, in much the same way that after an hour or two on a nudist beach, the endless parade of wrinkly scrotums and labias on show simply becomes part of the background scenery. It is covering them with clothes that makes them capable of offense.

Let us be honest that beneath our polite ecumenical smiles, our pious rubbish about 'inter-faith dialogue' and ecumenism, that underneath our clothes, we all think our fellow men are morons. Once we accept that, there is really nothing to get worked up about. Im quite sure that God would approve. Of course you're well within your rights to consider me a fool for saying so.