Within 15 minutes of a post about the website http://blasphemy.ie/ on the Irish Times website’s breaking news section, visitors (like myself!) received the message: ‘The server is temporarily unable to service your request due to maintenance downtime or capacity problems. Please try again later.’
I saw the blasphemy site late last night, tipped off by a friend who knows of my interest in such things. Perhaps it will be resurrected shortly. (Yes, by the time I finished writing this post I could once again access the site.)
It wouldn’t surprise me if the blasphemy site had crashed as a result of being inundated with visitors. Last year when my School conducted an online survey about religion in Ireland, open to anyone on the island, atheists responded in disproportionate numbers. One of the main messages we gleaned from atheists’ responses to the survey was that they felt left out of public life in Ireland (see the full report, from page 17). They thought that they were, as atheists, discriminated against. They said they would face hostility in their work and social lives if they came out of the closet, so to speak.
On the currently-disabled website, the group Atheist Ireland had collected 25 ‘blasphemous’ quotes, including Jesus Christ, Muhammad, Conor Cruise O’Brien, and Dermot Ahern.
Their aim is to draw attention to the Republic’s new Defamation Act, in which blasphemy is punishable by a €25,000 fine. Their hope is, of course, to overturn this part of the law.
I appreciated the ironic humour when the atheists quoted Jesus’ responses when he was accused of blasphemy by the religious authorities of his day. In their public attacks against religion, strident atheists like Richard Dawkins usually lack a sense of humour. Laughter, I think, would help their cause more than the angry monologues that resemble the tirades of some Christian televangelists.
Blasphemy laws have always struck me as betraying a stunning lack of faith. After all, what kind of god needs to rely on laws enacted by puny little earthly governments so that he/she and its followers don’t get offended?
I suppose lawmakers are less concerned about protecting the feelings of metaphysical entities than they are with enflaming enthusiastic followers. We had another reminder of this today with the arrest of a man who, armed with an axe and knife, broke into the house of the Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard. It was Westergaard who penned images of the prophet Muhammad that sparked widespread protest around the world. Here is a case when using humour failed spectacularly.
But if it is that type of action that Ireland’s new law is expected to prevent, I find myself agreeing with Michael Nugent, chair of Atheist Ireland, who writes:
“[The new law] is silly because medieval religious laws have no place in a modern secular republic, where the criminal law should protect people and not ideas. And it is dangerous because it incentives religious outrage, and because Islamic states led by Pakistan are already using the wording of this Irish law to promote new blasphemy laws at UN level.”
Blasphemy laws won’t create open public spheres in which people of all religious faiths and none can engage in respectful debate about what kind of society we want.