Poor Stephen Fry. Everybody’s favourite intellectual has offended Ireland’s blasphemy law and is being trolled by the Irish thought police. Ironically, as I understand it, the law in question is no medieval irrelevance, but a modern attempt to prevent religious hatred. It is being perverted from its original intent by religious fascists who want to suppress the expression of any belief but their own. There are parallels here with the European Human Rights Convention, envisaged by Winston Churchill and the other founders as a bulwark against fascism, but which is too often perverted to the cause of narrow sectarianism. We need outspoken celebrities like Fry to express publically for the rest of us, the revulsion we feel at ‘the repulsive ideas of pre-scientific religious founders whose personal delusions, often contrary to all humane conscience and human sympathy, continue as dogma to influence the thoughts and actions of millions of people’ (to quote the Preface from my book). It will be a terrible shame if the famously thin-skinned Fry, retreats from the fight for sanity, pluralism and a secular state.
My dictionary defines blasphemy as ‘the action or offence of speaking sacrilegiously about God or sacred things’. This rather makes the point. Blasphemy can only be defined in terms of itself. Things are not ‘sacred’ in and of themselves’. ‘Sacrilege’ is offence against the ‘sacred’ and therefore suffers from the same etymological self reference. An atheist cannot commit the offence of blasphemy because he does not believe in the existence of the offended party, that is, god. It is surely for the believer to prove the existence of their deity, before someone can be penalised for offending such entity. What is really at issue here of course is not offence against a deity – who presumably has broad enough shoulders to take it, and must in any case surely have more important things to think about – but offence against believers in the deity. It is these poor, Christian souls whose delicate sensibilities have been outraged by Fry’s words. For the rest of us, to point out the incompatibility of divine love with the existence of disgusting, loathsome and dehumanising diseases – particularly those that afflict innocent childhood – is simply saying it as it is. Again, as I say in my book, ‘do the people who daily preach hatred of their fellow creatures, and take up arms against them purely because they believe their deity wishes it, ever stop and wonder whether any deity that requires such absurdities and cruelties is really worthy of the worship he seems to demand?’