Saturday, January 14, 2012

Lang leve de blasfemie

In an article published today in the Dutch daily newspaper Trouw, I argue against the Netherlands' criminalization of "scornful" blasphemy and religious "insult" on the grounds that it fails to provide equal protection for the secular and religiously heterodox when their sense of the sacred is affronted. Here's an excerpt of the original English:

In 1526 a roof-tiler from Warmond was breaking bread with his employer when they fell into a religious dispute. The subject was news from Germany that some reformers had trodden on a consecrated communion host in the course of their protest against Catholic power. The boss was scandalized. But as recounted by the British historian David Nash in his Blasphemy in the Christian World, the laborer was unimpressed, remarking, “What is it more than bread? The very bread we eat at this table is the same.”

He proceeded to quote the apostle Paul’s admonition against idolatry from the Book of Acts chapter 17: “God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands.” Paul had been in Athens preaching the Gospel when some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers brought him to explain his strange new doctrine at the Areopagus, or “Hill of Ares,” a forum near the Acropolis for deliberation on matters of public concern. . . .

The roofer’s skeptical comment about the sanctity of the host was an exercise of “speech,” but it was also a manifestation of conscience, a sign of his own orientation toward the sacred. From a moral perspective, the attitudes of the worker and of his more theologically conservative employer stand in perfect moral symmetry. For one, regarding the host as mere bread was an impiety and an outrage against the sacred person who dwelt within in. For the other, sanctifying mere bread was an idolatry and an outrage against the sacred person who dwells not in hand-made temples. Neither claim was uniquely deserving of being classified as “religion,” relegating the other to being “speech” against religion. Neither man had any less cause to allege a blasphemy against the other. This is what I refer to as The Symmetry Thesis.

1 comment:

  1. You said it well and I find the Symmetry Thesis to apply well. I think I'll see it in other places. Thanks.