In Defense of Blasphemy Codes
Political Dualism - Mere Christendom
Written by Douglas Wilson
Tuesday, 02 October 2012
In one sense, defending blasphemy codes is the easiest thing in the
world. All you have to do is demonstrate how everybody has them -- you
can defend them because everybody defends them. Blasphemy codes are
inescapable -- it not whether a society outlaws blasphemy, but rather
which patterns of speech will be considered blasphemy. We don't use the
word blasphemy much anymore, but we do regulate "hate speech," "fighting
words," and so forth.
Here is a quick round up of some recent articles on the subject. First, somebody over at Slate noticed that something funny was going on. And Russell Moore argued here why blasphemy laws are wrong, and a response to that post can be read here at BaylyBlog.
But in another sense, defending blasphemy codes is quite difficult --
in no small part because people have come to believe that simple
disagreement is blasphemous.
They therefore hear what you are proposing,
not as a restriction of incendiary slander, but rather as a prohibition
of simple disagreement -- which would of course be ludicrous.
In order to make sense of all this, we should turn first -- as we
should always turn first -- to Scripture. How does the Bible define
blasphemy? This approach is far to be preferred to our current practice
of letting hyper-sensitive Muslims define it -- or worse, the PC-mongers
on our universities campuses.
In Scripture, blasphemy is railing, vituperative, incendiary, and
inflammatory language. It it not mild disagreement -- even if the
disagreement is registered on a very important topic. In my book 5 Cities That Ruled the World,
there is a sentence that noted at one point in his career Muhammad was a
marauder and a pirate (which he was), and this sentiment was treated in
Jakarta as if it were blasphemous, and the book was burned. But
according to a biblical definition, it was not blasphemous at all.
Also in Scripture, blasphemy is defined by what is going on -- the
manner or content of speaking -- and not defined by whether or not it is
directed against divine things. For example, blasphemy is the word that
is used for simple slander against others (Col. 3:8). In addition, it would be possible to blaspheme false gods, which Paul's pagan friends in Ephesus were glad he had not done (Acts 19:37).
So in my ideal Christian republic, would it be legal for someone to
say that he did not believe that Jesus rose from the dead? Of course.
Would it be legal for a bunch of rowdies to parade outside a Muslim's
home, taunting him with insulting descriptions of Muhammad? Of course
not. The reason is that the civil magistrate is charged with keeping the
peace, and such fighting words are inconsistent with that. The gospel overthrew
the worship of Diana in Ephesus, and not incendiary taunts. In my ideal
Christian republic, slander would be against the law -- and it would be
against the law even if directed against pagans, heathens, antinomians,
But having said this, it is crucial to note again that the prohibition of fighting words is to be defined by the Bible,
and not by the hypers. Christians ought to have complete freedom to
hand out Christian literature, even if they live in Dearborn.
Cartoonists should have the freedom to draw pictures of Muhammad. Robust
debate, satire, give and take, parry and thrust . . . all good.
Freedom of speech is a glorious gift of God, and the fastest way to
make it disappear is the way we are currently doing it -- by
absolutizing it, and then discovering such absolute freedom is
unworkable, and clamping down on everybody for the sake of a pretended
even-handedness. When we clamp down on everyone in such confusion, we
find that we have simply outlawed criticism of those who are clamping
down on everybody. Which turns out to be pretty convenient . . . for
It would be far better to recognize that apart from a clear word from
God, we are ethically disoriented and completely lost. Without a clear
word from God, we cannot define fornication, we cannot define murder,
and we cannot define slander. So why should we trust our ruling elites
with this? They have already demonstrated they cannot define marriage --
the idea of a boy and a girl is beyond them. They cannot define murder
-- defending the defenseless in the womb seems to them to be an extreme
concept. And they cannot define slander.
This means that we shouldn't let them impose their blasphemy codes --
but not because blasphemy codes cannot be defended. Rather, it is a bad
idea to let people pass blasphemy codes when they have no idea what it
is, or why it is bad.