Douthat on Blasphemy

I have said before that I have great respect for Ross Douthat, even though I often disagree with him.  He has a blog post today that demonstrates why I have respect for him, as I think he gets it 100% right regarding the tragic shootings in Paris yesterday.

Douthat begins by pointing out the inherent contradiction with "blasphemous" statements--it is very important that we allow blasphemous statements in a macro sense, while recognizing that most individual blasphemous statements are juvenile and unnecessary.  Or, said another way, blasphemy has the potential to serve the essential social purpose of speaking truth to power, even if most of the time it is just a bunch of obnoxious jack-asses trying to get a rise out of people.

To take a concrete example, I am very weary of the Westboro Baptist Church folks picketing the funerals of deceased servicemembers and other folks that catch their ire for some reason.  Beyond their underlying messages, which is an atrocity, I find it to be a form of blasphemy, to intrude on this difficult and painful moment in the lives of the friends and family of the deceased.  It is disgusting to me on every level, and wish they would stop it.  I support any efforts to reduce the impact of these protests--honor guards, counter-protests, whatever.  I believe there is no value whatsoever in what they are doing.

And yet, we need to allow them to continue what they are doing.  No because what they themselves are doing has any value, but because what others like them might do may have value.  If the Westboro Baptist Church's funhouse-mirror version of America, where people of faith are despised, discriminated against, and persecuted, was actually real, then protests of the kind that they do would indeed be a form of speaking truth to power.  We don't allow the Westboro folks to protest for the sake of their message; we do it for the next message, the one we really need to here.

As a side note, Douthat mentions that the utterly abominable Catholic League and its leader Bill Donohue all but blamed the folks at the magazine for their own deaths.  After all, says Donohue, the magazine also blasphemed various Christian subjects.  Beyond all the reasons Douthat provides for why this position is terrible, I would also make one theological argument: God doesn't need us to police blasphemy.  God is the ground of being, the creator of the universe, the source of all life.  God can take care of God's self just fine.  If God feels that the blasphemer needs to be addressed in some way, then God has any one of a number of ways to address him or her.  He doesn't need our help in that regard.

If we become upset because of a purported blasphemy, we need to understand that we are the one's who are offended, not God.  Our honor has been impinged, not God's.  God is beyond being affected by some stupid cartoons.  Perhaps we should follow his lead.


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