and so Scotland needs a new Blasphemy Law
Or maybe the law isn’t being Revoked, just Rearmed and Re-aimed
‘We are not stoning you for any good work,’ they replied, ‘but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.’ Jesus answered them, ‘Is it not written in your Law, “I have said you are ‘gods’ ”? If he called them “gods”, to whom the word of God came – and Scripture cannot be set aside – what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, “I am God’s Son”?John’s gospel: chapter 10 verses 33-36
I’ll admit I was rather surprised to see the National Secular Society and the Christian Institute joining forces on a FreeToDisagree.scot campaign.
For whatever reason — and possibly because mid-pandemic is as good a time to bury bad law as any — activists seem to have chosen now to throw out the old blasphemy law (that the Scottish government claim has been inactive for 175 years) and bring in a new Hate speech bill.
This post isn’t an attempt to explain why this is both dangerous and stupid (see FreeToDisagree about that) but simply an observation of what’s going on under the surface.
I was initially surprised by the prominence given to the removal of blasphemy on the Scottish Government page Calling for Views on the proposed legislation. But then as you read through the legislation you can’t fail to notice the way sex is given particular prominence. “Why are politicians and media/activists so obsessed with sex?” we might ask. Actually the two come together if we look at it more clearly.
Let’s step back a little to figure out what’s going on.
Many of us in the West have thrown off the shackles of believing in and paying any attention to an idea of a Creator and Sustainer god. We have been liberated and so blasphemy is irrelevant. Anyone can insult any god without any worry of being prosecuted. (After all, if that god really existed and wasn’t just a figment of our imagination, then he wouldn’t need protecting, would he?)
Having thrown off these shackles then, what do we do with our new-found freedom? Who do we worship? Who do we devote all our newly liberated time and energy to?
I am now my own god!
You are your own god!
Finally we are all gods. (Actually Jesus quoted something disturbingly similar and which we really wouldn’t expect to be in the Bible unless it were, but I’ll park that right here. I think it may be relevant but I don’t want to divert to it just now.) It’s like we’re in the Lion King and we all get to be Scar or Jafar in Aladdin! Yay!
New gods need new protections
And so with these new authorities enthroned, we need to make sure the blasphemy law protects the authorities. Surely laws are there to protect the powerful, aren’t they? (Well, Moses would beg to disagree and that’s what makes God’s law(s) worthy of a 176-verse monster acrostic.)
The point of the Hate Crime bill seems to be that if everyone acts like they are gods then there is going to be absolute misery and appalling behaviour because no-one will respect anyone else — and why should they? So we have to put the fear of — well not the fear of God — but the fear of some underspecified, vague threat of social sanction into people.
Conspiracy theories aside, my reading is that with the best will in the world, at least some of the Scottish legislators are desperately trying to rebalance things so that weak gods don’t get torn apart by powerful gods. And the weak gods are apparently any people who might feel threatened in any way by anything that anyone else says about them.
The fact these gods are so weak should be a little bit of a giveaway that they are not actually gods after all, but Don’t Mention the Weakness! (I mentioned it once but I think I got away with it.)
And why the obsession with sex?
The Hate Crime bill mentions 7 categories: age; disability; religion; sexual orientation; transgender identity; and variations in sex characteristics.
It’s striking that 3 of these 7 are basically sex-based. So why the obsession? I can’t be sure but I think it’s all about identity and this is where we eventually get back to a new form of blasphemy protection.
We have in the Western world embraced rampant, radical individualism rather than relationalism, giving us all of the dysfunctions and mental health issues that go along with defining ourselves on the basis of our individual selves. No-one can tell me what to do! No-one can tell me what I should be like! And if I start to worry that people who take that seriously then don’t actually care about me at all… I think we can see where that leads. It’s very unhealthy, and given that sex is a powerful instinct God has placed within humans, it’s unsurprising then that as we deify ourselves we try to take control of who God has made us and we hang our whole identity and value on whatever we can make it.
And so, if that starts to look worryingly like the Emperor’s New Philosophy that it is then we may need to bring in some hate-crime laws to stop reality striking home.
Where does self-godism take us?
I think it makes us all into fragile despots.
For all we might decry Donald Trump, he is perhaps the epitome of the ‘self-made Western man’. He is as good as it gets in the secularist individualist West. He’s rich. He’s powerful. He can say whatever he darn well wants to say. (Minions will run around after to undo the mischief, or even better everyone just nods and goes along with it.) Don’t take my word for it, take his own word for it courtesy of Twitter. As a ‘self-made man’ it’s not that he has worked up his fortune, or sweated to get where he is but rather he faithfully worships his god and his god is himself. He has made himself in his own image and he’s ruthless with any blasphemers. Others may worship him too and that’s no problem. Of course he would do better to recognise all the God has given him, all that others have contributed, and recognise the God who gives him his every breath. We all would.
Rather than just attack him, though, I do wonder how many of us might own up to the smallest feelings of envy that we might feel for someone able to get away with so much!
Who can save us from this body of death?
In discovering who we are in relationship with God through King Jesus, and then in relationship with others, we discover ourselves and we are free from having to protect a fragile monstrosity of an idol — ourselves. Then we can turn our attention to defending and loving others. I really hope the law-makers in Edinburgh are not so foolish as to pass this silly yet destructive hate crime bill, yet whatever happens and whatever intimidation we might face for telling unpalatable truth, let’s go on urging each other to give up our self-idolatry and let’s do what we can to rescue our compatriots from it. For all our mess and failures, God our Father has made us so much better than we can possibly hope to reshape ourselves. Our true worth is not in our own eyes, but in his.
So what should we do about blasphemy?
If there’s a place for any kind of blasphemy law than it has to be protecting simple people from being misled into eternal-life-threatening harm. But the sad history of blasphemy laws is that they weaponise feelings of offence in order to prop up the egos and agendas of influential and abusive people. Let’s remind each other that free speech is a worthy means to an end of truth and love, but it’s not an end in itself. Let’s also remind each other that we cannot legislate for real love. We need to be genuinely recreated for that — not a broken tool trying to fix itself as in Western gender identity shenanigans, but a broken image remade by the original maker and redeemer. Even the Scottish Government can’t do a better job than God.
An Aside: Pity the Atheist
Incidentally, I find it fascinating how Paul describes the atheist. It’s right there in his round-robin letter to the Ephesian church (chapter 2 verse 12) where he described their perilous former state before hearing the good news of Jesus: ἐλπίδα μὴ ἔχοντες καὶ ἄθεοι ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ. “Having no hope and (people) without a god in the world.” This is not a good state of affairs. To have no god means to have absolutely no protection — no-one to come to your aid when in distress. And far from being a state of freedom, Paul and Christians like him, recognise that to be a miserable condition. Who in their right mind would seek out such a state? As Paul pointed out, the world without Christ has no choice — they are without that personal guarantee given by a real relationship with God.