OPINION

In Praise and Defence of Blasphemy

May 08, 2007
Jawahara Saidullah

I admit it. I love blasphemy. There! I said it. There is something within me that attracts me to it. The more blasphemous an idea, the more it challenges any establishment, especially religious ones, the more I like it.

I'm talking ideas that challenge Jesus' divinity; Mohammad's prophet-hood and talk freely of Shiva's drug addiction. Bring it on! Blasphemy, to me, is what makes the world progress. Thoughts that are drastically different from what others believe and feel, aah, they are the ones that truly force humanity forward.

Where would we be without the famous blasphemers Galileo and Copernicus. Even most religious figures--that can potentially be so hurt by it--were blasphemers in their day. Jesus and Moses were a threat to the established religion of the day as was Mohammad. Why, then are ideas, thoughts and their provocative expression so taboo? Hinduism had few taboos practiced as it once was. What happened?

Why do we need to protect God and divinity from people who say things about Her? Surely (if you believe in it) the being who created the universe and us needs no protection from mere ideas? How supremely arrogant is that? Can mortals truly protect God from the expressed ideas of other mortals. Does Lord Ganesha really care that his image showed up on toilet seat covers? He looks like a cool guy. Maybe he took it as a compliment. But we'll never know, will we? Hindus in the US protested against the purveyor of such sacrilegious merchandise, making them pull the seat covers from the market.

This was, of course, nothing compared to the furor over what was not one of Rushdie's best work (to me his worst is better than most writers' best but I digress) The Satanic Verses. It was a book for God's sake. Don't buy it, don't read it, if offends you. Protest even. But burning books and a death threat?
I know that people of the Diaspora sometimes take blasphemy more seriously than do our counterparts back in our countries of origin. If there is one thing that should (but often does not) open up someone's mind to new ideas, it should be traveling and living in other countries. Observing and living among people and environments that are totally different from your own should be a liberating experience.

Instead it sometimes creates fear, making them hold on harder to the past, grasping at the tangible aspects of their original culture and in the process making of it a poor facsimile. And since religion is such a crucial part of some lives any blasphemy against their faith becomes intolerable.

It was a personal journey of my own to arrive at a place where blasphemy has become such a cherished idea. Blasphemy to me is the domain of a different mind, of a brave person (or a foolish one) but someone who definitely swims against the tide. And that right, in an increasingly polarized and intolerant world, is precious to me.

I am tired of the "it hurts my religious sentiments" brigade. What the heck is a "religious sentiment?" If it is so fragile as to be hurt by someone saying or writing something, perhaps you should examine your religion and your sentiment. Perhaps indulge in some blasphemy yourself and feel the exhilaration of it.

Besides what about my sentiments then? Are they any less valid because there is no religion attached to it? My sentiments can be potentially hurt by the display of religion out there, by every church, mosque or temple I pass and by everyone who says "god bless you," when I sneeze. But to me (and others like me) these are the realities of life and living. This variety of religious stuff out there is what makes the experience of living so rich. And one such experience is blasphemy. It's a part of the world and life and has been since the very beginning when the first cave-woman looked at others prostrating themselves in front of a giant cactus and said, "you do know that's just one giant, prickly plant, don't you? I bet we can split it open, cook it up and make ourselves some soup." I wonder how they dealt with her.

Remember the old saying, 'sticks and stones may hurt my bones but words shall never hurt me'? Letting blasphemy, no matter how heinous or offensive, flourish, even under protest, can only take us forward.Of course, this doesn't endear me to most people whether they are Diasporic or not.

But my fellow Diaspora dwellers, we above all, should embrace blasphemy or protest such ideas with other ideas. We are the ones who decided to look beyond a certain wall to take a peek at the other side. We traveled beyond the seven seas just to see what lay there. In another time that act itself would have been blasphemy, causing some of us to lose our caste. Blasphemy is our tradition. Our birthright. Let us embrace it.

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#1
Sujai
URL
May 8, 2007
11:14 AM

I don't fear god, but I fear people. God striking me down with a lightning is a distant possibility, but my house getting ransacked by other people is a distinct possibility.

Its not the fear of God, its fear of the fellow man.

Blasphemy, I am quite sure, God would enjoy it if we were to sit in a pub or a across a table sipping a beer or coffee. I am quite sure he will be amused to know that our brain can question, think for itself, reason, and make a logical discussion. I am quite sure Blasphemy would interest him more than a roting down of his holy book three hundred times and telling him the same things which he has been hearing for thousands of years. Instead, he will be fascinated that we discovered his Universal Law of Gravitation, his Uncertainty Principle.

Wouldn't he bored with those sycophants who suck up to him, sacrifice animals which he doesn't need (Why would he want someone to give him food when can create his own at any time?).

Wouldn't he be bored with those yes-men who keep chanting his name again and again.

Blasphemy is definitely interesting to God, much more than blind religiosity!

#2
Amrita
URL
May 8, 2007
11:25 AM

Jawahara - I love this post, I love the example (esp the cactus one, LMAO!!) and I love the fact that you did it all with such humor.

My thoughts somewhat mirror Sujai's, in that if God didn't want me to think independently why would he give me a brain? There's that old joke about Catholics:

A man dies and goes to Heaven, God takes him through rooms filled with other people. "This is where the Protestants are," He says and "Here're the Episcopalians" and so on until He reaches a room where nobody meets the new arrival's eye and God motions him to be silent as they pass through. "What was that?" the man asks. "Those were the Catholics," God says. "They think they're the only ones here."

Just substitute "Catholic" with whoever you like.

#3
Sujai
URL
May 8, 2007
11:52 AM

Higher the man, higher his tolerance for criticism.
Higher the man, easier for him to accept mistakes of others.
Higher the man, bigger his generosity.
Higher the man, larger his forgiveness.

If God was the highest man, he should be the most tolerant, the most forgiving, and most generous.

Therefore, sin of a mortal man would be a minor foible, a trifle incident that would not even bother him.

So, why bother?

[One could substitute 'man' with 'woman', or 'it'- not to offend other animal species].

#4
Jawahara
URL
May 8, 2007
11:58 AM

Thanks for the comments guys, and SS, I heard this joke when I lived in Kentucky, except Catholics were substituted by Baptists :-).

#5
Deepti Lamba
URL
May 8, 2007
12:07 PM

J, my favorite movie is the Life Of Bryon and in Hindi movies Jaana Bhi Do Yaru and in Series - South Park where Satan is gay with Saddam Hussain was his lover and Jesus at one point told Cartman to leave him alone.

As my mom used to tell me when I would beat up the neighborhood kids for mocking me- Just because they said nasty things to you don't make their words true. Get a thicker hide!


#6
Deepti Lamba
May 8, 2007
12:08 PM

Life of Brian.....end of the day..fried brains and all;)

#7
Anindo
May 8, 2007
12:42 PM

I liked the article. Very articulate!

Regards,

#8
Anindo
May 8, 2007
01:30 PM

Sujai,

"Higher the man, higher his tolerance for criticism. "

Please spare us the sanctimonious bullshit! At least, I know how much tolerance you have for opposing ideas ;-) You are nothing but a fake. Apologies to others on this thread. I do not want to hijack it.

Regards,

#9
Sujai
URL
May 8, 2007
01:35 PM

Anindo:

Albert Einstein said:
Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe.

I am an atheist. My case for such a generous God is hypothetical ;-) to drive a point that in case such a god existed, he wouldn't bother.
You don't seem to get that. You didn't even understand what I wrote. You saw my name and felt you need to bait me!!

Lower the man, lower his fights! ;-)

Albert Einstein also said:
Great ideas often receive violent opposition from mediocre minds.

;-)

#10
BJ Kumar
May 8, 2007
03:00 PM


JS, the problem is not and has never been whether an individual has the right to express his or her views but whether one can practically take the risk of expressing oneself as freely as one would like in the face of imminent threat. All societies have their codes of "Thou shalt not go there." Religious code (which "blasphemy" entails) is just one aspect of it.

#11
Jawahara
URL
May 8, 2007
04:06 PM

I *love* Life of Brian.

Of course, BJ, blasphemy comes with risk but then so does blind belief in things outside our control. And not challenging accepted beliefs has its risk too...the stagnation of ideas and of people.

So anyone who blasphemes has to take on that risk, I suppose.

But then I believe it's barbaric that the punishment for blasphemy is death.

Oh well! Good discussion everyone. Let's keep it going and thanks for reading.

#12
smallsquirrel
May 9, 2007
12:57 AM

my thoughts mirror sujai's. because I believe that god knows everything, s/he will know when I am being false. I can be all full of praise and awe for god, but if I am thinking in my head "you suck god, I cannot believe I got sacked today" then....

of course I also believe that God can handle that kind of talk. why should I think one way and talk another. if I am angry with God, I tell it.... and I tell it like I would tell anyone else.

God made my sense of humor, my speech patterns, etc. So when I say to God "you're really being a bastard... please shut that dog up so I can go to sleep" I do not think God is offended. Should I think that and yet only pray "kind and benevolent master, I beseech you to stop this beast from it's howling, if it is your will. I also ask for patience and the humble ability to submit to your calling?" Hell no. HELL NO!

Is that blasphemy? I don't think so. But then again, that is between me and my god. And I am glad of it!!!!

#13
Diganta
URL
May 9, 2007
01:02 AM

Blasphemy is most popular in democracies. It's because everything here boils down to 'will of people' and people generally can't accept ideas opposing to theirs, it becomes dangerous for blasphemous people to survive.

The gene of blasphemy might soon be out of Human gene pool by Natural Selection :).

If Gallileo would have been in a democracy, people would have voted to kill him because he was opposing 'God's version of truth. However, Earth would still be round and would rotate around the Sun.

#14
Chandra
May 9, 2007
01:50 AM



The challenge is in being blasphemous where it is the toughest. For example, refusing to wear a burkha in Saudi Arabia, not covering your head in a remote village in Rajasthan, wearing a T-shirt saying 'Venkateswara- you dont exist' at Tirupati ,supporting a lower caste in an upper caste village and so on......The courage to getting beaten and bruised and then to stand up and continue - ami ekla cholo re......ami.....

rgds

#15
null
URL
May 9, 2007
02:52 AM

well jawahara if you want go about on an ego boosting routine of "I am so special and clever" than do it Go ahead follow your Nafs

#16
Deepti Lamba
URL
May 9, 2007
02:55 AM

null, thats what we call pot shots of no consequence.

#17
Jawahara
URL
May 9, 2007
04:41 AM

Note to editors: Can we retitle this one to I Am So Special and Clever. It's so much more accurate as I am *very, very* special and clever. Don't you guys agree?

Chandra, I agree. Here are my thoughts on your post. I think what you describe is rebellion, which is an action (it can be part of being blasphemous) which is admirable as well. Qualitatively, blasphemy is more of a radical thought process, a challenge to the establishment, whereas rebellious acts put those in action.

So, not wearing a burkha in S. Arabia is a rebellion. The blasphemy would be in saying that the religion itself is wrong whereas most people who refuse to wear burkhas/headscarves, etc. do it on the basis of their interpretation that the Quran did not expressly say that these should be worn.

So the action is the same (not wearing a veil) but the place it comes from is different. One comes from trying to justify it from a religious viewpoint, playing within the rules. The other throws it all out and challenges the religion itself, perhaps even calling it illegitimate.

That's the way I think of it at any rate.

Anyone else want to weigh in?

#18
Sujai
URL
May 9, 2007
06:09 AM

smallsquirrel:
(why are you small?)

But then again, that is between me and my god.

This is the crux of the matter.

Personal god is so different from religious (and therefore organized) god. The religions take away one's personal god and make it a organized god so that they can control your life.

It is no longer 'between you and your god' but 'between you and all of us who represent HIM'

#19
smallsquirrel
May 9, 2007
06:49 AM

sujai...

it was a nickname that stuck. I am just under 5 feet tall. as an adult. in the west, this is miniature. :)

and yes, there is a huge difference between religiosity and spirituality. people get them confused all the time. they figure the more pious they are, the more god will favor them. hmmm... well, that's not my conclusion, but that is between them and THEIR god, right? ;)

#20
Sujai
URL
May 9, 2007
07:01 AM

'Good things come in small packages', including squirrels! :)

#21
Sujai
URL
May 9, 2007
07:08 AM

This was an incident from 1995, Upper Michigan.

I was hanging around with few friends in a mall, when two young people approached me to sell their version of Christianity. After few minutes of their sales pitch and after asking me few questions on my origin, religion, etc, they asked, 'Are you not afraid that you will go to Hell?'

I responded-
"Look, actually I would rather prefer going to Hell. You see, my Mom is a Hindu, my Dad is a Hindu, and my whole family is Hindu and many of my friends whom I know well are also Hindu. And according to you they will all go to Hell. I would rather go to Hell and have a blast with them instead of going to Heaven where I wouldn't know many people. And I also think that hanging around with Pope, few nuns and priests would be quite boring. I don't know what to talk to them. I don't talk to them even here on Earth. To be with them for an eternity would be a nightmare!"

Coming to think of it, it would be interesting to be in the league of Galileo, Copernicus and all other blasphemous scientists and philosophers that came later than sit around with some pious nuns and clergy men.

#22
Jawahara
URL
May 9, 2007
08:37 AM

Oh my gosh, Sujai, those convertor type people really bug me. I was caught by some in the early 90's while waiting for a friend in Delhi. Some weird guy from Australia on a misson *shudders*.

By the time we were done he was like, "why don't you say I accept JC as my saviour, and then you can gradually come to him as the years go by. Just say it." Like he had a quota or something. How can someone say something like that without meaning it?

Then, of course, when I moved to Kentucky, it was like a global message, "brown young woman in the vicinity...one more soul for Christ," went around.

Every damn day there was a Jehovah's witness or a baptist at my front door. Yechh!

Then we moved to this apartment in Indiananpolis where our strange neighbor would heep leaving little cards inviting us to her church and be saved.

One day I left her one: Please come worship the dark lord, Satan, at Our Unholy Church of Beelzebub.

The cards stopped.

Arrey, you are happy with your religion, that's fine. Leave me the hell alone.

#23
Deepti Lamba
URL
May 9, 2007
09:27 AM

Funny I lived in the Bible Belt and no one approached me. I am miffed!!

#24
Amrita
URL
May 9, 2007
09:51 AM

Hahaha... I have to keep the Church of Beelzebub in mind. Funnily enough, the only time I was approached by a Jehovah's witness was in B'lore. In Michigan I was handed a free Gita by some ISKON folks who were mighty miffed when I handed it back and in NYC I was waylaid by Scientologists once.

#25
smallsquirrel
May 9, 2007
10:31 AM

Oh I like to invite the Mormons and Jehovah's witnesses in if I have the time. I ask them so many provocative questions that they are itching to leave in about 15-20 mins. I guess that is kinda mean, but whatever. Prostelitizing is so icky in my book that I have no issues not playing nice back.

Once, at work, I got stuck in an elevator with a girl about my own age. She was staring at me. I thought she was admiring my boots (they were hot!). I said "hi" and she said hi back. Then she said to me "would you like to enter your name in my jesus's book of lambs and ensure that your soul is not in eternal peril?"

I blinked repeatedly and told her with a straight face "nah, not today.. if you had said book of goats maybe. but I am afraid of lambs."

#26
Deepti Lamba
URL
May 9, 2007
11:37 AM

Now that was the joke of the day!

#27
Jawahara
URL
May 9, 2007
12:37 PM

I'm afraid of lambs :-) That's a good one.

#28
the mad momma
URL
May 9, 2007
04:01 PM

loved the post. shocked that there is no controversy here yet... i come from a family of Jehovah's witnesses and i promise not to try to sell you guys anything!

#29
Jawahara
URL
May 9, 2007
05:21 PM

MM, thanks :-). To give the converting JW's some credit, they never did try to sell me anything. They only offered to save my soul. And sometimes when I was at a loose end I did end up reading the Watchtower (I think that was the name) which reminded me of the Soldiers of God magazine/pamphlet that the nuns would sell us for 10 paise in school. :-)

#30
smallsquirrel
May 9, 2007
10:31 PM

MM.. yes, I failed to mention that there are good people of EVERY faith. I am very much a "live and let live" kind of girl in that regard. But like I said, I dislike prostelitizing, so that is where the issue comes for me. So no offense meant to Mormons or JW's. Just please do not knock on my door :)

#31
the mad momma
URL
May 10, 2007
06:32 AM

) i'll go one step further.. I can understand ppl coming to your doorstep to sell you a new concept... because most often they so strongly believe in it that they just want to share their joy and their discovery or whatever.. i have family members who are JW, but I am not one.

but i draw the line at forcing it down my throat. the other day the OA and I were at a traffic signal when an ISKCON devotee tried to sell us a Gita. The OA being Hindu, we already have more than one Gita at home. So we said no. He kept insisting and finally got quite offensive and started pointing at the car, our watches, cell phones and telling us that if we could spend money on all these things, surely we could buy the GIta off him !!!

I dont mind the preaching.. for some religious communities its a way of life. but go away if i tell you that i am not interested. please!

and hey.. no offence taken either :)

#32
Suzanne
URL
May 10, 2007
05:25 PM

I, too, love blasphemy! It is so great reading such a delightful defense of it.

Overall, I have found that the women who write for this site are some of my favorite thinkers and writers. This is a perfect example why.

#33
Jawahara
URL
May 11, 2007
10:49 AM

Thanks Suzanne. Always good to meet a fellow blasphemer ;-)

#34
Uma
URL
June 6, 2007
08:55 AM

Yeah Jawahara, let me add my name to the list of blasphemers.

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