Commemorate Blasphemy Rights Day—Have a Bake Sale or Read the Bible

September 26, 2010


I’ll give you the reasons for what may seem like strange suggestions in a moment, but, first, a few words about the name change. You will probably recall that last year CFI sponsored the first ever International Blasphemy Day. CFI had several reasons for sponsoring this new holiday, but the principal motive was to emphasize the importance of the right to express oneself freely about any subject, including religion. (See my blog post from last year on The Importance of Blasphemy .) CFI firmly maintains that religious beliefs should be examined and criticized just like any other belief, whether that criticism takes the form of a scholarly essay, a speech, a cartoon, or a quip. But in a textbook example of poisoning the well, soon after CFI’s announcement of Blasphemy Day some opposed to CFI’s mission redefined the purpose of Blasphemy Day, claiming that CFI was sponsoring Blasphemy Day solely to ridicule and belittle believers. Unfortunately, this tactic had some success. Mud does stick. In an effort to eliminate any confusion about the purpose of this holiday, CFI decided to insert the word “Rights” in its name. The name change does not in any way imply muting our support for the freedom to blaspheme. It’s a new name, but the underlying message remains the same.

OK, now that we have that out of the way, let me explain my suggestions. On a day devoted to freedom of expression, there is not and should not be one “proper” way to commemorate the holiday. There are any number of different ways to commemorate International Blasphemy Rights Day, and our branches and campus affiliates are showing creativity in how they go about it, with some having discussions, some having performances by comedians, some creating free expression zones in which both the religious and nonreligious are invited to air their views, and some having bake sales. (I have not asked whether hot cross buns will be among the offerings.)
Some other suggestions regarding IBRD are found on our Facebook page .   

Reading some passages from the Bible (or, if you prefer, some other allegedly sacred text) is my idea. I’m not making this suggestion for the fairly obvious reason that holy scriptures can provide material for some humor. There are more substantive reasons.

Sacred texts remain powerful influences on the outlook and beliefs of billions of people. Their influence underscores the importance of critical examination of religion. Obviously, as part of that critical examination of religion, it is useful to have some acquaintance with the texts upon which religious beliefs are based. To put it another way: good, insightful blasphemy requires a basic understanding of the beliefs being blasphemed.

Moreover, reading a sacred text shows respect for believers. Believers claim these books will provide us with the ultimate truth about the universe and the meaning of life. So if we have the time, we should take a look at them. My suspicion is that any person armed with a modicum of critical reasoning and a willingness to ask questions will not be persuaded to accept the authority of any of the sacred books. But the value and significance of these texts is something everyone should decide for themselves. Unlike some believers, we do not think books should be suppressed.

The religious want us to consider their claims to know The Truth; they want us to take them seriously. Let’s do that. We owe them that much, as fellow members of our community. Let’s take their beliefs seriously—and point out their flaws. Blasphemy shows that we care.