The word blasphemy literally means speaking ill (of someone or something).
In Abrahamic scriptures (Old Testament, New Testament, Holy Qur’an) it refers to any disrespectful or disbelieving word or act against the God of the religion.
In the practice of those religions anybody who engages in any word or statement or act that is deemed by the religious authority to be blasphemy against God, saint, prophet, holy book, symbol of worship, etc. is deserving of severe punishment.
Blasphemy laws have been abolished in all secular democratic countries. In the twenty-first centuries only Islamic states enforce blasphemy laws in varying degrees of strictness.
In Confucianism, Hinduism, and Buddhism there are no blasphemy laws, although there too the majority may not approve of desecrating or disrespecting their sacred names and symbols.
We may consider three kinds of blasphemy:
(a) Internal blasphemy: In former times only members of a given faith community were subject to blasphemy laws, largely because any nation or community consisted primarily of only members of a given religion. Thus, for example, Muslims would not be subject to Christian blasphemy laws and vice versa.
(b) Intrusive blasphemy: Since the closing decades of the twentieth century, blasphemy laws have come to be applied to people not of the (Islamic) faith. This gives rise to serious conflicts in nations which are governed by freedom-of speech laws.
(c) Secular blasphemy: In some nations which are secular (i.e. whose citizens are not subject to scriptures, holy men, and religious institutions), there are laws against insulting national institutions. In particular, one cannot disrespect the constitution, desecrate the national flag or national monuments, the king or queen, etc.. One cannot engage in hate speech about the ethnic, religious, or immigrant minorities. Conflicts sometimes arise because these limit the individual’s freedom to a degree. We may refer to such acts as secular blasphemy.
Thus when people of one country burn the flag of another they are desecrating the sacred symbol of another nation, and are thus committing secular blasphemy against another nation.
Blasphemy laws serve(d) the important purpose of keeping the members of a faith respectful towards its framework and institutions. One of the features of modernity in societies and civilizations is to regard blasphemy laws as anachronistic and disrespectful of individual liberty.
January 22, 2015