Blasphemy Blasphemed
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Politics and Activism

Blasphemy Blasphemed

Divorcing Delusion

Blasphemy Blasphemed

Republic of Ireland: Multiple outlets have been reporting on the developing police investigation into British comedian Stephen Fry's comments on a TV program in 2015. According to the Irish Independent News, the staunchly atheist television personality has been accused by a so-called concerned citizen of breaching The Defamation Act of 2009 - under which "a person who publishes or utters blasphemous material 'shall be guilty of an offence'. They are be liable upon conviction on indictment to a fine not exceeding €25,000."

Speaking to Gay Byrne, host of the show "The Meaning of Life", Fry was asked what he might say to God if his understanding of reality was somehow incorrect. He replied with a litany of allegations:

"How dare you create a world in which there is such misery? It’s not our fault? It’s not right. It’s utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid god who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain?" He went on to hypothetically demand answers for "insects whose whole life cycle is to burrow into the eyes of children and make them blind. They eat outwards from the eyes. Why?" among other offenses.

Immediately cutting to the core of this absurdity, one might look to the definition of 'defamation' according to Merriam-Webster: the act of communicating false statements about a person that injure the reputation of that person: the act of defaming another: calumny defamation of charactera defamation lawsuit. Regardless of one's stance on the issue of the reality of a deity or deities, defamation by definition requires that its victim be a person. This begs the question, whose reputation was tarnished by Fry's response?

I offer this story from across the pond to highlight a disturbing and growing trend that I have noticed in our more local sphere, that is the prevalence of appropriating the language of the Pedagogy of the Oppressed to further toxic rhetoric. More simply put, the ways that idealistic and conscientious thinkers like Paulo Freire and Augusto Boal have communicated their dissent from predatory systems of society have been co-opted and redirected to further the same oppression. Notions like the necessity of dialogue between people and the importance of ideological identity in struggles toward freedom have been twisted to further the goals of the established bastions of political and economic power.

My observation may seem a bit dry but returning to our embattled comedian, consider how even the most conservative global estimates of non-believers to believers vastly weigh in favor of the latter. No one can seriously suggest that the religious have suffered some sort of irreconcilable blow, they, of course, will go on believing. They too will go on controlling nearly every seat in most governments; atheists and non-believers remaining one of the least likely to be elected to public office in our own country, for example.

Yet the high-octane Fox News-fueled "War on Christmas" and other cliches continue to inflame the passions of their consumers, burning clear and narrow narrative paths that disallow for even a momentary instant of self-reflection - completely ignorant of the pervasive dominance of their own beliefs.

The prevalence of this sort of rebranding of the establishment is intensely problematic. This phenomenon has led to a rhetorical stand-off between the truly disenfranchised demanding change and those who currently benefit from the current system, but have adopted the narrative tactics of the former. When both sides claim to feel oppressed, either actually or virtually, the end result is an intensely defensive conversation in which both sides cannot even agree on what the problem is, let alone how it might be solved.

This stand-off not only robs those seeking a chance to articulate their grievance, but it also limits the agency of those who might benefit from the current power structure - the scope of the dialogue is reduced to reacting to perceived threats, limiting options to respond productively. In this scheme, no one gets a reprieve from feeling oppressed and outraged regardless of the validity of that perception.

This is far from an aesthetic problem. Consider the recent executive order delivered by President Trump aimed at allowing religious organizations to participate in politics without fear of losing tax benefits. The language the president used in his speech in the Rose Garden was disturbing to say the least. He asserted that freedom doesn't come from government, it comes from God - not a right, but a gift that can be given or taken away. Also, consider the manipulative reference to Abraham Lincoln, who was consistently hounded for not being associated with a church throughout his presidency. As one third of this country identify as non-believers, who does this executive order truly protect if not the majority?

“If the structure does not permit dialogue the structure must be changed” -Paulo Freire

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