Monday, January 28, 2008

Another Blasphemer

I was appalled to hear of another person sentenced to death for blasphemy – this time a journalist in Afghanistan.

Unfortunately, the lesson many people draw from cases like this is that Islam is Bad and Christianity is Good, and aren’t we lucky to live in a Christian nation. Given the history of Europe and Christianity, this is a strange lesson to be learned. After all, Christians spent a millennium chopping each others’ heads off for blasphemy as official state policy.

The lesson we should draw is that we should be glad to live in a country that respects separation of Church and State. It wasn’t until Europeans and their descendents decided to sever the ties between state power and religious edict that liberal democracies were able to blossom, allowing for all that free speech, human rights, and self-determination that we say we like so much.

Unfortunately, a lot of people spend a lot of time and energy in attempts to undermine the separation of church and state. What they don’t recognize is that requiring teachers to lead students in prayer in public schools as state policy is simply one end of a spectrum and sentencing someone to death for blasphemy is the other end. They may be very apart on the spectrum, but when you allow the power and resources of the state to be used in the service of a specific religion, you are just “haggling over the price.” Perhaps the biggest danger to those who consider themselves Christian is the damage that is done to Chrisitianity itself when state employees are the ones administering religious practice.

You may think it is ridiculous to imply that public school prayer will eventually lead to executions for blasphemy. To be honest, I think so too.

The problem is that I also used to think it was ridiculous to believe that the US would pre-emptively attack and occupy a country that was not threatening it, or that we would officially endorse torture as state policy. I remember thinking how ridiculous it was for those backward countries like Saudi Arabia to torture their prisoners. It seemed as ridiculous then as the idea that we would arrest someone for blasphemy does now.

I still can’t see it happening, but I’ve learned something from being wrong about torture. Things change. Attitude changes lead to behavior changes lead to policy changes. If you don’t take the time and energy now to prevent ridiculous things from happening, eventually they will.

1 comment:

Robert Sievers said...

require does not equal allow