Ireland does not have an official religion. Partially this is a reaction to the days when they were part of the United Kingdom, and had the Church of England foisted off on them, and partially it’s because 97% of the country is Irish Catholic anyway, so what’s the point? I’m not one of those people to automatically assume an Official Religion is automatically oppressive and evil and exclusive - again, I cite the Church of England, which has traditionally been very tolerant of other faiths in their midst (Excepting Catholicism, of course) - but I am extremely uncomfortable with the thought just the same.
In my view, it’s probably not inherently evil to have a State Religion, but it is *definitely* unseemly, and best avoided. So: Good for the Irish.
In 1922, after their revolution, the newly-independent Irish drew up their first constitution, and this apparently contained no direct statements about “Blasphemy,” but the consensus is that it could be punished under common law. In 1937, the Irish drew up a new constitution, and this one did specifically have Blasphemy Provisions:
“The publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law". (Article 40.6.1.i.)
This seems to me a pretty goofy law, but, hey: not my country, not my culture. It’s worth noting that the Common Law and Constitutional blasphemy concepts existed side by side until 1999 when the Irish courts had struck down the old Common Law rulings on Blasphemy stating “it is impossible to say of what the offence of blasphemy consists.”
This is fairly obviously a “Blue Law” kind of thing, well-intended but poorly thought out, on the books mostly because it’s not really worth people’s time and effort to remove it. In fact, I can only find two or three cases in 62 years in which anyone attempted to prosecute someone for Blasphemy (Though I’m not an Irish Lawyer, so it’s entirely possible I may be missing something). As far as I can tell, no one was actually convicted in any of these cases. Even so, it was extended to cover *all* theistic religions in Ireland as of 1972.
In 2009, a new Anti-Blasphemy law was (rather surprisingly) passed, which stated that the government could prosecute any
"grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion", which is intended only to create "outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion." This law contained a deliberate provision allowing blasphemy in "genuine literary, artistic, political, scientific, or academic value" works.
Interestingly, "Religion" excludes profit-driven organizations or those using "oppressive psychological manipulation".
This was essentially done as a ‘stopgap’ measure to comply with the 1937 constitution, until such time as the Republic holds a referendum to remove the Blasphemy clauses from it. In other words, the law was intended to comply with the constitution in the most inoffensive way possible.
Which brings me to my point:
I’ve got nothing against Atheism. I really don’t. I was an atheist myself. Twice. If we’re to look at it rationally and logically, Atheism has all other venerable religions beaten on points, there’s no getting around that. And yet, there’s more to life than logic and reason, isn’t there? Ignoring the question of whether or not there *is* a God (or gods), there is something in us that makes us seek out that which we can’t prove, that which we base our life around, that which profoundly affects our outlooks, our morality, our ethics, and our lives, isn’t there? There are other examples. Looked at rationally, Love doesn’t exist, for instance, it’s just a chemical trick our brain plays to get us to have kids. Yet that doesn’t sum it up, does it? Anyone who’s ever actually been in love understands that whatever the *machinery* that creates the feeling is, the *substance* of the feeling is quite different. Arguing otherwise is to miss the point. Likewise honor. Honor is clearly nonexistent and irrational, and yet people will die for it. Why? Because it means something to them, to the very core of their being, and that makes you hang in there and keep fighting or defending or whatever, when the sensible thing would be to cut and run.
We are not a rational species. We simply are not. We’re clever, we’re intelligent, but we’re at best semi-rational. Arguing that we’re entirely logical is just as stupid as arguing that we’re entirely senseless animals: It’s clearly not true. To any objective analysis, we are quite clearly a mixture of mind and meat, body and soul, brain and instinct, rationality and emotion, logic and intuition, yin and yang. It’s simply our way, and to argue for one over the other is to deny us our inherent human nature and try and turn us into something less than we are.
I’m tolerant. I was an atheist myself at a couple different points in my life, as I’ve said. Both times I came back to faith because I realized that while logical arguments in favor of religion don’t hold water, the external view is quite different than the internal one, and I was getting something from my faith that was worth having, and which atheists either can’t get, don’t want, or refuse to try. That’s cool. Not everyone needs the same things out of life. I’m not trying to force anyone to hold my views.
What I’ve never quite understood is the shrill evangelical quality of many, many atheists, however. They say that ‘religion is a crutch,’ and then attempt to take it away from you. Well, ok, let’s assume they’re right: crutches aren’t a fashion statement, people use them because they need them. What kind of person is going to take crutches away from cripples? They say that ‘religion is only fit for babies’ - well, what kind of rat bastard is going to run around trying to take babies blankets or bottles away?
If I go out and preach the Gospel, why is that wrong when these shrill Atheists can preach their own beliefs?
Understand that I’m *not* dissing atheism as a belief. I’ve got no problem with it, though it wasn’t a good fit for me. What I *am* complaining about so a category of atheists who are extremely intolerant, rude, angry, and vicious, and who love nothing more than to piss on people who believe differently than they do.
We find a lot of this kind of thing at the “Irish Atheists” website, who are making a high-profile, low-effectiveness protest of the Irish Blasphemy Laws. Their concept was to get themselves sued for flagrantly defying the new 2009 law, take it to the high court, and get it overturned. Of course to date no one has filed suit against them because - as I pointed out above - the law was a stopgap measure that was never really intended to be used in the first place. The mere existence of this law infuriates them, however, and they’re in full-on shrill mode, saying horrible things, some of which seem to have descended into Jew-bashing and exactly the same kind of hate speech (As we’d call it in the US) that the law was obviously worded to prevent.
Initially I was going to reprint a few of the comments here, but I’ve decided against it. Many of ‘em are pretty rude - obviously - and some of our readers are in a delicate place spiritually, so I’m not going to post things that might upset their equilibrium. If anyone wants to read them, do an internet search for “Atheist Ireland” and you can’t miss it.
Again, I want to be clear here: I think official state religions are kinda’ stupid, I think blasphemy laws are stupid, and I do *not* think atheists are stupid. I know very many atheists who are really solidly good people, mean well, and don’t hate us, they simply don’t believe.
I do, however, think that an increasing number of atheists are guilty of the very same intolerance they accuse us believers of. They claim we do a bad thing, and then they do the very same bad thing. They’re guilty of the very same zealotry they claim to despise, but of course they defend it as being in the service of the greater good, much the same way a medieval cleric might have justified torturing Jews and Muslims as being in the service of the greater good. Clearly, clearly, clearly, both these kinds of extremism are wrong. It doesn’t matter if they’re a Believer, an Atheist, or a Modern Dance Enthusiast, nor how benevolent the ideal they serve may be, there’s a certain class of person who will invariably use this idea as an excuse to pound hell out of anyone around them.
Clearly, they’re being motivated by hate and not reason.
Ultimately, what is God? If we put aside all matters of faith and culture and feelings, I think that we can all agree - Theists and Atheists alike - that God is an idea. Barring any physical evidence, and regardless of what else He may be, He is at the very least an idea. Atheism is, likewise, an idea. Ideas are simply ideas, just like rocks are simply rocks and tautologies are simply tautologies. What you do with them - how you apply them in your life - defines whether they’re positive or negative. Does the execution of your idea help people, or hurt them? Does it bring joy and happiness to people, or sadness and despair? Does it bring a sense of freedom, or a sense of slavery?
Clearly, not all ideas are right for all people, and there’s certainly never been a shortage of whack jobs who’ll take any idea - no matter how benevolent - and use it as an excuse to kill or harass folks they already don’t like, but you know what? You can’t legislate against an idea. You really can’t. Nor should you try.
The moment you start arguing that people aren’t allowed to have certain ideas is the moment you completely lose all intellectual credibility as a liberator, and you become an oppressor.
So: To our shrill atheist friends, I say, “Knock it off.” Maybe you’re right, maybe you’re wrong, but this kind of behavior is only hurting your cause. You say your way is better than our way? Fine. Prove it. Step up to the plate, live your life in support of your ideals. Be a paragon of virtue and intellect and an inspiration to all around you. Live a long, happy life, free from hate and superstitious fear, and die peacefully in your sleep at the age of 106, with no regrets, and a passel of well-adjusted atheist grandkids. Put aside your anger that *we* are somehow the reason your life sucks, and work on improving yourself. Stop blaming others for your problems, take responsibility, and solve them. Be happy. Love the people around you. Be successful. Be the ‘city on a hill’ that draws people to it. Be worthy of your beliefs.
You want faith to wither and die? Fine. Be better than us - as many of your non-shrill atheists are doing - and eventually you’ll win.
But if you’re not going to do that, then you’re a discredit to your own cause. Kindly shut up and stop wasting everyone’s time.