Religious Blasphemy Laws, East and West
How Cancel Culture Creates a Bond Between the Woke West and the Sharia-Law Abiding East
Religious blasphemy laws are fashionable again in the West, at least when it’s a fashionable regime-approved religion, like Wokeism, enforcing them. You won’t find Christian fundamentalists doing it: Christianity has not been stylish among the West’s cultural elite for several generations.
Every now and then Christians object to explicitly sacrilegious “modern art,” like Andres Serrano’s 1987 grifterpiece endearingly titled “Piss Christ:” a photograph of a crucifix in a jar of the “artist’s” urine. The ignorant masses hated it, partly because it was offensive to them on religious grounds, but also because it was difficult for them to see anything really artistic about it. Regular rubes could look at something by Norman Rockwell and immediately appreciate the skill and effort required to create such a lifelike painting, but when shown a purported modern art masterpiece, they typically replied with something like, “This looks like some mess made by a toddler.” And when the regular people found out that the taxpayer-funded National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) had decided to award thousands of dollars in government grant money to the “artist” for making Piss Christ, they called their elected officials and wrote angry letters to the editor (the pre-internet way of doing social media). The offending image was never censored, but due to the public outrage, the NEA’s funding was (temporarily) reduced.
Of course, the cultural elite loved it, precisely because it so deeply offended the religious and artistic sensibilities of ordinary people. The intelligentsia mocked Christians for being backwards, bigoted, humorless, zealots who needed to lighten up and stop getting so offended any time their backwards, bigoted beliefs were challenged by important, avant-garde forms of “artistic” expression. They talked about the importance of free speech and artistic expression.
In the decades since the Piss Christ controversy, however, religious censorship has made a comeback in the West. And this time, it’s the cultural elite, rather than the ignorant proles, supporting blasphemy laws and publicly condemning anyone who transgresses them.
Maybe the cultural elite in the West are now embracing blasphemy laws as a means of being “cool.” The West’s cultural elite value being fashionable above all else, and being fashionable means staying up to date on whatever the current thing is. And in order for awareness of the current thing to serve as a proxy for coolness, the current thing has to change regularly: as soon as a critical mass of people become aware of the current thing, mere awareness of the current thing no longer confers as many cool points, so the cultural influencers create a new current thing to set themselves apart. Being pro-free speech and pro-artistic freedom used to be cool, but once regular people developed a “live-and-let-live” tolerance to nontraditional beliefs and lifestyles, then being fashionable required doing the opposite: thus, the elites embraced blasphemy laws, also known as “political correctness” and “cancel culture,” because it showed how cool they were compared to the ignorant masses. “Hey man, like, the First Amendment is soooo last millennium!”
Now, our friends in the East who practice that fiery but mostly peaceful religion known as Islam also employ blasphemy laws. I suppose they figured that since fashions come and go in cycles, it was only a matter of time before the blasphemy laws would come back in style. Why change with the times? Why not just stay where you are and wait for the world to come back to you? So they just kept condemning blasphemers while the West experimented with free speech and an open marketplace of ideas. Ultimately, the West’s cultural revolution came full circle, and now blasphemy laws are cool again in both the East and the West.
So if you are a teacher at an elite private school who, in the context of teaching about “Islamophobia,” shows your class a picture of a cartoon someone drew of the prophet Muhammed, the Western cultural elite will join the Muslims in denouncing you for your thoughtcrimes against humanity. [Question, if nobody could ever draw the prophet Muhammed, how does anyone know what he looks like? And if they don’t know what he looks like, how can they tell whether it’s a cartoon of him or just someone trying on the latest linens at Bed, Bath & Beyond?]
And if you’re a teacher who, in the context of a lesson about historical racism, enunciates the dreaded “N-word” while quoting a historical document, the West’s cultural elite will similarly denounce you and demand that you be fired and made unable to earn a legitimate livelihood ever again. (See also, https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/02/can-educators-ever-teach-the-n-word/253345/.)
And if you’re a college football coach who notices one of your players is paying more attention to his iPad than the game film during a team meeting, and if you read aloud what is on the player’s iPad in a “let’s see what was more important to you than what the rest of the team is working on” kind of way, and if you enunciate the dreaded “N-word” while reading it, the cultural elite will demand your scalp (but not the scalp of the student who was reading this blasphemy on his iPad). Even if many of your former players come to your defense to say you’re not at all racist, it won’t help you because your intent is irrelevant; your character is irrelevant; context is irrelevant; all that matters is the fact that a blasphemous combination of sounds escaped your lips and caused irreparable harm to the players who heard you (even if many of those same players freely use the word in question to refer to themselves and their teammates). You should know better than to blaspheme against the gods of Wokeism, you miserable heathen!
Here’s a fun exercise: next time a Leftist tells you about someone saying the “N-word,” play dumb and ask, “What ‘N-word?’” Maybe if you act sincere enough, like English is your second language and you are genuinely mystified as to which word is causing all these problems — and can they please tell you what it is so you can be sure never to say it? — maybe you will be able to get the Leftist to say or write the dreaded word and thereby commit blasphemy herself? It’s worth a try, anyway. The exchange might end up going something like the hilarious stoning scene in the Monty Python movie Life of Brian:
You can also hear an audio version of this post on Blasphemy Laws here:
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