Some countries have laws to punish religious blasphemy, while others have laws that allow those who are offended by blasphemy to punish blasphemers. Those laws may condone penalties or retaliation for blasphemy under the labels of blasphemous libel, expression of opposition, or "villification," of religion or of some religious practices, religious insult, or hate speech.
The word "blasphemy" came via Middle English blasfemen and Old French blasfemer and Late Latin blasphemare from Greek βλασφημέω, from βλάπτω "injure" and φήμη "utterance, talk, speech". From blasphemare also came Old French blasmer, from which English "blame" came. Blasphemy: 'from Gk. blasphemia "a speaking ill, impious speech, slander," from blasphemein "to speak evil of."' "In the sense of speaking evil of God this word is found in Ps. 74:18; Isa. 52:5; Rom. 2:24; Rev. 13:1, 6; 16:9, 11, 21. It denotes also any kind of calumny, or evil-speaking, or abuse (1 Kings 21:10 LXX; Acts 13:45; 18:6, etc.)."
In some countries with a state religion blasphemy is outlawed under the criminal code. Such laws can be used to justify and sanction the terrorism, abuse, and murder of non-members of, and dissident members of, the state religion.
Christian theology condemns blasphemy. It is spoken of in Mark 3:29, where blaspheming the Holy Spirit is spoken of as unforgivable—the eternal sin. However, there is dispute over what form this blasphemy may take and whether it qualifies as blasphemy in the conventional sense; and over the meaning of "unforgivable". In 2 Kings 18, the Rabshakeh gave the word from the king of Assyria, dissuading trust in the Lord, asserting that God is no more able to deliver than all the gods of the land.
In Matthew 9:2, Jesus spoke the words "Your sins are forgiven you"; He was accused of blasphemy, since only God can forgive sins against Himself.
Blasphemy has been condemned as a serious, or even the most serious, sin by the major creeds and Church theologians (apostasy and infidelity [unbelief] were generally considered to be the gravest sins, with heresy a greater sin than blasphemy, cf. Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologiae).
- Thomas Aquinas says that “[if] we compare murder and blasphemy as regards the objects of those sins, it is clear that blasphemy, which is a sin committed directly against God, is more grave than murder, which is a sin against one's neighbor. On the other hand, if we compare them in respect of the harm wrought by them, murder is the graver sin, for murder does more harm to one's neighbor, than blasphemy does to God.”
- The Book of Concord calls blasphemy “the greatest sin that can be outwardly committed”.
- The Baptist Confession of Faith says: “Therefore, to swear vainly or rashly by the glorious and awesome name of God…is sinful, and to be regarded with disgust and detestation. …For by rash, false, and vain oaths, the Lord is provoked and because of them this land mourns.”
- The Heidelberg Catechism answers question 100 about blasphemy by stating that “no sin is greater or provokes God's wrath more than the blaspheming of His Name”.
- The Westminster Larger Catechism explains that “The sins forbidden in the third commandment are, the abuse of it in an ignorant, vain, irreverent, profane...mentioning...by blasphemy...to profane jests, ...vain janglings, ...to charms or sinful lusts and practices.”
- Calvin found it intolerable “when a person is accused of blasphemy, to lay the blame on the ebullition of passion, as if God were to endure the penalty whenever we are provoked.”
Catholic prayers and reparations for blasphemy
In the Catholic Church, there are specific prayers and devotions as Acts of Reparation for blasphemy. For instance, The Golden Arrow Holy Face Devotion (Prayer) first introduced by Sister Marie of St Peter in 1844 is recited "in a spirit of reparation for blasphemy". This devotion (started by Sister Marie and then promoted by the Venerable Leo Dupont) was approved by Pope Leo XIII in 1885. The Raccolta Catholic prayer book includes a number of such prayers. The Five First Saturdays devotions are done with the intention in the heart of making reparation to the Blessed Mother for blasphemies against her, her name and her holy initiatives.
The Holy See has specific "Pontifical organizations" for the purpose of the reparation of blasphemy through Acts of Reparation to Jesus Christ, e.g. the Pontifical Congregation of the Benedictine Sisters of the Reparation of the Holy Face.
The most common way to punish the ones who committed blasphemy was through hanging or stoning, due to what is said in Leviticus 24:13-16. Then the LORD said to Moses: "Take the blasphemer outside the camp. All those who heard him are to lay their hands on his head, and the entire assembly is to stone him. Say to the Israelites: 'If anyone curses his God, he will be held responsible; anyone who blasphemes the name of the LORD must be put to death. The entire assembly must stone him."
The last person hanged for blasphemy in Great Britain was Thomas Aikenhead aged 20, in Scotland in 1697. He was prosecuted for denying the veracity of the Old Testament and the legitimacy of Christ's miracles.
Blasphemy is not an Arabic term; several terms are used in Islamic religious literature for the concept of blasphemy. These include sabb (insult) and shatm (abuse, vilification), takdhib or tajdif (denial), iftira (concoction), la`n or la'ana (curse) and ta`n (accuse, defame). In Islamic literature, the term blasphemy sometimes also overlaps with infidel (kufr, disbeliever), fisq (depravity), isa'ah (insult), and ridda (apostasy). There are a number of surah in Qur'an and sunnah in hadith relating to blasphemy. For example,
Who doeth greater wrong than he who inventeth a lie concerning Allah, or denieth the truth when it cometh unto him? Is not there a home in hell for disbelievers?
A variety of actions, speeches or behavior can constitute blasphemy in Islam. Some examples include insulting or cursing Allah, or Prophet Muhammad; mockery or disagreeable behavior towards beliefs and customs common in Islam; criticism of Islam's holy personages. Apostasy, that is act of abandoning Islam, or finding faults or expressing doubts about Allah (ta'til) and Qur'an, rejection of Muhammed or any of his teachings, or leaving the Muslim community to become an atheist is a form of blasphemy. Questioning religious opinions (fatwa) and normative Islamic views can also be construed as blasphemous. Improper dress, drawing offensive cartoons, tearing or burning holy literature of Islam, creating or using music or painting or video or novels to mock or criticize the Prophet are some examples of blasphemous acts. In the context of those who are non-Muslims, the concept of blasphemy includes all aspects of infidelity (kufr).
The Quran does not explicitly mention any worldy punishment for blasphemy (sabb allah or sabb al-rasul), as it does for apostasy (riddah). However, most Islamic jurists consider blasphemy as an evidence of apostasy, and therefore conclude it is punishable with death. Some jurists suggest that the sunnah in hadith provide a basis for a death sentence for the crime of blasphemy, even if someone claims not to be an apostate, but has committed the crime of blasphemy. The Islamic law considers blasphemy against the Prophet a more severe offense than blasphemy against God. Repentance can lead to forgiveness by God when God is blasphemed, however since the Prophet is no longer alive, forgiveness is not possible when the Prophet is blasphemed, and the Muslim community must punish his blasphemy by avenging blasphemer's death.
According to Pakistani religious scholar, Javed Ahmed Ghamidi, nothing in Islam supports blasphemy law. Rather, Muslim jurists made the offense part of Sharia. In Islamic jurisprudence, Kitab al Hudud and Taz'ir cover punishment for blasphemous acts. The penalties for blasphemy can include fines, imprisonment, flogging, amputation, hanging, or beheading. Many nations prescribe and carry out the death penalty for apostasy, a similarly motivated action, and Pakistan and Egypt demand execution for some blasphemers. Muslim clerics may call for revenge against an alleged blasphemer by issuing a fatwa (legal ruling), or simply provide guidelines on behaviors and lifestyle that is blasphemous. For example, in Malaysia, Islamic scholars issued a fatwa declaring yoga as blasphemous, because of its relation to Hinduism.
One famous case of the Islamic blasphemy law was the fatwa against English author Salman Rushdie for his book entitled The Satanic Verses, the title of which refers to an account that Muhammad, in the course of revealing the Quran, received a revelation from Satan and incorporated it therein until made by Allah to retract it (see Satanic verses). Several translators of his book into foreign languages have been murdered.
As of 2011, all Islamic majority nations, worldwide, had criminal laws on blasphemy. Over 125 non-Muslim nations worldwide did not have any laws relating to blasphemy. In Islamic nations, thousands of individuals have been arrested and punished for blasphemy of Islam. Several Islamic nations have argued in the United Nations that blasphemy against the prophet of Islam, Muhammad is unacceptable, and laws should be passed worldwide to place "limits on the freedom of expression." Non-Muslim nations that do not have blasphemy laws, have pointed to abuses of blasphemy laws in Islamic nations, and have disagreed.
In the third book of the Torah, Leviticus 24:16 states that he that blasphemes the name of the LORD "shall surely be put to death". See also List of capital crimes in the Torah. The Seven laws of Noah, which Judaism sees as applicable to all people, prohibit blasphemy.
The United Nations
In the early 21st century, blasphemy became an issue for some member nations of the United Nations. The General Assembly passed several resolutions which called upon the world to take action against the "defamation of religions."
Blasphemy has been used to mean "irreverence" in a non-religious context. Sir Francis Bacon uses "blasphemy" in this way in Advancement of Learning, where he speaks of "blasphemy against teaching".
"Blasphemy" may be used as a substitute for "profanity" or "cursing" as it is used in this sentence: "With much hammering and blasphemy, the locomotive's replacement spring was finally fitted."
In contemporary language, the notion of blasphemy is often used hyperbolically. This usage has garnered some interest among linguists recently, and the word 'blasphemy' is a common case used for illustrative purposes.
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- Blasphemy Day is a holiday in which individuals and groups are encouraged to openly express their criticism of, or even disdain for, religion.
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