The word blasphemy is defined as “offending others by speaking disrespectfully about God or sacred things”. The French philosopher Voltaire had much to say on the subject. A highly satirical writer, this revolutionary French thinker can be credited to an in-depth analysis of blasphemy as it existed in the 18th century.
"What has been blasphemy in one country has often been piety in another," is among his more well-known observations on the subject. His neural views and thinking on the subject can be easily comprehended by his observation of the relationship between pagans and Christianity. Voltaire observed the manner in which pagans accused the first Christians of blasphemy. Interestingly, as Christianity gained popularity, Christians retaliated in kind by accusing pagans of the same ‘crime’, not soon afterwards.
Every year since 2009, 30th September is celebrated as Blasphemy Day. Interestingly, the origin of the day can be traced back to a student who presented the idea to the Centre for Inquiry, at Amherst. The activities on this day focus on an open criticism of religion. The world wide celebrations often witness a disdain for religious beliefs and religion. Individuals as well as groups all over the world are involved in plans on how to celebrate the day. There is an interesting story behind the choice of 30th September to celebrate Blasphemy Day. September 30th marks the anniversary of the day on which a leading Dutch newspaper published satirical drawings of Prophet Muhammad.
The importance of the day lies in understanding the fundamental significance associated with the freedom of expression. This fundamental right is the backbone of a free, democratic society and any suppression of this right is a step backwards. Interesting activities on this day include seminars and discussion about the origin of the day, the importance of the day and so on. Involve people who are against the idea as well as those who support it. This will make the discussions really exciting. Add a funny element to the celebrations by saying or doing something blasphemous. Use humor and parody as key components of the celebrations. You could even vote on the most outrageous act and award the winner with a crazy token.
While the above activities may be fun, they will be common all over the world. Use your words and actions to try and make a difference on this day. Plan and participate in a street play that will put across the idea of blasphemy in simple term. Start an online movement that spreads your message all over the world. Spoofs, cartoons, tube videos can all go viral if they are interesting enough. The Campaign for Free Expression is part of the celebrations on this day and various student groups actively participate in this campaign. It is indeed interesting to note that Voltaire’s philosophy is relevant even today, with different countries and religions holding opposing views on blasphemy.
"Obscenity, which is ever blasphemy against the divine beauty in life, is a monster for which the corruption of society forever brings forth new food, which it devours in secret."
- Percy Bysshe Shelley
"Independence? That's middle class blasphemy. We are all dependent on one another, every soul of us on earth."
- George Bernard Shaw
"Is it not a species of blasphemy to call the New Testament revealed religion, when we see in it such contradictions and absurdities."
- Thomas Paine
"All who call the Holy Ghost a creature we pity, on the ground that, by this utterance, they are falling into the unpardonable sin of blasphemy against Him."
- Saint Basil
"To suggest that God specifically created a worm to torture small African children is blasphemy as far as I can see. The Archbishop of Canterbury doesn't believe that."
- David Attenborough
"This Old Testament - containing error, folly, absurdity and immorality - is by English statute law declared to be of divine authority, a blasphemy - if there were anyone to be blasphemed - blacker and more insolent than any word ever written or penned by the most hotheaded Freethinker."
- Annie Besant
"The writers of the French enlightenment had deliberately used blasphemy as a weapon, refusing to accept the power of the Church to set limiting points on thought."
- Salman Rushdie
"I suppose I should say that I treasure blasphemy, as a faith of the highest order."
- Rick Moody
"I'm ashamed to admit this, but I didn't read a novel all the way through until after high school. Blasphemy, I know. I'm an author now. Books and words are my world."
- Matt de la Pena
"I beg people not to accept the seasonal ritual of well-timed charity on Christmas Eve. It's blasphemy."
- Jonathan Kozol