Religion and Blasphemy Ideology

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Chapter 9 Question 2

Trace the origin of the law of blasphemy and explain the relevance or otherwise of this law


Blasphemy is the act of insulting or showing open disrespect of God through display of inappropriate behavior towards holy personages, religious artifacts, customs and beliefs. The word "blasphemy" came via Middle English blasfemen, from which the English term "blame" came into existence ( n.d). Blasphemy is regarded as an offense against the community to varying degrees, depending on the extent of the identification of a religion with the society at large or the government. Blasphemy has been a crime in many religions and cultures, wherever there is something sacred to protect.

The history of the law of blasphemy in Christian society was one of severity and it became a primary focus of censorship regimes with the warning punishment for blasphemers and measures for the identification, destruction or deterrence of heterodox works. In modern times with the beginning of freedom of speech and religion, blasphemy laws in western nations were no longer so heavily enforced. Indeed, some countries still have laws to punish blasphemy, while others have laws to give recourse to those who are offended by blasphemy. Countries with a state religion are the most common users of blasphemy laws in a modern context.

The origins of Blasphemy law

The first connection we can make between blasphemy and any kind of moral code or law is derived from one of the 10 commandments, which according to the Hebrew Bible, were authored by God and given to Moses in the form of two stone tablets in 1440BC. In accordance with majority Christian denominations, the 3rd Commandment “You shall not make wrongful use of the name of your God” is the first written account for the origin of the law of blasphemy, a law which was punishable by death.

In a more institutionalized sense, the offence of blasphemy came under canon law; the body of laws and regulations made by or adopted by ecclesiastical authority, for the government of the Christian organizations and its members. “Canonic law was adopted by the Apostles at the Council of Jerusalem in the 1st century and it incorporated not only legislation derived from the New Testament, but some elements of the Hebrew (Old Testament), Roman, Visigothic, Saxon, and Celtic legal traditions spanning thousands of years of human experience” (Knight, 2009).

From the 16th century to the mid-19th century, blasphemy against Christianity became more likened to an offence against the non-secular state, for which it became classed as an offence under common or civil law, filed under criminal code. At this time, all irreverence towards God, including denying His existence or benevolence, all conjecture denouncing Jesus Christ as the savior, all profane remarks made with reference to the Holy Scriptures, or exposing any part of which to contempt or ridicule, depending on the severity were punishable by death, imprisonment, corporal punishment and/or fine.

Finally, In the 17th century blasphemy was declared a common law offence by the Court of King's Bench, punishable by the common law courts, generally restricted to protect the "tenets and beliefs of the Church of England" (“Q&A:Blasphemy Law,” 2004).

Blasphemy law in the early Christian era

In the early Christian era in Europe, religion was an indispensable part of morality and law and so governance and societal control became the inherent role of the church rather than of the state and its political bodies as it is today. In other words, early society was governed by an ecclesial body who applied canonic law. So, as Christians came to control the power of the state, blasphemy became a crime punishable by law upon all of its citizens as God fearing people. In such circumstances, unbelief and blasphemy where considered to be no different than acts of treason against...
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