David Frum

09.26.12

Blasphemy Must Be An Untouchable Human Right

Hussein Ibish masterfully defends the right to engage in blasphemy.

If freedom of religion, conscience and speech are to mean anything, religious doctrines, symbols and assertions must be open to inquiry, criticism and, indeed, ridicule. Otherwise, the human thought process will be shut down by force of law in order to protect the sensibilities of the superstitious, and free inquiry into the most central issues facing humanity since the birth of the species will be effectively foreclosed.

These calls reflect a paranoid worldview that is widespread among Muslims that their religion is under some kind of global assault. If so—because Islam is spreading faster than almost any other religion, with the possible exception of Mormonism—it's an odd kind of siege. In reality, Islam is thriving in its countries of origin and spreading quickly into the West.

What this idea really bespeaks is a terror that most faiths contain at their core: that serious, skeptical, dispassionate evaluations of their specific claims will reveal them to be indefensible, hollow and easily debunked. Embracing modernity requires tolerating such fears without demanding the enforcement of religious orthodoxy, even of an ecumenical variety, through the power of the state.

In fact, and unfortunately, the devout of the world have little to fear. Sigmund Freud was right in his seminal 1927 tract on religion, "The Future of an Illusion," that as long as people fear death and yearn, in an Oedipal manner, for an all-powerful supernatural father-figure to "exorcise the terrors of nature" and "reconcile men to the cruelty of Fate, particularly as it is shown in death," we are likely to be stuck with metaphysical superstitions and religion. There is little chance, in short, that human society at large will ever be free of its grip.

Reason and skepticism, for good or ill, are not poised to overthrow faith. Islam is thriving in the modern world, both in its traditional lands and in its new adopted homes. Its politicized devotees are acquiring increasing power in post-dictatorship Arab societies. And on top of all of this, the OIC wants to globally shut down freedom of thought, conscience and speech to further "protect" Islam from perceived slights.

There is only one appropriate response to this, in language the devout should be able to easily understand: to hell with you.