York and O’Cathlain

From the Lords debate on the abolition of the blasphemy law. The Archbishop of York.

It is more difficult to reach for an understanding that replaces the common law of blasphemy with a law that essentially provides for a protection not exclusively of the Christian faith but of the fabric of society, as the case in December decided.

So the idea here is that the fabric of society needs to be protected from blasphemy or something like blasphemy. So the idea is that blasphemy, or something like blasphemy, is dangerous or destructive to the fabric of society. Why? Because it pisses people off? But lots of things do that; it’s impractical and illiberal to make laws against all of them. Why then? Because the fabric of society in some way depends on the inviolability of religion? But why would that be? It’s not clear, and York doesn’t explain.

It is extraordinary that at a time when religion and religious identity have come to dominate global and domestic concerns, parliamentarians seek to stick their heads in the sand by attempting to relegate considerations of religion and faith from matters of public policy to the private sphere. The mover of the motion in the other place seems to assume that religion no longer matters and as such there is no need for the law of blasphemy in a society which he believes is very secular. I want to ask this: where is the spirit of magnanimity which shaped this nation?

Magnanimity? It’s supposed to be magnanimous to have a law on the books that forbids people to mock religion (but not other treasured ideas)? If that’s magnanimous, what would coercive and narrow and parochial be?

Baroness O’Cathain.

[A]bolishing the blasphemy law does not demonstrate neutrality; rather, it contributes to a wider campaign for the adoption of a secular constitution, which, despite what the most reverend Primate said, would actually be hostile to religion. There is no neutral ground here. Every society has some cherished beliefs that it protects in law.

Really? Every society has some cherished beliefs that it forbids anyone to challenge, including via derision? I’m not sure that’s true. I don’t think it’s true of the society I live in, for instance. That society has plenty of beliefs it protects in other ways, of course – but in law? I don’t think so. The First Amendment makes that kind of law very very tricky to enact or enforce, because it tends to be declared unconstitutional before the ink is dry. And I have to say, I think the Baroness ought to make a comparative study of societies that do protect their cherished beliefs ‘in law’ and those that don’t, and then ponder what she finds out. Either that or go to work for the Vatican, where perhaps she would feel quite cozy.

Let us be clear. The amendment before us proposes to legalise the most intense and abusive attacks on Christ, who is the central figure in our history. As the Bible records, God has exalted Him to the highest place and given Him a name beyond every other name.

Y….eah. And the Odyssey records that Odysseus poked Polyphemus in the eye with a log, too, but that doesn’t make it true. And ‘Christ’ is long dead, so the only kind of ‘attacks’ there can be on him are verbal ones, and those are just part of the commerce of life. If, as the Baroness seems to think, Jesus really is God, is he truly going to give a rat’s ass if some humans call him names? But his fans will, the Baroness may protest. Maybe they will, but is that a reason to have a law against it? The B. would obviously say yes; I would say no.

I will say this though: I didn’t realize until I read this that the Lords call the Commons ‘the other place’ – I find that rather endearing. It’s like The Scottish Play.

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