From the vault: Appropriating the Language of Religion

Editor’s Note: This is one of the first pieces I wrote several years ago for the original Armchair Blasphemy Blog.  My thinking is similar but I would not write it like this today.  That said, it’s worth reposing on our new site.

People ask me sometimes why I chose the word “blasphemy” for this blog.  They often wonder aloud if I am buying into the concept itself.  I have been told that this is a religious word and that atheists should not acknowledge the very existence, even the concept of “blasphemy.”

BlasphemyI understand this thinking and rationale, but I find power in appropriating the words and concepts of ideological / religious opponents.  It’s the same concept with Santa Clause.  I can use Santa, a construct, side effect or at least first cousin of Christianity to make a very strong case that the entire mythology is fabricated.

I know other atheists who are wary of the “atheist” label for a similar reason.  They embrace the humanist, freethinking or even “brights” identity instead.  They feel that to be atheists is to be “against” something, as in anti-theist.  I don’t hold this view. The most fundamentalist religions hate and try to shame “atheists.”  They view atheists as “of the devil.”  If they are so afraid, so disgusted by this identity, then I totally want a piece of it.  There is an inherent strength go embracing something that fundamentalists loathe and fear.  It’s the same fear they have of evolution, science and—back to it–blasphemy.  It’s the intellectual side I want to be on.   

I particularly like blasphemy, because it’s such a crime in superstitious circles: Step on a crack, profane Jesus, break a mirror or draw Mohammed.  There is a power in blasphemy, only because religious people and institutions have created and nurtured it.  The fear of blasphemy is on par with people’s fear of god or gods, of hell and the devil.  If we can appropriate this power, turn it on the people who wield it against freethinkers, then the debate over superstition is halfway over.

And religious people know this.  That’s why they try to outlaw blasphemy and the “defaming” of religion in United Nations Declarations.  And that’s why secular Americans—and world citizens—must embrace blasphemy.  Step on a crack, it actually feels pretty good.

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