Even the sound of the word has a ring to it. It sounds a serious business, which of course it is. ‘Get out of here you blasphemers!!’ What is a blasphemer? Somebody who blasphemes? Well yes, but what is that? What does it mean to blaspheme? Blasphemy is to insult or denigrate God or to show contempt of that which is sacred. It was for a long time seen as a serious crime. It still is in certain parts of the world. Here in Ireland on October 26th we have a referendum about our blasphemy law.
We are being asked to consider Article 40.6.1.i of the Constitution. This refers to the common law offense of blasphemous libel, applicable only to Christianity and last prosecuted in 1885. In 1999 it was ruled to be incompatible with the Constitution’s guarantee of religious equality.
I remember years ago when I was very innocent and quite naive being a bit, ‘put out’, as they say, by a Billy Connolly joke about the Pope. Back then, I was protective and defensive of John Paul II. I also remember living with a few people who were upset by Fr Ted. Actually come to think of it, we had a neighbour at home who one night, in blind fury, whilst watching a Dave Allen skit on Confession, put his foot through the television. His wife would not speak to him for a week, not because she was a Dave Allen fan, but because she missed both Coronation Street and Eastenders. I also recall he had to get stitches in his ankle…and oh yes, they had to buy a new tv…. As far as I know Dave Allen was not affected by any of this.
In recent times I have found myself a little bit irked by some of Tommy Tiernan’s material. I who would consider myself open, tolerant and broad- minded, found myself getting a bit rattled by some of Tom’s teasing. I love TT and I think he is very clever. He is undoubtedly also very funny. However, does he cross the line? Does he bring me to the line… and over it? Is there a line? Should there be?
Having said that, guess what? I got over it all real quickly. My irkiness evaporated. I realised I had far more serious things to be upset and worried about but to tell you the truth I got a shock, and this is why I will be eternally grateful to Tommy Tiernan. I got a shock because I suddenly realised that when it comes to ‘insulting or denigrating God and/or showing contempt for what is sacred’ I am one big hypocrite! Now hypocrisy, as I am sure you know is very widespread. Again, as I am sure you know, it is a disease that particularly affects the ‘would be holy’ person. Yes people like you and me are very vulnerable to a bad attack of hypocrisy.
With this in mind I decided to ask myself as honestly as I could how am I when it comes to honouring and revering God? How am I with regard to safeguarding and savouring that which is sacred? I decided to concentrate on three areas: me personally, us as Church and finally, us as citizens of the world.
I quickly came up with this: How often do I use the word Jesus but not as a prayer? Do I use the word Jesus liberally in shock, even mock shock, or to emphasise something? Have I forgotten that this name, the Name of Jesus, is precious and in fact in the face of both danger and disease is the most powerful name of all? I also came up with this: what are we as a Church doing when we allow the sacred spaces namely our beautiful churches to be desecrated by constant babble, chewing gum and when we allow the incredibly special sacraments of Eucharist and Confirmation to be reduced to a day at the circus or the amusements? Finally I came up with this: on the two greatest commodities in the world, two things we cannot do without, namely air and water, what are we doing to both our seas and waterways and the atmosphere? Is there desecration and blasphemy in both our emissions and in the poison of plastic pollution?
Yes I am afraid with regard to blasphemy it is indeed a horse long since bolted. ‘You hypocrite! First remove the plank out of your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the splinter out of your brother or sister’s eye’ Matt. 7:5