Jonathan Ferguson
Jonathan Ferguson
The New Understanding: Post-Secular Pluralism and Universalism!

Weekend meditation: blasphemy and sycophancy

Reading the Facebook group of Let’s Talk About Islamism (run by the Clarion Project), the following reflections just occurred to me.

I admit my knowledge of Judaism is not at all comprehensive, so I am happy to accept any corrections as feedback.

It’s interesting that although blasphemy laws did previously exist in Judaism, I don’t think there was any law (at least explicitly) against insulting Moses, although I imagine it wouldn’t have been very prudent, and I wouldn’t have wanted to chance it in Ancient Israel.

Certainly, I do not think the Torah itself has such an explicit prescription; as for the oral law, I am less sure.

But certainly, one has to wonder why some religious founders are more special than others; hence, the recent nonsense in Pakistan.

Interestingly enough, Jesus is said to have warned that insulting the Son of Man could be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Holy Spirit could not be. This obscure text, which has caused great anxiety for many such as John Bunyan, seems to imply (so far as I can tell) that the inner spirit  of virtue and goodness is the key thing; the will to cultivation, the will to conscience. And thus, the outer manifestation of goodness is not the key person (or thing).

How different this is from the vision of Islamic fundamentalism, where a crime against Allah is bad enough, but to insult Muhammad is the worst crime conceivable!

This is surely a little topsy-turvy.

And yet, this is not entirely without its echo in Christianity. I was raised in an evangelical household, and am now more skeptical and take more of a ‘critical’ distance. I am a hardcore secularist in legal and political terms; nonetheless, I am probably off to evensong in a Anglican (more specifically, Liberal Catholic) church tonight.

Yet, even I squirm when I hear the word ‘Jesus!’ used as a profanity. I am intelligent and mature enough to know that this is not necessarily wrong in itself, absent of context; but subjectively, intuitively, I am still startled and a little nauseous to hear it.

And yet, not so much when I hear words and phrases like ‘God!’ or ‘Dear God!’ or ‘God help us!’ and so on.

I am not really sure why this is?

Perhaps it is because whether or not you see God as literally real, or more as a helpful metaphysical and spiritual ‘conceit’ and ‘focus,’ it is very hard to picture ‘Him.’

But the person who either incarnates God (as in Christianity) or somehow manifests or represents or speaks for him (as in some other faiths) has more substance; is more ‘real,’ somehow, and can actually become an object of affection; with or without the chastened, skeptical ‘distance’ and self-irony of the half-in-half-outers of today.

So, Jesus is said to have played the insults and mockery of those who insulted them. I have a vague recollection of a similar tradition about Buddha.

And, believe it or not, Muhammad himself!

It is not clear whether the historical Muhammad would have been more upset about being ‘blasphemed’ against, or about people talking down to and flattering him, and saying ‘PBUH.’

Maybe the real Muhammad would have been horrified by such sycophants.

No-one knows.

There seem to be a thousand Muhammads.

If God or Allah is deemed an absolute unity of purpose and of vision, not so those who are considered to be their prophets, incarnations, or otherwise representative figures.

Perhaps, then, these were ‘the wounds he was given in the house of his friends.’

I’d like to actually engage with readers more than in the past, so I’d like you to share your thoughts below.

What do you know about blasphemy prohibitions in Judaism and in other faiths?

What did the religious founders of various faiths, or various key figures, have to say?

Is it important to seek the authentic historical original of Muhammad, Moses, Jesus, Buddha, or other important figures; or is this actually a red herring?

And how to you react to ‘taking names in vain?’ How do you feel?

And can you sense within yourself the same schism between ‘dispassionate reason/perturbed sentiment’ I outlined above?

Appreciate your thoughts.


Readers are also invited to email and correspond with me (Jonathan) with regards to the themes I discuss in my journalism.

About the Author
Jonathan Ferguson is an honorary Yorkshireman, originally from Northern Ireland. Unfortunately however, it is utterly impossible (or at least something of a thankless task!) to note the slightest trace of Swiftian bantz and blarney in his scrupulously highminded and middle of the road prose style. He is also a Chinese graduate of the University of Leeds (BA, MA) and King's College London (PhD). On a deeper level, he is a curious mind and a recovering cynic; or to put it another way, an Orthodox Christian. His work is focused on religiophobia and the coming Age and World of post-secular pluralism and universalism. If you like (or love, or even absolutely HATE!) his work, then by all means do feel free comment on his work, or write to him in the personal comment box on his Times of Israel profile... Or alternatively, in the very worst, ne plus ultra cases of radical fanfatuation, just click "HERE" to become a Patron!
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