Today in Madrid the police arrested the actor Willi Toledo because he had not surrendered to a magistrate to answer a charge of “causing offence to religion.” Indeed he had written online, “I shit on God and on the doctrine of the sainthood and virginity of the Virgin Mary.” He did so in defence of three women who had carried in a public street a three metre cast of a vagina, in the manner of a religious procession, calling their action, “The procession of the rebellious pussy” ( I spare my readers a more accurate translation) for which they had been accused of blasphemy by the Society of Christian Advocates.
The vehemence of Mr Toledo derives from the still very great power of the Catholic Church is Spain, where in the recent past it collaborated with the fascist government of Franco who rewarded it with additional privileges. That does not in itself justify the vulgarity of his remarks, but it is likely that he chose these words precisely to cause maximum offence to the hierarchy of the church and its supporters in the Judiciary. It is also likely that the women’s action, which was perhaps modelled on the Russian group Pussy Riot, arose from the same protest against a church that demeaned their womanhood.
My guess is that when God’s good name has been trashed by a church which allies itself with oppressive powers in society, with priesthood over the people and men over women, He/ She probably chuckles at the naughty attacks made on the false image of God, by people who see how harmful it has been. God is doubtless a good deal less shockable than some of his flock.
If the reason for a law of blasphemy is to protect the name of God, it is a very shallow interpretation of it that targets exasperated outbursts like Toledo’s, rather than focusing on actions which truly bring God into disrepute: clerical child abuse, alliance with racist, homophobic, corrupt powers like Francoism or Trumpism, priests or ministers living rich in the midst of poverty, concern for religious propaganda rather than truth, these are all blasphemous, and the name of the false God they project should be attacked with as much force and vulgar wit as possible.
God’s reputation is wholly in the hands of believers.
These Spanish events would not happen here, I think, because religion has much less power in Scotland than in Spain. Probably nobody would think it worth their while to parody a religious procession (unless it was an Orange March) or swear at God. There is a popular view that religion as it has been known is on the way out, that it no longer controls the morals of society, so that blasphemy (apart from frequent abuse of the name of Jesus) is not a big temptation.
Some of the evident distaste for religion is to do with the past and present behaviour of religious people with power, but most of it is due rather to the onward march of secularism, that is, the force of technology and science, boosted by an all-powerful capitalist economy. If everything worthwhile can be achieved by capital equipped with technological development and scientific research, who needs God?
This is the dominant world view which has chased religion to the margins and given us nuclear weapons, sophisticated militarism, air pollution, global warming, mass instinction of flora and fauna, war games for five year olds, instant poronograhy and a world divided into rich and poor as never before. So maybe believers have a duty of blasphemy, not against God, but against what St Paul called the “forces of wickedness in high places” that is, against the ruling cultural and economic forces of our world. We should blaspheme against the World Bank, against the Davos Gathering, against the agribusiness that ruins the soil and disrespects its animals, against the climate change deniers who pay scientists to lie, against the respectable scientists who tell us that the world is a machine and human beings are genetically determined, against the atheists who assure us that humanity is responsible to no-one, against the education which makes success its fundamental aim. These and many more idols of our time could benefit from some pungent blasphemy on the part of those who, against the tide, still think God is real.
And if like Willi Toledo or the Spanish women we succeed in touching the raw nerve of power, we can remind ourselves that the first Christians were charged with blasphemy for refusing to treat the Emperor as a god.