There is a Finnish law (Section 10 of chapter 17 of the penal code) about blasphemy, though the current version doesn’t use that word. Before screaming my fill about that law, I’ll quote the relevant part in Finnish so you foreigners can puzzle over it, and then translate it to the best of my un-lawyerly abilities.
Joka julkisesti pilkkaa Jumalaa tai loukkaamistarkoituksessa julkisesti herjaa tai häpäisee sitä, mitä uskonnonvapauslaissa (267/1922) tarkoitettu kirkko tai uskonnollinen yhdyskunta muutoin pitää pyhänä [...] on tuomittava uskonrauhan rikkomisesta sakkoon tai vankeuteen enintään kuudeksi kuukaudeksi.
Whom publicly mocks God, or meaning to insult publicly slanders or desecrates that which a church or religious community (see the law on freedom of religion, 267/1922) holds sacred [...] must be punished for a breach of religious harmony with a fine, or with imprisonment not exceeding six months.
Note: The crime is called “uskonrauhan rikkominen”, which I can’t literally translate any better than as “breach of religious harmony” or “breaking religion-peace”. Still, it’s just a new name for the old blasphemy.
I have two mental problems with this law: first, that it seems unnecessary, and second, that the first part (“Whom publicly mocks God”) is just stupid.
Uh-oh — insulting the blasphemy law isn’t blasphemy, is it?
I don’t think there should be any law against blasphemy — not even against it as an insult to some religious community’s belief. It is something that should be covered by the more general laws against defamation and slander, whatever they might be. There’s a quote that prettily encapsulates what I feel of blasphemy laws —
We must respect the other fellow’s religion, but only in the same sense and to the same extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.
It’s from H.L. Mencken, whom I know not. Note that there is no law in Finland which forbids specifically insulting your wife and children; it’s taken care of by more general laws. Why should religion be somehow specially protected?
And don’t you dare to think that “Ooh, but people care about religion!” — Don’t people care about their children, then? The matter is not “caring”, but “special treatment”.
What of us devout atheists, and our faith in either Just Stuff or St. Skeptical Inquiry and the Holy Order of Nature as revealed to us through the sacred works of Science (praise be upon its name), and what of the grievous, unbearable insults heaped on our central creed of “Ain’t no god” every time a pastor or a rabbi or an imam opens his mouth — what can we do? Those hurtful, terrible words are against everything I’m convinced of, and I want them all burned at stake — but of course I am just jesting.
Suppose a Christian and a Jew meet to discuss their beliefs. First the Christian tells that Jesus was the long-waited-for Messiah of the Jews. The Jew disagrees, says that Jesus fufilled no prophecies, and tells the real Messiah is simply delayed. The debate grows a bit more heated, words are chosen unwisely, and finally they both sue each other for public slander of their holy beliefs with meaning to insult. I guess they could continue their disagreement in a shared cell.
A tangent on free speech follows; please be patient.
I find it very difficult to hear any argument against any form of free speech without flinching. It grates, horribly, that there should be limits, even sensible ones, on a man’s speech. Speechcrime is a close cousin of thoughtcrime. I can accept the barest minimum of limits — against crying “Fire!” in a crowded theater, against malicious public lies, and so on — but that is all I can take. If the choices are fiction-writing forums for paedophiles and public oratory by neo-Nazis, or accepting a law that makes any spoken (or written) word a crime, then I always choose the first. Better to have creeps running around than noncreeps nonrunning nonaround.
As I see things, we all should be free to say whatever we want, be it offensive or insensible to some people (or all people) or not. Likewise it should be the right of us all to be offended by anything (or everything) we hear, but that should never give us a permission to silence people.
If I hear talk I don’t like, I don’t start calling down the law; I either grit my teeth, scream in return, or just walk away.
The tangent endeth here.
Now, there are laws against defamation, making false claims, and whatnot — I don’t really know or care as long as they work. But bare blasphemy as a crime, no matter what it is called, is unnecessary and silly. Imagine if there was a similar law favoring sports communities’ beliefs about their teams — “What? Did you say the Helsinki Lions aren’t the best hockey team in all creation? That’s public slander, meaning to insult! Call the cops! You’re going to rot in jail forever (six months tops) you Lionforsaken feckless cretin!”
And why can people publicly and crimelessly burn Harry Potter novels, or Newton’s Principia, or the complete and heavy works of Marcel Proust, or Shakespeare’s sonnets, or the diaries of Anne Frank, or any other book with millions of devoted and admiring readers, or even their own diaries, but not Bibles? You could publicly burn the President in effigy, but if you burn a mannequin in a white robe, with a halo on its head, you’ll go up in smoke yourself. Why is “holiness” so special?
The part of the Finnish law that I snipped away (the [...]) concerns physical troublemaking and disturbance at worship services and funerals and things like that. My opinion on that is the same: certainly not a decent thing to do, but isn’t there a separate, non-religion-themed law for that, too? And if there is, why on Earth (not Heavens) we need this law, then?
My first grumble was that I don’t agree with protecting “holy” things just because of their “holiness”, and I’ve grumbled over it quite enough. My second objection was this: why is blasphemy against a non-denominational, non-religion-specific God a crime? What use does a law like this have in a land that isn’t monotheistically fearing a plague of locusts from a God that punishes all for the words of one?
Are we to interpret the law as “God (the Lutheran one, but we can’t say that)”, or as “God (with at least 100 followers)”? The law doesn’t say “Christian God” or “Muslim God” or “Zeus” — just “God”. It doesn’t even require the existence of any congregation or church for the first part to take effect. Are all gods protected, then, even those that have no followers? How about clearly imaginary gods? Can I land in jail for mocking a god I’ve made up myself?
In the next sentence, I am talking of the Great Wah-Wah, an imaginary God of my own devising, one without any legal community of followers, so I cannot blaspheme in the second sense of the law (“which is held sacred by a religious community”), but only in the first (“Whom publicly mocks God”). So —
“God’s toenails are ingrown, and his feet stink!”
Go and snitch.