Blasphemy vs. Free Speech

Webster’s Dictionary defines blasphemy as an ‘impious utterance or action concerning God or sacred things; an act of cursing or reviling God; irreverent behavior toward anything held sacred or estimable.’ Free speech needs no definition. In any case, both are only concepts, and with any concept you can always find its opposite. Thus conflict is born.

There was a fascinating discussion on blasphemy vs. free speech on NPR (On Point with Tom Ashbrook, January 15, 2015). To quote Ashbrook: ‘Blasphemy can sound like a very old idea in much of the world.  But in the Islamic world, blasphemy is hot and very political.  In Pakistan, you can get a beating or worse in a hurry.  Saudi Arabia just sentenced a critic to 1000 lashes.  Mauritania has sentenced a blogger to death by firing squad for insulting the prophet.  And then there’s Charlie Hebdo.  This hour On Point: the blasphemy charge, inside the Islamic world and beyond.’

For starters, Ashcroft quoted the PM of Turkey saying, ‘Freedom of thought and belief ends where the freedom of thought and belief of others starts.’ Where is the freedom in this? But let’s move quickly beyond blasphemy and the Islamic world and approach it from a global standpoint. As one contributor to the show said, ‘There is no ultimate freedom of speech anywhere in the world.’

It’s obvious that there are an infinite number of opinions regarding the parameters of freedom of speech and what constitutes blasphemy – opinions primarily informed by any given culture’s religious and political views. And given the multitude of opinions, it’s obvious that they can’t help but be broken by someone. It’s like the old sidewalk game of ‘step on a crack, break your mother’s back.’ There are too many cracks.

In other words, the model is flawed – as long as there is a clinging to religious beliefs and political views there will always be conflict among and within all the cultures of the world. As long as there is an ‘us’ and ‘them’, a ‘me’ and ‘you’ mentality, we will forever tread on each other’s toes.

There is a solution: there is no other. When you discover this, understand it in the core of your being, there is never any reason, any desire, or even a way to offend someone else, because, in reality, there is no other to offend.

When you realize that there is only an other from the point of view of an individual self – whom most of us take ourselves to be – and then try to locate this individual self in earnest and can’t find it except as an impermanent cluster of thoughts, feelings, sensations, and perceptions, and therefore, ultimately unreal, where is the other?

In other words, if there is no self how can there be an other? We are all considered an other from the point of view of another individual self, and, conversely, everyone else is an other from the limited view of our individual self. When you know, feel, understand, that this so-called opposition of ‘other’ and ‘self’ is just an appearance, where is the animosity, the fear, the anger? Who is there to oppose? Blaspheme?

When the separation between self and other dissolves in understanding, in the knowing of our essential nature – which is that which knows all appearances, yet itself is not an appearance –all that remains is true freedom, or love.