Death, Blasphemy and Apostasy

You’d think that apostasy laws would have fallen by the wayside in 2015.

You’d be wrong.

While much of the world favors free speech, there are still a significant amount of countries around the world with apostasy laws (and blasphemy laws) still on the books. In some countries, you can literally be put to death for leaving your religion, joining another religion or admitting you’re an atheist.

Countries with apostasy laws

Countries with apostasy laws

Here’s a 2015 story about a man who was sentenced to death for ripping up a Koran and hitting it with a shoe:

An Islamic court in Saudi Arabia has sentenced a man to death for renouncing his Muslim faith, the English-language daily Saudi Gazette reported on Tuesday.

The man, in his 20s, posted an online video ripping up a copy of Islam’s holy book, the Koran, and hitting it with a shoe, the newspaper reported.

Saudi Arabia, the United States’ top Arab ally and birthplace of Islam, follows the strict Wahhabi Sunni Muslim school and gives the clergy control over its justice system.

Under the Wahhabi interpretation of Sharia Islamic law, apostasy demands the death penalty, as do some other religious offences like sorcery, while blasphemy and criticism of senior Muslim clerics have incurred jail terms and corporal punishment.

In case you’re wondering, executions in Saudi Arabia usually involve a beheading.

According to the PEW Research Center:

A new Pew Research analysis finds that as of 2012, nearly a quarter of the world’s countries and territories (22%) had anti-blasphemy laws or policies, and one-in-ten (11%) had laws or policies penalizing apostasy. The legal punishments for such transgressions vary from fines to death.

We found that laws restricting apostasy and blasphemy are most common in the Middle East and North Africa, where 14 of the 20 countries (70%) criminalize blasphemy and 12 of the 20 countries (60%) criminalize apostasy. While apostasy laws exist in only two other regions of the world – Asia-Pacific and sub-Saharan Africa – blasphemy laws can be found in all regions, including Europe (in 16% of countries) and the Americas (31%).

And if you’re in America, you might find this interesting:

The U.S. does not have any federal blasphemy laws, but as of 2012, several U.S. states – including Massachusetts and Michigan – still had anti-blasphemy laws on the books. However, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution would almost certainly prevent the enforcement of any such law.

Why so many religious rules that attempt to silence or kill those who disagree with their position?

Could it possibly be because religion, when looked at critically, rarely stands up to that scrutiny? It’s a thin illusion that covers up our fears. One of the biggest fears that religion often attempts to smooth away is our fear of death. Instead of facing our mortality, religion often offers up a band-aid solution with promises of:

  • eternal life
  • a new body
  • forgiveness of transgressions
  • the opportunity to see loved ones again
  • 72 virgins
  • life without a body
  • a soul that can be reborn in a different body or even an animal body

And so on. When someone doesn’t believe or changes their belief, they are in effect, momentarily ripping away that band-aid and exposing the bloody truth behind it. This makes the believer uncomfortable and sometimes angry. If they are prevented or do not want to harm someone directly for this transgression, they will often gleefully proclaim that the non-believer will suffer some horrible treatment.

For example, I ran across this little bit of ‘wisdom’ on WordPress yesterday:

Perhaps I am a rare breed.  I’m not the Christian who believes everyone is let into Heaven carte blanche.  The Atheist will burn.  They’ve simply run out of life to change or admit that they were in fact wrong. If God expects the whole rest of the world to live a lifetime believing in him and living as virtuous people, how then could God write the Atheist a free pass, because he or she chose not to?  He can’t, he won’t.  We should continue to pray for them to change in this lifetime, but, the Atheist will burn.  Sorry.

If that doesn’t work, they may try emotional blackmail, such as:

  • My belief brings me comfort. Why would you ruin that for me?
  • Don’t you know Jesus died for you?
  • It would break my heart if I found out you were… (insert non-believer or competing religion of your choice)

These sorts of tactics are meant to force people to not talk about their dissent.

And death isn’t the only fear that religion helps smooth away. Guilt is another big one.

Even competing religions with different ideas on what happens after they die will often clash. People will argue about who’s god is more likely to exist, which one is more powerful and who’s death defying illusions are more probable.

After my father died, I witnessed the ability of religion to cover up the fear of death. When someone dies, we are reminded of the fact that we will die at some point as well. The most common thing I heard was that my father was ‘in a better place’ and was playing with ‘Burr’ (my old dog who had died several years before my father) and the rest of his deceased family and friends. And of course, that I would see him again and in the meantime, he’d watch over me.

In some religions, this may have been a slightly different experience. Instead of heaven, I might have been told that my father would be reborn as a different animal or that somewhere a baby was born with the spirit of my father.

The likely reality is too painful to confront so we build these illusory walls between us and death.

However, as an atheist I believed none of these comforting lies or illusions. I felt that they were stunting my ability to grieve for someone I loved dearly and would never see again. And yet, I’d be willing to bet that if I had told these people that my father’s brain had stopped working and he had ceased to be, that I would have been the one labeled rude or obnoxious.

Places of worship exist to reinforce the belief in these illusions. I remember when I went to church, we were told that sometimes we needed to recharge our spiritual battery by congregating with believers.

In reality, this meant that we needed to get together and reinforce our beliefs in  illusion, magic and improbable things so that we could mask our fears in a brightly colored band-aid. Those who disagreed with our set of beliefs were shunned, cast out, dismissed, demonized or made to feel like outcasts. In some parts of the world, they take this to the extreme and will have you killed or incarcerated.

I think as a species we need to outgrow such coping mechanisms and adopt ones that fit in with reality. Instead of pretending that our loved ones are going to be frolicking in a supernatural realm, we should acknowledge their loss, remember what they meant to us and  find new coping mechanisms to deal with our loss.

While illusions and beliefs can offer comfort, I would take reality and truth over comforting lies any day of the week.

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10 Comments

  1. There can be no truth in any doctrine that levels an earthly death sentence on someone for apostasy. This is the height of insanity.
    If the god is omnipotent then punishment rests solely with the god.

  2. I understand It’s always been about societal control and indoctrination. The church used to be the justice system way back and it was the fear of god that people were filled with in an attempt to control/restrict/ the usurpation of the wealthy and the powerful – it didn’t work back then and is still not working now. Very interesting piece 🙂 thanks for sharing!

  3. My belief brings me comfort. Why would you ruin that for me?

    This one intrigues me. If someone really believes, deep down in their socks, then someone else’s disbelief or refusal to believe the same way shouldn’t matter a fig. And that apostasy, stated, should roll off the true believer’s back like so much water on a shiny car hood. That is a very thin shell indeed.

  4. the psychology is amazing. It’s your Fault I got upset. I was fine until you came along and RUINED IT and now my stomach hurts. Im going to bed.

    This is the song of the psycopath in full flower. I was raised by a pair of them, and one boyfriend could have given them lessons…and once you see that, and the overreacting, you realize that God is bipolar, and probably a psychopath himself.

    =)

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