Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Blasphemy and Dr Harris

I am concerned, if not alarmed, to hear that Dr Evan Harris has tabled an amendment to repeal the laws on blasphemy. The arguments for repeal are indeed strong but I would rather it were not Dr Harris making them; for this MP has shown with consistency that he believes that liberalism and a religious conscience are in opposition to each other. Even so, there appears to be a formidable coalition in support of this measure, including a former Archbishop and a former Bishop of Oxford and indeed Mr Gummer MP, well-known as a Christian MP, but one must still suspect that the prime movers are those who wish to exercise a right to blaspheme, such as Mr Dawkins and Mr Pullman.

The question then is whether this law serves any purpose. For certain it serves no purpose as a defence for the Church of England. If I, or perhaps rather Dr Harris, were to choose to defame the Archbishop of Canterbury, then the Archbishop has recourse to the general laws of libel. Indeed there are new laws of religious hatred, which, I hear, were opposed by a similar coalition embracing Dr Harris, other secularists and unlikely partners in the evangelical community. No doubt in some situations the Church could summon the protection of this new legislation.

The Lord God, although a living personage, does not have similar recourse to the courts unless a prosecution of blasphemy is brought on His behalf. The Lord God, however, has no need to resort to such measures as He can in due course deal with blasphemers when they face Him in judgement.

Indeed were the law of blasphemy to be enforced rigorously it seems that at least half this present generation would be locked up; for taking the Lord's name in vain appears to have become a national sport. The law may possibly place some check on misrepresentation of Jesus Christ and attempts have been made recently to use it to bring artists and performers to account - but without success.

Were I still a member of the House I would almost persuade myself into supporting repeal and I'm sure my good friend Mr JS Mill would also have urged repeal.

Yet I cannot countenance such a step for it seems to me that the very action of repeal will send a message that this nation no longer gives respect to the name of Jesus and will tolerate every blasphemy, however outrageous. At a time when millions appear ignorant of the gospel truths, this measure will only compound the ignorance and indeed aggravate public mockery. Indeed there will be those who wonder how it is that Muslims are so zealous in defence of their prophet and yet a nation of Christians exposes their Lord to public ridicule. It is as if the entire nation is gathered in front of Pontius Pilate to demand crucifixion and place a crown of thorns on the humiliated Christ.

Nor can I see in what way repeal will extend free speech. The law has not prevented Mr Dawkins from airing his views nor has it deterred Mr Pullman from writing his books nor has it dissuaded bookshops from giving their writings prominence of display. Indeed I understand that it is public opinion in America that has enforced censorship of Mr Pullman's new series of films rather than any legal threat in Britain.

Our dear Queen would have been shocked to the very marrow that MPs should consider taking this step and I can only wonder why the present Queen is not equally appalled. For myself I would find repeal regrettable and ill-motivated, even if it be the case that retention of the law is not logically sustainable.

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