27 June 2017

It defies belief that people are still being jailed – or killed – for blasphemy

According to reports in the BBC recently, Stephen Fry has been investigated in Ireland on charges of blasphemy. While the investigation stalled almost as quickly as it began, it was by no means the only occasion or high-profile matter of this type in recent weeks.

Discussing blasphemy feels anachronistic – something out of the middle ages. But it has recently been an issue as far away as Indonesia and as close as Ireland. W H Auden once observed that “one can only blaspheme if one believes”, but accusations of blasphemy have mainly been levelled against people who don’t share the same faith as the accusers.

Blasphemy charges are often used to express genuine religious outrage – but unproven allegations are also used for political or personal ends to persecute minorities or settle vendettas.

In the UK, Thomas Aikenhead was hanged for it in 1697, while John William Gott was the last to be imprisoned for the offence in 1922 – for publishing tracts on birth control and likening Jesus to a clown. [The Conversation] Read more