God's Word for today

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Should blasphemy and the like be banned?

"You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name." (Exodus 20: 7, NIV)

I read this article on IOL about Muslim countries seeking an international treaty aimed at "protect[ing] religious symbols and beliefs from mockery - essentially, a ban on blasphemy".

Interestingly, there was also an article in Joy Magazine dealing with the same issue - blasphemy - this time commenting on an article that had appeared in the University of Cape Town's "Rag" magazine, containing a number of refences that most Christians would consider to be offensive. As a consequence, the Joy article argues that freedom of speech should be limited constitutionally as far as blasphemy is concerned, just as the use of hate speech is restricted.

This raises some interesting questions concerning such limitations - in a sense, a form of censorship. On the one hand, it can be argued that one person or group of persons should not have the right to dictate to others what they should be watching, hearing, or reading. On the other hand, it can be equally validly argued that there are vulnerable members of society - for instance, children - who need to be protected.

This evening when I went onto IOL to catch up on the day's news, I found a poll in which readers were invited to vote "Yes" or "No" to the question "Is there too much sex on TV?" Judging by many of the comments of those who voted "Yes", clearly the main issue is not so much that programmes containing sex are shown - offensive as this may be to some - but that these programmes are shown on free-to-air channels. Unlike satellite channels, where access can be controlled using the decoder's parental restriction facility, restricting access to free-to-air channels is a lot more difficult. My view is that such programming can be too readily accessed, and therefore voted "Yes" - and I forwarded the poll to the members of the MCSA ministers' Yahoo group as well.

Now voting in a poll is one thing - calling for an outright ban is another. Certainly, as a parent of an 11-year-old son, there is stuff on TV that I don't particularly want my child to watch. For that matter, there's a lot of stuff on TV that I don't particularly want to watch. As a family we therefore exercise our freedom of choice through judicious use of the "off" button. Hopefully our son will take his cue from our example as parents.

We also find blasphemy and swearing offensive - certainly my wife has been quite vocal when she has heard someone use such language in the presence of children, and we do not tolerate such language in our home. The question, though, is whether we have the rights to extend this intolerance to others outside of our own private space?

My stance up to now has been that I am generally not in favour of censorship. That's not to say that I approve of blasphemy, swearing, or pornography. And certainly anything that exploits those who are unable to make decisions for themselves - child pornography, for instance - needs to remain criminalised. But there's a thin line here - if I want to have the right to prohibit others from having access to things I may consider to be offensive, I need to accept that others may restrict my right to see or hear things that they find offensive.

And what if that person were to regard that which I hold most dear - the Gospel of Jesus Christ - to be "offensive", and is successful in having it banned?

Like other controversial subjects, there is no simple answer. But given that Muslim countries are calling for what effectively amounts to a ban on blasphemy, and with many of the core beliefs of Christianity being considered "blasphemous" to followers of Islam - the doctrine of the Trinity, for instance - well, one could see the possible implications if the calls for such a ban were to be heeded.

As a Christian and a minister, it is my calling to "lead the horse to water" by presenting the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I cannot however force the horse to drink. God didn't. Responding to the love of Christ is a free choice that each and every human being needs to make for themselves.

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