Alber Saber is due to be sentenced today in Egypt for the crime of ‘insulting Islam.’ He is alleged to have administered the Egyptian Atheists page on Facebook. It will be interesting to see how it all turns out, but in the meantime there are some questions to be asked of a jurisdiction that makes thoughts the subject of criminal proceedings.
Mr Saber was brought up in a Christian household, but at some stage decided that he did not share the Christian beliefs of his parents, or indeed any belief in any supernatural gods. Mobs of believers descended on his home and demanded that he be arrested and punished for daring to say that he disbelieved in the things that they believed in, which is what happened. The obvious question this raises is why believers think that their gods are so fragile they need this kind of protection.
If you believe in a god, and believe that god to be omniscient and omnipotent, why should you care that someone else does not believe? What possible harm can it do to you, or to your god? None. The only reason for this kind of overreaction is that faith is too fragile to tolerate the existence of non-faith; believers are afraid that the views of atheists are too rational—they are afraid that that their own faith will not be able to withstand the onslaught of reason and logic, and then they will have to confront the frightening fact of their own mortality.
Egypt is one of many countries that have explicit laws against apostasy and blasphemy. Some even prescribe the death penalty for not believing in the national religion. I don’t know what answer the judges in these countries would provide if they were asked whether they think it is better to pretend to faith on pain of death, or to be honestly faithless. Even countries whose constitutions guarantee freedom of religion or non-religion often have laws that favour one particular religion, or religion over non-religion, such as tax exempt status given to religious institutions.
Then there is the demand by religious groups that they are not to be insulted. We keep seeing this: Christians are up in arms because someone said that he doubted that Christ existed, or if he did he wasn’t the son of God; Muslims are hysterical because someone drew a picture of Mohamed. As long as humans have different beliefs and viewpoints, humans are going to be offended. This is as it should be. Freedom from being offended is not a human right, and the fact that one portion of society might be offended does not supply a reason for silencing the opinions of another.
In political discourse it would rightly be regarded—at least in a free country—as absurd for one party to demand of another that they not openly disagree with anything they say, and yet that is exactly what is demanded by religion. Disagreement with, or disparagement of, religion is regarded as blasphemy. Religion demands to be treated differently to every other sphere of human activity.
News just in: Mr Saber has been awarded a three year jail sentence for not believing in flying horses. If you don’t see anything wrong with that you deserve to live in a mediaeval hellhole under sharia law.
Grumpy Old Man by Mark Widdicombe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License.