You're not the boss of me!

Why is blasphemy a sin?

By Jeff Laird

Should parents make rules against their children referring to them using insults or vulgarities? Are there good reasons for mothers and fathers to punish their kids for blatantly disrespecting them, cursing at them, or mocking them? Whether or not you have children of your own, there's a pretty obvious answer: Yes! If you love your kids, you enforce those kinds of rules.

That conclusion isn't difficult to justify: children who disrespect their parents aren't likely to respect anyone else, which doesn't bode well for their success in life. Even worse, those kids aren't likely to listen to what their parents tell them about much of anything. That's not a trivial problem. Ignoring Mom and Dad, particularly for younger children, can result in pain, injury, or even death. Electric sockets, strange dogs, household cleaners, guns, and strangers with candy don't wait patiently until kids are capable of mature reasoning. Willingness to respect what parents say, even if it's just "because I said so", has been the difference between tragedy and safety countless times.

Most people can recall kids they knew in elementary, middle, or high school who had a tough row to hoe, for no other reason than they did not, could not, would not, respect legitimate authority. Sometimes it got them in trouble, and sometimes it got them killed. This is precisely why the most important rule in a young child's life is "respect Mom and Dad." That may sound unenlightened to the childless or naïve. But everything else a young person will learn about life, morality, and society is grounded in whether or not they understand the importance of submitting to legitimate authority. It goes without saying that kids aren't robots, and even parents who've done everything right may struggle with disobedient offspring. And yet, good parents make every effort to enforce respect to whatever extent they can.

In the short term, respect for parents, and obedience to their rules, can keep children from things like loose guns, stairwells, stray dogs, and strangers' vans. It's the foundation of their adolescent transition into moral independence. Good parents don't just teach their kids "what" to think, they teach them "how" to think; but that takes time, and still requires starting points, grounded in parental knowledge. The typical 15-year-old has no meaningful understanding of heroin addiction, or the pain of a mother who lost a child to gang violence. Their only meaningful reason to "just say no" is often because they respect their parent's warnings.

So, if this is obvious, why belabor it? Because common sense debunks one of the more popular, common hypocrisies of the modern skeptic: rejecting the concept of blasphemy.

Higher-profile atheists are full of cute sound bites regarding blasphemy. Richard Dawkins called it a "victimless crime". Comedian Ricky Gervais defined it as "a law to protect an all-powerful, supernatural deity from getting its feelings hurt." The fact that blasphemy is included in the ten commandments is held up as proof that God cares more about egoistic pride than more grievous sins.

And yet, the same people scoffing at blasphemy in the Bible have no qualms about legislating against it at home. I know this for a fact, in that I've had several conversations in the past few months with skeptics over this very topic. They laughed at the idea that God would prohibit blasphemy, called it pointless, and wondered why other crimes weren't mentioned instead.

My response to this has never been particularly complicated, nor does it have to be. I simply asked what they would do if they came home and one of their children called them a vulgar, insulting, derogatory name — let your imagination run wild. Without exception, they all said such a thing would not stand. Also without exception, they immediately recognized their quandary and started dodging implications like Neo in the Matrix…just not as effectively.

A theme of those excuses was an attempt to claim a child might be justified in their parental blasphemy, if the parent was a bad person, or had done something wrong. "What if you hadn't done wrong, and they're just being rebellious? What if it's the typical thinks-they-know-everything kid mouthing off?" I asked. Once again, contortion and evasion. Some openly suggested it was the parent's burden to inspire respect, so if children were disrespectful, it meant the parent hadn't done enough to earn their regard.

Yeah, right.

I have every reason to believe Richard Dawkins loves his daughter, and that he tried to raise her into a functioning adult. So I don't believe, for one second, that if she'd cussed him out at age nine, because he told her to brush her teeth, that he would have stepped back to ponder his failure as a motivational figure. Nor would he have thought, "I'm far stronger, wealthier, and wiser than her, so reprimanding her would just mean my feelings were hurt." He might well have wondered where he went wrong, but he'd also have enacted consequences. Loving parents don't let their kids "blaspheme" them, because parents and children both deserve better; it's destructive for everyone involved to let it go unchecked.

Naturally, every single one of these skeptics assured me that they, themselves, were good parents who really did deserve respect from their kids, so "that's different." Respectfully, I called that out every time for what it was: baloney. It's baloney because any differences work in favor of God's approach, not against it. In the Biblical narrative, God is more forgiving, gracious, and morally superior to humanity than any parent is in relation to their offspring. We procreate our children, God actually created us. Any parent who thinks loving and caring for their children earns them the right to say, "you can't insult me or call me names," and who enforces that rule so their kids don't grow up as sociopathic monsters, has no business sneering at God for making blasphemy one of the most important sins He forbids.

One skeptic continually tried to deflect the point by bringing up rape, saying if God really cared about morals, He'd have said, "no rape" instead of "no blasphemy." I asked if he'd explicitly discussed rape with his elementary-school kids. Understandably, his answer was a little vague. Still, it opened up a point he instinctively knew all too well: Parents can't hand down an infinitely long "do and don't" list, so we set the basics early on. Then, under our guidance, we expect children to mature from rote obedience to a fuller grasp of right and wrong. A strong stance against blasphemy, in a very meaningful way, fills in the blanks where explicit commands aren't given, and sets the tone for making moral decisions in the future.

In fact, that attitude is exactly what prevents the legalism-loophole mentality. If fundamental respect for the reason — and the person — behind the rules is the priority, then rote obedience and scratching for technicalities are both off the table.

A parent who sets good moral boundaries — grounded in respect — fully expects their child to learn how moral truths "behind" specific rules covers more than just what's overtly mentioned. For example, the conclusion "rape is immoral" is inescapable under an ethic which decries violence, adultery, and theft. Respect for God implies respect for all of His commandments, and all of their implications. Given the harsh penalties imposed on rapists in the Old Testament, it's clear the Israelites weren't confused on the moral status of that act.

So, rules against blasphemy are not only reasonable, they're vital. Good parents don't accept curses, insults, or disrespect from their children. They have a moral right to be respected, and a loving, practical desire not to raise rampant, un-teachable, anti-social monsters. A holy Creator prohibits curses, insults, and disrespect from His children, for exactly the same reasons. It's not just necessary for our obedience, and our well-being, it's part of fleshing out morality into something beyond vapid legalism.

Published 9-9-14