You're not the boss of me!

Why is blasphemy a sin?

By Jeff Laird

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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.

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Image Credit: Mindaugas Danys; "scream and shout"; Creative Commons

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Published 9-9-2014