Reflections on Blasphemy Day 2011
Published: Monday, October 3, 2011
Updated: Monday, October 3, 2011 13:10
Three years ago, I bore witness to the birth of Blasphemy Day at the University of Northern Iowa campus. That day the chalk usually used to draw hopscotches and oddly colored animals spelled out an affront for most students on campus.
In righteous but somewhat misdirected retaliation, the UNI Freethinkers and Inquirers stood up for free speech in reaction to the death of a Dutch cartoonist. Their anger over the suffering of thousands oppressed all around the world was scratched on the sidewalks as profane and faceless attacks on institutional religion.
As a person of faith, my reaction was one of hate and discontent. Each time I read an attack on God or Jesus, my stomach turned and I wondered who did this and why. I never thought that two years later, I would be the one chalking for Blasphemy Day.
Last Friday marked the third birthday of Blasphemy Day here at UNI. After a couple of years of contemplation, blasphemy rights have become very important to me. As a Protestant Christian, I often forget that my faith is the product of dialectical dialogue. Over the course of Christianity, some of my heroes have been legendary heretics and blasphemers. From Richard Rohr to Martin Luther to St. Stephen, to Jesus, all the way down to the prophets of the Old Testament.
All of these people were the antithesis to the institutional religion of their time, and what emerged was a new synthesis. However, the antitheses of people like Jesus and Luther were often considered blasphemous. In many cases, these people were discriminated against and sometimes put to death. So I've come to the conclusion that the faith we Christians practice is the result of millenniums' worth of blasphemy.
A few weeks ago, I was approached my Northern Iowan colleague and UNIFI executive Stef McGraw with a request that I come join the Blasphemy Rights Day chalking. She explained that instead of the first year's strategy, UNIFI was to share with the campus statistics and examples of blasphemy laws. On the night of chalking, she handed me a sheet of paper with facts about people being put in jail for disagreeing with the religion of their country, people put to death for drawing a cartoon. And as a person of faith, my reaction was one of concern and compassion. So that night, I knelt side by side with my nonbelieving brothers and sisters and wrote out the sad legacy of blasphemy.
I commend the leadership of UNIFI for a wonderful day of contemplation. Your message should resonate with anyone at an institution of higher learning. And although I disagree with your disbelief, I thank you for protecting my rights to disagree and helping me remember those less fortunate. Personally, I don't know where I'd be without blasphemy.