Having the Jim Jams Over Blasphemy Laws

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I want to begin with the fact that consistent Christians necessarily have a deep wariness over blasphemy laws. This is deep within our DNA, and I believe it is there for good reason. I want to begin with that fact, and lay this down as the base coat for all our subsequent reasoning. The reason for this begins where all Christian reasoning should always begin, and that is with Christ Himself.

What They Did to Jesus

In the first place, Christians cannot forget the fact that the cornerstone of our faith, the Lord Jesus Christ, was crucified on a spurious blasphemy charge. That was the accusation, and that was the basis of His conviction. It is therefore not surprising that we tend to look askance at all blasphemy charges. It is not that there is no such thing as true blasphemy, for there really is, but this historical reality concerning Christ informs us that the true blasphemers are frequently the ones bringing true prophets up before the court on blasphemy charges. It has happened way more than once, and the ultimate instance of it is the foundational truth of the Christian faith.

Now because we have been commanded to tell this story to the whole world, doing so until the end of the world, this means that for Christians the central story of all stories is about how a sinless man was railroaded by an iniquitous establishment, and was then convicted of blasphemy. We therefore have a tendency to give blasphemy charges the stink eye. How could we not?

“Then the high priest tore his clothes, saying, “He has spoken blasphemy! What further need do we have of witnesses? Look, now you have heard His blasphemy!”

Matthew 26:65 (NKJV)

Pilate famously wondered what truth was when the Truth was standing right in front of him. But Caiaphas went way beyond all that. He looked at the Truth standing in front of him, and charged Him with being a lie. This is a sin to which the insolent and powerful are particularly susceptible, which brings us to the next issue.

The Major Culprit

The second point for us to consider is the fact that Scripture repeatedly condemns kings and emperors and ecclesiastical officials for their genuine blasphemies. This is something that the powerful are routinely tempted to do. We do not find the Bible spending a lot of time on the village atheist, that guy who puts out his freethinkers’ newsletter with a circulation of 17. He does print outrageous things, but he is not nearly the threat that the freethinkers on thrones have always been.

So the great offenders when it comes to this sin would be the sleek, the rich, the powerful. 

“And he was given a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies, and he was given authority to continue for forty-two months.

Revelation 13:5 (NKJV)

The beast of Revelation was the Roman Empire, and emperor worship had begun under Augustus. It was always beyond conceited, and entirely wicked, but Augustus at least had enough self-awareness to be embarrassed by the claims. But by the time we get to Nero, the conceit was fully deranged, completely unhinged. Nero built a pleasure palace in the area of Rome that had burned, and had a statue of himself, in the form of the sun god, erected there. According to Suetonius, the statue was 120 feet tall—blasphemy in bronze.

And Nebuchadnezzar set up the famous story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego by doing something very similar.

“. . . that at the time you hear the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre, and psaltery, in symphony with all kinds of music, you shall fall down and worship the gold image that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up.”

Daniel 3:5 (NKJV)

They refused to bow down, and chose the fiery furnace instead. They refused to blaspheme. Just because the blasphemer-in-chief commands it is not a sufficient reason.

Now if you deny the God of Heaven, then all the religious impulses that reside deep within the soul of man have to go somewhere, and where they go is into the creation of larger-than-life colossi. You see it in the huge banners that used to display images of Chairman Mao, and which still do display the visage of Kim-Jong Un. And if you believe that we in secular West don’t have a problem with out-sized conceits, I would invite you to consider the vibe of a Taylor Swift concert. Man was created to adore, and if he will not adore the Almighty, then at some point someone else is going to volunteer to occupy that space . . . which is blasphemy. But notice who can afford to “go large” like this. The wino in the gutter is self-absorbed also, but he doesn’t have the resources to get anyone else to go along with him. The powerful do have those resources. Judicious observers will always want to know if there are any brakes, and if they are in working order.

“And the people gave a shout, saying, It is the voice of a god, and not of a man. And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost.”

Acts 12:22–23 (KJV)

Examples of this kind of thing could easily be multiplied, both in Scripture, and down throughout extra-biblical history as well. Men who are on top of the world find it easy to forget that the world they are on top of is a microscopic bit of nothing in one corner of the Milky Way, which is another bit of nothing in an endless ocean of galaxies. In other words, our awareness of what constitutes “large” is somewhat skewed.

However, Comma . . .

My third observation—to push from the other direction for just a moment—is that blasphemy laws, of some sort, are inescapable. Every human society has them, including ours. Every society has a sacred center that it considers inviolate, and treats as inviolate. If there is not such a center, then that society is not a society at all—there is no bonding agent, no shared convictions. This is true of all societies, whether religious or secular.

This is why I could go downtown in any American city on any given day, and get arrested within fifteen minutes simply and solely on the basis of the content of what I was saying. It would not be called a blasphemy arrest, but that is exactly what it would be. The charge would be hate speech, or something like that—but the fact remains that the god of the system would be protected by the arm of the law. In our case, that god, incidentally, would be demos, the people, who want no restrains on their lusts.  

So when someone says that they want our nation to be a Christian nation, as I have done, does this not mean that we have to figure out a way to incorporate the Scripture’s teaching on blasphemy? Yes, it does mean that. In the Old Testament, a man was arrested and subsequently executed, and it was because he blasphemed the name of Jehovah (Lev. 24:10ff). How would passages like that fit in? If we do things “according to the Bible,” wouldn’t that mean that our village atheist guy is in the danger zone?

The Foundational Challenge

When it comes to blasphemy laws, the challenge before us is nicely summarized by James Madison. The fact that he was speaking of all laws doesn’t change the principle.

“If Men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and the next place, oblige it to control itself.”

James Madison

This is because the right to punish blasphemers necessarily brings with it the power to blaspheme. In order to punish blasphemy out there in the population, the government would need to have the authority to define blasphemy. But by what standard? If they use the standard of Scripture—which they must do—then it cannot be a standard that exempts them from having to conform to it. According to biblical law, the king is under the law, and not above it. Lex rex.

In other words, if this safeguard is not tended to, and tended to in the first instance, the ability that Caiaphas had to accuse Jesus of blasphemy was an ability that he could twist in justification of his own blasphemy—his attack on the Son of God. His authority to define blasphemy was a cloak that he wore around the shoulders of his own blasphemy.

And this is why I would want to argue that the foundational blasphemy laws that we should seek to put into effect would be the constitutional limits that we place on the powers of government. Put another way, limited government is actually a protection against blasphemy—the most serious kind of blasphemy. Constitutional limits on government are the best kind of blasphemy law. They consequently need to be the preeminent blasphemy laws. We must work on those first.

What do we do about the other kind? How do we deal with the little-guys blasphemers? We should cross that bridge when we come to it. Restrain the worst offenders first, and demonstrate over the course of many years that we know how to do it. Some might want to see this as a lame dodge, as me refusing to embrace the conclusions that flow from my theocratic premises. No, not at all. It is a strict application of God’s law. It is how the Word instructs us to approach things like this.

“Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

Matthew 7:5 (NKJV)

The Christian approach to governance is not “get Christian rulers in power so that we can start making the peons do stuff.” That is a pagan approach to political power. The first order of business under Christian nationalism would be to shrink the power of government. Why? Because we should start by bombing the blasphemy headquarters.

Our business should be plank removal, for the next few centuries at least. The specks can wait their turn.