When a modern Western country whose economy is based on science and technology adopts an absurdly medieval law, one would think that this would be a news story of at least moderate size.
Oddly though, almost no attention has been paid in the United Stares to the passing last month of a bill establishing a crime of blasphemy in Ireland.
Approved by the Irish parliament, it states: "A person who publishes or utters blasphemous matter shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable upon conviction on indictment to a fine not exceeding 25,000 euro."
Furthermore, "a person publishes or utters blasphemous matter if (a) he or she publishes or utters matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion, and (b) he or she intends, by the publication or utterance of the matter concerned, to cause such outrage."
Even if I weren't the author of a book entitled "Irreligion: A Mathematician Explains Why the Arguments for God Just Don't Add Up," I would find this bill abysmally wrong-headed.
Although it provides for exceptions to prosecution if a "reasonable person" finds literary, scientific or other significant value in a work, it would allow for atheists to be prosecuted for denying the existence of God, a denial that clearly causes outrage in many.
Those writing parodies and bad jokes would also be liable to the 25,000 euro fine. Even an innocuous riff on God rescinding the Bible in the middle of the night the way Amazon called back the Orwell book from its Kindle reader could be prosecuted.
And if the reaction of some irate readers of my book is any indication, so could an imagined instant message exchange between me and God that appears in the book.
But non-believers would not be the only, or even the primary, ones affected by this blasphemy bill. People, irreligious or not, presumably could be prosecuted for drawing cartoons of Mohammad. Christians could be prosecuted for expressing scorn or even disbelief in the Christian teachings of other denominations.
Likewise, Jews and others could be prosecuted for denying the divinity or even the existence of Jesus. Or, if atheism is considered a religion (which it is not), atheists also could claim to be outraged by the expressions of their religious countrymen, each of whom could then be required to cough up 25,000 euro.
The law also allows for the confiscation of blasphemous materials -- novels, non-fiction books, short videos, full-length movies, etc.
Interestingly, the blasphemy law is not the only medieval aspect of Irish law. The preamble to the Irish Constitution maintains that the state's authority derives from the most holy trinity, stipulates that no one can become president or a judge without taking a religious oath, and declares that all citizens have obligations to Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Similar but less overt sentiments and statutes exist in this country. Witness the arguments put forth by many that the U.S. is a Christian country.