In Ireland, blasphemy is prohibited by the constitution even though it is not a crime by law. However, that could change soon if a proposal by the Minister for Justice, Dermot Ahern, gets the go-ahead. Here’s what he has to say: “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 €100,000.” Apparently, blasphemous matter would be material that would be considered highly insulting to a significant portion of the members of a particular religion. This raises a number of questions. What is meant by a “religion”? The popular ones like Catholicism, Protestantism, Buddhism and Hinduism with their various gods and practices and followers are obvious enough. But, what about Atheism, Agnosticism, Paganism and the like? Many of the adherents to these philosophies may be insulted by the beliefs and practices of mainstream religions. Nowadays, many Irish people gain spiritual sustenance from sporting fixtures, music concerts and outings to the cinema. I’m sure that many people would be upset if I insulted Roy Keane, Clint Eastwood or Bob Dylan (not that I would, of course!) But would it be blasphemy if I did?
Even though such a proposal would be hard to define and even harder to enforce it could also spell the end of the career of someone like Tommy Tiernan, whose act relies heavily on making fun of religious superstition. It would surely put an end to RTE Two’s never-ending repeats of Father Ted, the funniest Irish comedy ever made by a British TV company. Worse of all, it could mean that one of my favourite films, Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979), would be banned again in Ireland. It had been originally banned for eight years following its original release because of its alleged blasphemy against Jesus and the Catholic church. In fact, J.C. only appears briefly and is treated quite reverently on those occasions. Not only that but the film makes fun of the masses who blindly follow gods and religions without question as they have nothing else to believe in. This is shown perfectly in the famous “We’re all individuals” scene. It would be a sacrilege if films and shows like these were banned. Thanks be to God I have them on DVD to watch when I want. Mind you, it wouldn’t be the end of the world even if this proposal becomes law in Ireland. Since 1991, the Commonwealth of Australia has not recognised blasphemy as as offence, although it is against the law to register a ship that has a blasphemous name. Of course, you’d be a long way from civilisation if you decided to move there, but surely that would be a small price to pay for a bit of blasphemy
One of Limerick’s more entertaining and educational blogs has chosen May 14th as National Blasphemy Day. This is what Bock the Robber has to say: “In light of the draft anti-blasphemy legislation proposed by the Irish government, I suggest holding a National Blasphemy Day, on which every blogger deliberately sets out to grossly offend the religious sensitivities of as many religious believers as possible, with the clear intention of causing outrage.” Bock has also created a Facebook group here. I notice that Bock has also given his site a fresh makeover and promises that he is “Now 20% More Offensive.” It is certainly not my intention to upset the religious sensibilities of anyone. Instead, here’s a few tunes that will hopefully have the desired effect
The Beatles caused a bit of a stir in 1965 when John Lennon made this comment to a reporter: “Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I do not know what will go first, rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity…We’re more popular than Jesus now.” This lead to some “fans” burning the band’s records in certain US states, including people who bought them solely for this purpose! Lennon tried to explain his position by pointing out that he wasn’t trying to offend anyone: he believed that his band was a part of popular culture that was more popular than religion at that time, particularly among the younger generation. Following the break-up of The Beatles, a track on his first solo album, Plastic Ono Band (1970), caused more controversy. In the song entitled God, he listed a load of important figures that he no longer believed in including The Beatles, Buddha, Jesus, Elvis, Bob Dylan, and God. I remember being quite shocked when I heard the song for the first time. I mean, what did Bob Dylan do to deserve such treatment?
Throughout the sixties, The Beatles’ perceived image as “cheeky chappies” had been contrasted with that of The Rolling Stones who played on their bad-boy image by releasing an album called Their Satanic Majesties Request in 1967. The following year they released the single, Sympathy for the Devil, a song that draws heavily upon the plot and some incidents from The Master and Margarita, a novel from Mikhail Bulgakov. The narrator tells us that he was present at many of history’s most atrocious moments: from making sure that Pontius Pilate washed his hands to seal Jesus’ fate up to the death of the Kennedys. Towards the end of the song he reveals that the Devil does indeed have the best tunes when he asks us to just call him “Lucifer”
I’m not really sure whether Richard Thompson’s God Loves a Drunk is actually blasphemous or not. It’s actually more about social class and alcoholism than it is about religion. In its witty and humorous lyric, Thompson argues that God has more time for someone who’s down on his luck and spends his time drinking than someone who lives comfortably and responsibly. And he wonders if the drunk will be rewarded in the afterlife: “Will the pubs never close, will the glass never drain?/No more D.T.’s and no shakes/And no horrors/Very next morning you feel right as rain.” Sounds like Heaven to me
Jesus – The Missing Years by John Prine is even wittier and more humorous than Thompson’s song. It’s also a little bit more blasphemous. Little is known about what Jesus got up to from about the time he got angry with the traders in the temple up to the time he started turning water into wine and giving the fishmongers and bakers a run for their money. Here, Prine tries to piece together what the teenage Jesus did. Some of the highlights include moving to Rome and marrying an Irish girl and recording with the Stones
Even in 1986, English band XTC received some notoriety with a song that simply questions God’s existence. It’s structured like a prayer to God and features two separate singers. The first and last verses of the song are sung by an eight year old girl who was the daughter of a friend of Todd Rundgren, who produced the album. The rest of the song is sung by its composer, Andy Partridge. Essentially, the song ponders a question that many people have been asking for a long time: if there really is a God then why does he let so much shit happen?
Perhaps Stephen Lynch’s song offers some clues to the questions posed above. The song is attributed to the singer and comedian, but is sung by a female singer. It is a parody of Joan Osborne’s hit single, One of Us, and uses the same tune with humorous lyrics in the style of Weird Al Yankovic. Osborne’s original was written by Eric Bazilian of The Hooters and the parody was written by Bob Rivers. The parody wonders what the world would be like if God smoked cannibis. To be frank, I don’t think it would one bit different than it is now