Some years ago, in my earliest employment with Florida's prison system, I was presented with a unique moral question. An inmate addressed me with profane language, and I proceeded to write a disciplinary report, which of necessity had to include an exact quotation of the inmate's words. That day I was told by a prison officer that when reporting the inmate's words, I was required to type them "as is" -- including the, er, naughty bits, as Monty Python might say. No asterisks. No equivocations. Exact words.
This segues into today's question: If writing that report required me to write words that I ordinarily considered offensive to write or say -- was I guilty of the same moral offense as the inmate? And for today's posting: Is blasphemy transferable?
The question arose not once, but twice in the last week for me. In the first, a reader wrote asking of an advisory he was given that if, in a situation similar to mine, a Christian repeated a blasphemy offered by a non-believer, then that Christian also became guilty of blasphemy. (Why might they repeat it? I can't say, but one could conceive, for example, of having to do so for some sort of court case or legal proceeding, as I had to do above.)
The second was a bit more complicated. I recently released a TektonTV video which was a reply to the atheist NonStampCollector -- a fellow famous for scholarship nearly as good as his artwork. That's a joke, by the way: NonStampCollector's "art" consists of stick figures.
In one of his videos, he had presented a stick figure Jesus being corrected by a time traveler. In my reply, which was a parody, I decided to mock NonStampCollector's video by bringing in my own (non-stick figure) characters into my redrawn version of NonStampCollector's stick-figure universe. One of my characters declared that the stick figure universe was "designed by an atheist" as "their version of intelligent design," and also declared, quite plainly, that the stick figure Jesus was NOT the real Jesus. My video closed with my characters taking off in a spaceship which blew the heads off of all the stick figures -- including "Jesus" -- and an implication that the stick-figure Jesus was merely a robot.
One of my viewers, though, expressed a misgiving: By imitating NonStampCollector's blasphemous stick-figure Jesus, I was likewise blaspheming. So, the question again: Is blasphemy transferable?
In the first case, I would have to say no. Intention is critical to the act of blasphemy: The intention is to dishonor God. The Christian who repeats the blasphemy for some legal purpose isn't doing so to dishonor God. Indeed, if the recitation in some way impeached the actual blasphemer of wrongdoing, it arguably works to restore honor to God by taking honor away from the blasphemer. In the limited good conception of honor, the offense of blasphemy would not be transferred -- but honor would be, and in the right direction.
What then of the example of NonStampCollector? To begin, I am far from sure that even his original stick figure Jesus was blasphemy, though it conceivably could be. However, I see no evidence that NonStampCollector drew Jesus as a stick figure in order to cause offense. The reality is that NonStampCollector just isn't a talented artist -- just about everyone he draws is a stick figure! So while his Jesus was a somewhat misconceived one -- in the sense that he did misinterpret several of Jesus' teachings -- it was arguably not a blasphemous one.
But let us say for the sake of argument that this was his intention. Is my own parody then a blasphemy? Again, I'd have to say no, based on the plain testimony of my character that it was NOT the real Jesus. If it is blasphemy to do such things as I did to a false Jesus, then we have to ask: Do we then blaspheme by mocking a Jesus of the cults as something less than fully divine? Does it become blasphemy to say such things as that, the Jesus of liberal scholarship was someone no one would take the trouble to crucify? Is it blasphemy to describe the Jesus of Kaantzakis' Last Temptation of Christ as a basket case who is merely Kazantzakis' personal fantasy? I can't see how this would be anything but a case of again restoring honor to its proper place, if anything (here, restoring honor by correcting NonStampCollector's errors).
Of course, if you are the type of person who does not prefer to push the envelope as I do (smile), then that is as it should be. Romans 14 indicates we are not to condemn each other for these convictions.
Bottom line though -- blasphemy isn't transferable.