Friday, May 04, 2012

Why do some cultures regard blasphemy as a personal crime?

A recent “free speech” case in Tunisia involved the popular protest and prosecution of a cable television operator for showing an animated film that showed a young Iranian woman questioning “Allah” and showed God as a person.

In the scramble of arguments, one of the ideas was that one is not allowed to speak ill of another’s religious beliefs.

In western culture, we can’t call people “names” based on their supposed affiliation with groups by any parameter (religion, race, sexual orientation).  But we can criticize actual beliefs.  Systems of thought or faith are thought of as separate from the people who hold them.

That doesn’t seem to be true in Islamist or other non-Western cultures.  The belief system is seen as part of “who the person is.”  In such cultures, there may be less opportunity for people to transcend their circumstances.  So what seems “irrational” to us (blasphemy) starts to become understandable.

People also typically need to maintain stable belief systems in order that their social "adjustment" remains productive and satisfying. So people don't like to be exposed to too much stimulus that could undermine their "brain beliefs".  Our laws against nudity, for example, depend on this idea, and can extend to other areas. 

This all fits with the ideas about “tribalism” and group loyalties so well described in Edward O. Wilson’s book, “The Social Conquest of Earth”.  
Pictures: from the Old Post Office Tower, Washington, visit on Thursday.  

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