Thursday, July 12, 2007

Heresy as sophomoric attempt at Blasphemy

I found a pretty intriguing phenomenon on YouTube, based on the words in Mark 3:28-29:
I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin.

The deal is, The Rational Response Squad posted a video on YouTube challenging skeptical people to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit. I found this when I discovered that one of my favorite bloggers posted his own video blasphemies in the spirit of rationality. The seemingly hip/liberal "Father Matthew" even posted a response video, in which he tries to understand how contemporary religious rhetoric can be alienating to atheists... very empathetic, Father Matthew.

Since reading Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Ethan Brand" for the first time a decade ago, I've had an abiding interest in the idea of "the unforgivable sin," and I've certainly thought about these verses in Matthew before. I think I have a novel take on it, which seems to be confirmed after watching these videos...

My thesis: Blaspheming against the Holy Spirit is nowhere near as easy as declaring, with words, something like "I do not accept the Holy Spirit." Further, saying something even more scathing like, "F*ck the Holy Spirit" would not remotely qualify in my view as a violation of the Holy Spirit. I will go so far as to say that I have never known anyone personally (though I believe there are some) to successfully blaspheme against the Holy Spirit. In fact, having spent a decade of my life declaring similar blasphemies whenever I could, I am convinced that the words "I do not accept the Holy Spirit" may, at the right time, be precisely the most holy words one could utter. See Ralph Waldo Emerson's maxim, "The doctrine of hatred must be preached, as the counteraction of the doctrine of love, when that pules and whines…"

In my view, blaspheming against the Holy Spirit would involve something like premeditated murder or (somewhat more debatably) suicide. That is, real blasphemy against this thing that has been called "the Holy Spirit" does not happen in the arena of language. In the old, old days (as anyone knows who has seen The Life of Brian), people could be stoned to death for uttering the name of God. Yet today most of us do not see it as a great affront to use the word God. Real, consequential blasphemy against God, against the Holy Spirit--indeed, any real blasphemy--can never be committed with a smile and a clean conscience.

It seems to me that these YouTubers are trying to get a rise out of committing heresy, and are not even approaching blasphemy. Definitions may be minimally helpful (?):

Heresy: opinion or doctrine at variance with the orthodox or accepted doctrine, esp. of a church or religious system.

Blaphemy: impious utterance or action concerning God or sacred things.

I'm not sure that helps. Still, I suspect that trying to prove one's eminent rationality by uttering a few phrases that would've landed a person on the rack five centuries ago would hardly upset the most orthodox religious institutions these days--and, if I'm right, wouldn't even be a blip on the real Holy Spirit's radar.


Cathy said...

Pure Casey.
Purely enjoyable.
(I could lurk, no longer)

Daniel said...

"YouTubers," I can see a bunch of potatoes video taping themselves.

Monica said...

Good post, Casey. This was always a perplexing issue for me. When I was young my family and I would have conversations about this, and we were never able to come up with anything that constituted blasphemy against the HS other than "speaking against," which means . . . what? I think you're right, though -- it's not about what we say, but about our actions(you suggest pre-meditated murder or suicide). Are you, though, saying that it has something to do with the sanctity of human life, and our decision to somehow transgress that? Would not any kind of violence against the Other (even via speech) potentially constitute blasphemy against the HS if we are going to go this route? Then again . . . I see where this is heading -- if nearly anything can be blasphemy against the HS, then nearly anything is unforgivable. BUT . . .maybe that is opening up a much more productive space -- it's not about needing a god to forgive us anything; rather, it's about our ability to forgive others. Or, perhaps forgiveness doesn't exist. Or . . . okay, I'm getting out of hand here.

Daniel said...

I don't know as much about blaspheming the HS as the unforgivable sin.

I always thought the Unpardonable Sin was to "deny" the HS. That I think is more of a rejecting those twinges of spiritual guilt until they are gone.