On the Utility of Blasphemy and Shame

Today is the International Blasphemy Rights Day. When I read the Satanic Bible, I remember having a strong reaction when I read the few truly blasphemous verses. I left the Catholic Church of my upbringing in 1991, but the blasphemous hues of the Satanic Bible still moved me and shocked me. I wasn’t morally or intellectually opposed to them–I was merely not used to content of this sort. But I can see how cathartic they can be for someone who is in the initial stages of struggling to get away from forced indoctrination, and I can’t deny the potentially therapeutic properties of blasphemy in cases where people are recovering from religion and unburdening themselves from unwarranted religious fears and shame. There are also issues related to free speech and religious privilege that, for many people, add political and societal utility to the act of blaspheming.

Blasphemy can be a form of parrhesia, or frank criticism, and so can be used to therapeutically rid ourselves of unwarranted fears and shame, and of opinions that are vestiges of a worldview that is not based on the study of nature. But in Epicurean philosophy, we also see a role for shame in human society.

Do nothing in your life that will cause you to fear if it is discovered by your neighbor. – Epicurus in Vatican Saying 70

The Epicurus quote makes a case for the utility and naturalness of shame, and in our Epicurean reasonings on Confucius, we evaluated the role of shame and of role models in any non-supernatural system of morality.

Religious tyrants will attempt to require our shame where it is unwarranted, and will frequently not experience shame in themselves when warranted–particularly if they’re fundamentalists or theocrats who think their religious privilege is above the law.

So here is the central moral question: when is shame warranted and when is it not warranted? When is blasphemy warranted, and when is it not? Whenever both are warranted, how do we balance them? The advantage and disadvantage of both has to be measured against one’s strongly-held convictions, the social contract, the laws, a person’s upbringing, and reliance on members of the community that may or may not share our views.

To conclude: The balancing act in our hedonic calculus rests on the utility and value we attribute to both shame and blasphemy. Here is a passage from the Satanic Bible on the moral necessity of blasphemy:

Religions must be put to the question. No moral dogma must be taken for granted–no standard of measurement deified. There is nothing inherently sacred about moral codes. Like the wooden idols of long ago, they are the work of human hands, and what man has made, man can destroy!

Whenever, therefore, a lie has built unto itself a throne, let it be assailed without pity and without regret …

The most dangerous of all enthroned lies is the holy, the sanctified, the privileged lie–the lie everyone believes to be a model truth. It is the fruitful mother of all other popular errors and delusions. It is a hydra-headed tree of unreason with a thousand roots. It is a social cancer!

Further Reading:

Atheism 2.1: the Tension Between Atheist Politics and Ataraxia

Swinish Herds and Pastafarians: Comedy as an Ideological Weapon

Reasonings About Confucius’ Analects




About hiramcrespo

Hiram Crespo is the author of 'Tending the Epicurean Garden' (Humanist Press, 2014) and 'How to Live a Good Life' (Penguin Random House, 2020), and founder of societyofepicurus.com. He's also written for The Humanist, Eidolon, Occupy, The New Humanism, The Secular Web, Europa Laica, AteístasPR, and many other outlets.
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