Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Something to be Thankful For

Since Thanksgiving falls on the day I usually post a blog, I’m posting it a day earlier.

Rimsha Masih
If there’s ever a person ready to enjoy a happy Thanksgiving, it’s Rimsha Masih, a Christian Pakistani teenager who had been charged with blasphemy.  Supposedly she burned pages of the holy Islamic book, the Quran, for cooking fuel. 

This week, Pakistan’s top court dismissed the charges. Masih was freed.  She had faced life in prison.

For burning pages of a book?

Before you say thank goodness for living in this country, try openly burning pages of the Bible and see what happens.  You’ll be met with outrage.  Same for the Torah, the Jewish sacred text.  You won’t end up in jail, unless the police charge you with causing a riot.

In Pakistan, a neighbor accused Masih of feeding the pages to the flames.  That started a huge melee.  Masih may have been beaten – accounts disagree – but was definitely arrested.

The situation is nothing new in Pakistan, an almost 100 percent Muslim country.  Supposedly, the anti-blasphemy laws were set in place some 26 years ago to reduce tensions between religions.  Naturally, they have been used to suppress minorities and to punish those who don’t toe the Islamic line.

Islamic supports of blasphemy laws.
As a result, since the laws were enacted in 1986, there have been an estimated 1,400 blasphemy cases.  As a result, Pakistan now has 15 people on death row because of the charges while 52 more have been killed by mobs before having a trial, according to published reports.

We all look at the situation a frightened teenager and her family facing an uncertain future in their homeland and scoff at the backward behavior there.  Except it would happen here if the Religious Right could figure a way to do it.

They’ve already demonstrated their willingness to impose their power.  For centuries in the Christian-dominated Europe, thousands of people were killed for daring to stand up to Church authorities.  Blasphemy, heresy and anything that smacked of either resulted in severe punishment.  Even ardent Christians who ran afoul of authorities were deprived of liberty and/or burned to death.

The death penalty may not be in play anymore, but archconservative religious figures certainly wouldn’t mind severe punishment for anyone who challenges their faith.  They are willing to subvert education to ensure only their ideas are taught and are happily learning how to use social media to condemn anyone who disagrees.  They organize rallies and protests against the inclusion of anything related to another religion – such as burning down a mosque – while simultaneously insisting their religion deserves precedent.

Todd Starnes
Fox News’ talk host Todd Starnes, for example, wants the federal government to investigate television shows that he thinks denigrate religion.  He called on President Barack Obama to denounce Hollywood.

Of course, he’s opposed to the United Nations, whose Human Rights Committee issued a 52-paragraph statement in 2011 that essentially said that “all laws restricting blasphemy as such are incompatible with universal human rights standards.”

That sentiment doesn’t work on fanatics.

Robert Spencer
Other religions do not deserve any rights in their view.  For example, Robert Spencer, an activist Catholic author, has openly attacked Islam: “Islam itself is an incomplete, misleading, and often downright false revelation which, in many ways, directly contradicts what God has revealed through the prophets of the Old Testament and through his Son Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh… For several reasons… Islam constitutes a threat to the world at large. 

Even better, Spencer, who is able to practice his faith because of the mandated freedom of religion in the Constitution said, “It is entirely reasonable for free people to oppose the construction of new mosques in non-Muslim countries.”

Spencer is one of many conservative leaders advocating such a Draconian approach to an alternative faith. 

Alan Dershowitz
Fighting back, famed civil rights lawyer Alan Dershowitz, Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, detailed how the religious right is trying to impose its faith on Americans in his book Blasphemy: How the Religious Right is Hijacking Our Declaration of Independence.  In it, he explains that “the religious right is misusing the Declaration of Independence in their drive to Christianize America: from school prayer to federal funding of faith-based programs, the religious right's drive to Christianize America and abolish the separation of church and state.”

His comments are directed at Christians, because, in this country, the chief proponents of anti-religious hate are Christians.  However, they are not unique.  All religious groups, when given power over others, attempt to impose their faith and to ensure it cannot be challenged.   That’s how Pakistan came into existence in the first place.  Muslims in India could not coexist with the dominant Hindus after India freed itself from England.  As a result, the Muslims marched north into newly created Pakistan after World War II.  There, they could impose their religious control.

They ignored the lesson taught by the founders of this country, who rejected a national religion, knowing full well the turmoil that would follow when one religion was accorded dominance.

Today, on a holiday dedicated to giving thanks for our many blessings, that’s one special boon we can all be really thankful for. 

Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at  He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  His books are available on, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  He can also be followed on Twitter.

You can enroll in his on-line class, Comparative Religion for Dummies, at

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