You know what I’m talking about. Almost all religions have odd proscriptions that are taken with extraordinary seriousness by their followers — they are markers for who belongs in the group, and who is the outsider. Violate them, especially if you knowingly violate them, immediately marks you as The Enemy, and justifies taking any action against you.
The Muslim outrage about cartoon portrayals of their prophet was a recent example. It’s utterly ridiculous; I can see where immigrant populations would be extremely sensitive to further marginalization, and might see disrespectful stereotyping as a sign of deeper conflicts, but the response was excessive, irrational, and destroyed any possibility that a legitimate grievance might be taken seriously. If you’re rightly upset that your ethnicity is being associated with terrorist bombings, it is insane to react by throwing bombs.
But ultimately it’s not just about protecting people who look like you from illegal discrimination; it’s about enforcing a whole body of idiosyncratic, peculiar laws as if they are representative of broader human concerns and rights. They aren’t. They’re just silly.
It’s also about defending practices sanctified by patriarchal religious beliefs that are simply odious to anyone with a civilized, grown-up appreciation of a universal morality. Morality cannot be restricted to privileging one ethnic group, one religious belief, one sex…a rational morality has to be constructed around an appreciation of all human beings’ right to justice and equal treatment. Many of the portrayals of the prophet Mohammed are intended to openly disrespect specific practices endorsed (or at least, uncritically accepted) by members of the Muslim faith that violate the rights of a much larger subset of the human race than just believers in Islam.
This is one of the serious purposes of sacrilege: to tell people that their beliefs are barbaric or wrong. One of the purposes of blasphemy laws is to silence critics of long-hallowed principles of discrimination — and one of the most common is the practice of patriarchal domination, where one sex is told over and over again that they are in charge and must be given special favor, and the other is told over and over that they are weak, they must submit, they must obey. The Abrahamic religions are rife with this evil myth, and we have to be free to challenge it.
Another reason for sacrilege is to assert our freedom from superstition. There’s a proscription against portraits of Mohammed? How absurd. We defy such arbitrary restrictions on our freedom, whether it’s a demand that we treat crackers with respect or a demand that we do not render images of some guy, and we violated them, because we can. Any of us can pick up a sharpie and scrawl out a picture of Mohammed. Go ahead. Do it yourself.
Remember, people will fight and die because they want to stop you from doing something so trivial and harmless as sketching what you think Mohammed looked like. That’s stupid and wrong, and it is their problem, not yours. Sacrilege is exercising your freedom, a freedom they don’t want you to have.