The Russian Duma Moves Toward New Blasphemy Law

220px-PhilipandNikonThe Russian State Duma has reportedly moved forward with new legislation pushed by the Putin government to criminalize blasphemy — a measure designed to please the Russian Orthodox church. As we have discussed previously, Putin has reestablished the link with the Church to crack down on critics and nonbelievers. The new law purportedly protects religious feelings of believers.

For many years, I have been writing about the threat of an international blasphemy standard and the continuing rollback on free speech in the West. For recent columns, click here and here and here.

The government will now arrest those who insult religion in Russia with a fine of up to 300 thousand rubles, or community service for up to 200 hours or by imprisonment for up to 3 years.

It is part of a global crackdown on agnostics and atheists. We have previously discussed how even Western leaders have demonized secularists and atheists.

The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) presented a report on how governments are imposing the death penalty on atheists in countries including Afghanistan, Iran, Maldives, Mauritania, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Sudan.

Here is the IHEU report: IHEU Freedom of Thought 2012

Just yesterday, I listened to the latest attack on agnostics and secularists by former Utah governor Mike Leavitt as part of the conference on religious liberty. It is the latest conference held by the Center on Constitutional Studies headed by Rick Griffin. Griffin has created a remarkable academic program that has brought national attention to Utah Valley University and its new academic program on constitutional studies. This conference has been extraordinary with panels that spanned the historical and legal issues surrounding the religion clauses. I spoke yesterday as well with Harvard’s Noah Feldman, Randall Balmer of Dartmouth College and others. I will speak again today.

Leavitt’s speech last night was one of the highlighted events at the conference. While there were moderate aspects to his speech, particularly in his reference to the abuse of gay students in Utah, he warned about a war on faith by secluralists, agnostics, and atheists who he described as cunning in their effort to demonize faith. The speech fit within the pattern of Western leaders vilifying secularists, including a warning of the rise of Americans who do not associate with any particular faith. Leavitt insisted that the decline of public expression of faith would lead to the loss of liberty.

While Leavitt’s speech was troubling, it was part of a program that succeeded in bringing together a variety of different views of the role of religion in American public life. Though I am at odds with many of the things that Leavitt said, I have enjoyed the interaction with participants on these issues. It is too rare to have rivaling views and speakers actually engage in dialogue in this area. (As an aside, I also have to say that I was bowled over by the talent demonstrated by the music program at UVU. Last night featured the school’s orchestra, choir, and individual singers. It was an incredible performance by these students).

As Leavitt spoke of how the decline of public support for faith was a harbinger for the loss of liberty, I could not help but think of the irony of the actions that day in Russia. Faith has often been used to silence critics of governments by feeding sectarian anger and alliances. Orthodoxy appeals to those who want to limit free speech and associations that challenge the status quo.

Secular values in government is not the rejection but the protection of faith. The separation of faith and government guarantees neutrality in the treatment of faith. As discussed previously, faith-based organization do face legitimate threats from the expansion of anti-discrimination and other laws. However, this is not the result of some hidden conspiracy of secularists but the conflict between free exercise and equal treatment. We can make little progress in resolving that conflict if leaders continue to attack secularists and non-believers as destructive to liberty itself.

Source: Google

29 thoughts on “The Russian Duma Moves Toward New Blasphemy Law”

  1. From George Orwell’s essay, “The Prevention of Literature”:

    Totalitarianism, however, does not so much promise an age of faith as an age of schizophrenia. A society becomes totalitarian when its structure becomes flagrantly artificial: that is, when its ruling class has lost its function but succeeds in clinging to power by force or fraud. Such a society, no matter how long it persists, can never afford to become either tolerant or intellectually stable. It can never permit either the truthful recording of facts or the emotional sincerity that literary creation demands. But to be corrupted by totalitarianism one does not have to live in a totalitarian country. The mere prevalence of certain ideas can spread a kind of poison that makes one subject after another impossible for literary purposes.

    For “blasphemy,” then, read “a kind of [mental] poison that makes one subject after another impossible for literary purposes [or even private contemplation].”

    From Charles Sanders Peirce’s essay, “The Fixation of Belief”:

    The method of authority will always govern the mass of mankind; and those who wield the various forms of organized force in the state will never be convinced that dangerous reasoning ought not to be suppressed in some way. If liberty of speech is to be untrammeled from the grosser forms of constraint, then uniformity of opinion will be secured by a moral terrorism to which the respectability of society will give its thorough approval. Following the method of authority is the path of peace. Certain non-conformities are permitted; certain others (considered unsafe) are forbidden. These are different in different countries and in different ages; but, wherever you are, let it be known that you seriously hold a tabooed belief, and you may be perfectly sure of being treated with a cruelty less brutal but more refined than hunting you like a wolf. Thus, the greatest intellectual benefactors of mankind have never dared, and dare not now, to utter the whole of their thought; and thus a shade of prima facie doubt is cast upon every proposition which is considered essential to the security of society. Singularly enough, the persecution does not all come from without; but a man torments himself and is oftentimes most distressed at finding himself believing propositions which he has been brought up to regard with aversion. The peaceful and sympathetic man will, therefore, find it hard to resist the temptation to submit his opinions to authority.

    For “blasphemy,” then, read “a moral terrorism to which the respectability of society will give its thorough approval and to whose authority the peaceful and sympathetic man will most often submit his opinions.”

  2. Gyges:

    First, In my comments above, I wanted to second what Gene H. said about the real issue of “religious” intolerance: namely, the desire of some group of men and women to control the thought and behavior of other men women using social and cultural institutions to accomplish the enforcement of conformist orthodoxy. In the particular case of this thread on “blasphemy” laws in Russia, the desired economic, social, and political repression comes via “Constantine’s Fatal Gift,” otherwise known as the unification of Church and State — with the modern corporate state manifesting distinctly Orwellian — or Peircean — characteristics.

    Second, in regard to your comments on technological growth as a possible barrier to totalitarian institutionalism, I noted (in quotes from both Orwell and Peirce) that governments do not have to achieve the total suppression of science and technology growth but can co-opt these by allowing progress in some areas such as advanced military weaponry, police surveillance and solitary-confinement torture institutions, destruction of linguistic meaning, not to mention distracting toys and entertainments — as long as no technological innovations lead to a general rise in the intelligence or critical thinking abilities of the general population. As Orwell put it in i1984:

    “The empirical method of thought, on which all the scientific achievements of the past were founded, is opposed to the most fundamental principles of Ingsoc. And even technological progress only happens when its products can in some way be used for the diminution of human liberty. In all the useful arts the world is either standing still or going backwards. … But in matters of vital importance — meaning, in effect, war and police espionage — the empirical approach is still encouraged, or at least tolerated.”

    So there you have an apt and perfectly articulated response to your assumptions about technological growth from Orwell’s 1984>. But as you claim to have read widely from Orwell’s non-fiction works, you will no doubt recognize a similar rebuttal to your point in his essay “The Prevention of Literature.”

    The organized lying practiced by totalitarian states is not, as is sometimes claimed, a temporary expedient of the same nature as military deception. It is something integral to totalitarianism, something that would still continue even if concentration camps and secret police forces had ceased to be necessary. Among intelligent Communists there is an underground legend to the effect that although the Russian government is obliged now to deal in lying propaganda, frame-up trials, and so forth, it is secretly recording the true facts and will publish them at some future time. We can, I believe, be quite certain that this is not the case, because the mentality implied by such an action is that of a liberal historian who believes that the past cannot be altered and that a correct knowledge of history is valuable as a matter of course. From the totalitarian point of view history is something to be created rather than learned. A totalitarian state is in effect a theocracy, and its ruling caste, in order to keep its position, has to be thought of as infallible. But since, in practice, no one is infallible, it is frequently necessary to rearrange past events in order to show that this or that mistake was not made, or that this or that imaginary triumph actually happened. Then again, every major change in policy demands a corresponding change of doctrine and a revelation of prominent historical figures. This kind of thing happens everywhere, but is clearly likelier to lead to outright falsification in societies where only one opinion is permissible at any given moment. Totalitarianism demands, in fact, the continuous alteration of the past, and in the long run probably demands a disbelief in the very existence of objective truth. The friends of totalitarianism in this country usually tend to argue that since absolute truth is not attainable, a big lie is no worse than a little lie. It is pointed out that all historical records are biased and inaccurate, or on the other hand, that modern physics has proven that what seems to us the real world is an illusion, so that to believe in the evidence of one’s senses is simply vulgar philistinism. A totalitarian society which succeeded in perpetuating itself would probably set up a schizophrenic system of thought, in which the laws of common sense held good in everyday life and in certain exact sciences, but could be disregarded by the politician, the historian, and the sociologist. Already there are countless people who would think it scandalous to falsify a scientific textbook, but would see nothing wrong in falsifying an historical fact. It is at the point where literature and politics cross that totalitarianism exerts its greatest pressure on the intellectual. The exact sciences are not, at this date, menaced to anything like the same extent. This partly accounts for the fact that in all countries it is easier for the scientists than for the writers to line up behind their respective governments.

    Totalitarian factions and their co-operative amalgamations, like the corporate-government-religious Republican Party in America can easily co-opt the scientists and technicians who feed off public funding and who see in totalitarianism no problem that affects them or their work. Any problems with totalitarianism will affect those “others” who don’t matter anyway.

    In summary, then, I wouldn’t count on the scientists or technicians to save what remains of our democratic republic. And I don’t see how anyone could read Orwell’s essays, letters, journalism and/or fiction without understanding this.

  3. Blasphemy laws are theologically odd.Are the laws necessary to protect God from harm? Does blasphemy hurt his feelings? Is he incapable of administering punishment himself?

    The proper response for believers, it seems to me, is to smile and say, “Ooh, God’s going to get you for that one” and rest smugly in the confidence of being proved right.

  4. From The Philosophical Writings of Peirce (edited by Justus Buchler):

    “Upon this first, and in one sense this sole, rule of reason, that in order to learn you must desire to learn, and in so desiring not be satisfied with what you already incline to think, there follows one corollary which itself deserves to be inscribed upon every wall of the city of philosophy:

    Do not block the way of inquiry.

    Although it is better to be methodical in our investigations, and to consider the economics of research, yet there is no positive sin against logic in trying any theory which may come into our heads, so long as it is adopted in such a sense as to permit the investigation to go on unimpeded and undiscouraged. On the other hand, to set up a philosophy which barricades the road of further advance toward the truth is the one unpardonable offense in reasoning, as it is also the one to which metaphysicians have in all ages shown themselves the most addicted.”

    “Taboo” words like “blasphemy,” “heretic,” and “infidel,” to name just a few, serve only to block the way of inquiry and thereby enforce the isolation of one group of people from contact with any other group which might conceivably influence its behavior in some unpredictable and uncontrolled manner. The psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton calls this totalitarian — or totalist — tendency “Milieu Control“:

    “The most basic feature of the thought reform [“cult,” or “brainwashing”] environment, the psychological current upon which all else depends, is the control of human communication. Through this milieu control the totalist environment seeks to establish domain over not only the individual’s communication with the outside (all that he sees and hears, reads and writes, experiences, and expresses), but also — in its penetration of his inner life — over what we may speak of as his communication with himself. It creates an atmosphere uncomfortably reminiscent of George Orwell’s 1984. …

    “Such milieu control never succeeds in becoming absolute … To totalist administrators, however, [such inefficiencies] are no more than evidences of “incorrect” use of the apparatus. For they look upon milieu control as a just and necessary policy, one which need not be kept secret: thought reform participants may be in doubt as to who is telling what to whom, but the fact that extensive information about everyone is being conveyed to the authorities is always known. Having experienced the impact of what they consider to be an ultimate truth (and having the need to dispel any possible inner doubts of their own), they consider it their duty to create an environment containing no more and no less than this “truth.” In order to be the engineers of the human soul, they must first bring it under full observational control.” — Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism

    It seems to me that a great deal of what Gene H. has helpfully written about “propaganda” applies equally well to this notion of totalist “milieu control.” What I like to call Manufactured Mendacity and Managed Mystification not only block the way of inquiry, but smother the very thought of investigation itself, since the officially concocted ambient confusion and deliberate destruction of meaningful language seem to make discovery and learning frustratingly impossible to a great many people. After all, the most effective form of controlling other people relies on inducing other people to voluntarily control themselves — for reasons that do not — indeed, must not — concern them.

  5. MM,

    Dude, I’ve read 1984 too. Multiple times. Once, I read it front to back and then back to front. In fact, I’ve read almost all of Orwell’s books. Hell, I’ve read his essay on how to brew tea.

    1984 was contrived, not real. Orwell assumes a spherical cow; he simplifies things. One of the things that gets simplified is that technology is stagnate, and since my point directly addressed technological growth, I’d say that makes it a little bit of a poor source to address my point.

    On the other hand, recent history backs me up. Look at the USSR, look at Nazi Germany, they each had a pretty huge scientific gap when they outlawed specific scientific thoughts (Darwinian evolution and Einstein’s theories respectively), both of which drastically hastened the end of the governments (via food shortages and not having the atomic bomb). Now obviously, there are other considerations as to the longevity of any particular regime, but in the end if you want to be the next super-power or retain your place as one, you need to get ahead of the game technology wise, and Blasphemy laws keep that from happening.

  6. Gyges said:

    “I sort of doubt the ability of modern governments to truly outlaw blasphemy and stay in power”

    Modern totalitarian — or totalist — governments do not achieve and stay in power through the published promulgation and impartial enforcement of “law,” but rather by inculcating in the stupefied masses — i.e., the proles and downwardly-dropping middle class — a disaggregated dismay and sense of political impotence, while at the same time demanding of the Corporate Party apparatchik an unconscious schizophrenic terror of saying, doing, or thinking anything the slightest bit unorthodox. As George Orwell put it in “The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism” (from 1984):

    In Oceania there is no law. Thoughts and actions which, when detected, mean certain death are not formally forbidden, and the endless purges, arrests, tortures, imprisonments, and vaporizations are not inflicted as punishment for crimes which have actually been committed, but are merely the wiping-out of persons who might perhaps commit a crime at some time in the future. A Party member is required to have not only the right opinions, but the right instincts. Many of the beliefs and attitudes demanded of him are never plainly stated, and could not be stated without laying bare the contradictions inherent in Ingsoc. If he is a person naturally orthodox (in Newspeak a goodthinker), he will in all circumstances know, without taking thought, what is the true belief or the desirable emotion. But in any case an elaborate mental training, undergone in childhood and grouping itself round the Newspeak words crimestop, blackwhite, and doublethink, makes him unwilling and unable to think too deeply on any subject whatever.

    In Oceania there is no law.” In the United States of Oceania, for example, If anyone in the Inner Corporate Party (the one with two right wings) breaks the “law,” the legislative subsidiary of the Inner Corporate Party simply rewrites the law such that the transgression of it never happened. On the other hand, in order to maintain the apathy of the proles and self-enforcing discipline of the Party apparatchik, a certain legal flexibility must exist, so that President Obama can choose to make an example of Private Bradley Manning (the lowest level Party apparatchik — cop, guard, or soldier) while not having to persecute the editorial staff of the New York Times or Washington Post (higher level Party apparatchiks) who will get the hint from the scapegoat example and self-censor themselves. The Chinese have an ancient proverb which covers this arbitrary and capricious lawlessness: “Kill the Chicken, scare the monkey.”

    As Charles Sanders Peirce wrote of this phenomena in “The Fixation of Belief”:

    … no institution can undertake to regulate opinions upon every subject. Only the most important ones can be attended to, and on the rest men’s minds must be left to the action of natural causes. This imperfection will be no source of weakness so long as men are in such a state of culture that one opinion does not influence another — that is, so long as they cannot put two and two together.

    Again, the modern totalitarian — i.e., corporate — state does not have to regulate opinions — or “laws” — on every subject; just those which at any given time may threaten to influence others to put two and two together. In fact, the very inability of the masses to even know from one minute to the next which “law” might apply to them and with what consequences, serves to create a culture of unconscious fear and helplessness — precisely what the Inner Corporate Party (to which no laws apply) desires and works assiduously to effect.

    In Oceania there is no law,” only privileged Inner Corporate Party outlaws — i.e., politicians, corporate CEOs, judges, and generals.

  7. mespo,

    That Wimpy may have only been a Friar but he certainly had a firm grasp on the sales techniques of the clergy.


    I haven’t read the Pierce essay, but I’ll look into it. It will complement the array of other materials that I’ve read about one of my favorite subjects: how people deal with uncertainty (which is “often poorly” from what I’ve seen).

  8. Michael Murry:

    “This conception, that another man’s thought or sentiment may be equivalent to one’s own, is a distinctly new step, and a highly important one. It arises from an impulse too strong in man to be suppressed, without danger of destroying the human species. Unless we make ourselves hermits, we shall necessarily influence each other’s opinions;…”


    “For his part, Orwell simply compressed the entire phenomenon of coerced religious conformity into the Party slogan: “Freedom is Slavery,” which, by the way, would have made a wonderful title for the conference.”


    This conference has that distinct ring of Marquis de Sade: “It is always by way of pain one arrives at pleasure.”

    Strangely, I find myself in agreement with you and Pierce. Obviously, it must mean I coming around.

  9. @ Michael Murry

    !!!!!WOW!!!! and thank you. Truth perception and opportunity for knowledge has been around for a while. …/ I guess sometimes it’s easier to throw it out and whistle, than to ponder truth and relevance.

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