Increase your vocabulary with the origin of religious words like blasphemy

Bill Casselman

At the Wording Desk

as Word & Belief


In The Inferno Dante confined blasphemers to the third ring of Hell, cast naked upon a barren sand plain where their flesh was seared black by razor flakes of burning fire for all eternity.

“What religion and the religious fear most of all is ridicule because what they believe is absurd."

What Paul Owen meant is that even the pious have an inkling in the heart of their often hidden common sense that most gods are preposterous as entities, spiritual or actual. Most people suspect what science tells us with its every thought: Humans make gods. Gods do not make humans.

Religions' horrible punishments for blasphemy, for denying a god’s existence, are hysterical reactions to fear and to doubt. Because belief in, for example, the Christian god, a senile, vindictive old rabbi flapping around heaven is so difficult to sustain if one has an ounce of common insight into how life on earth works, it follows that everyone must believe as believers do. No one can be allowed to doubt. Doubt makes clear that some of the people are not fraidy-cat gullible fools. But doubt is like a plague rat. Once the scampering little rodent of dubeity has been let loose, soon toxic uncertainty may infect every believer. Therefore let us outlaw doubt. Let us crucify those who slander the Almighty, who dare to speak against god, the blasphemers.

Problems of Derivation
Blasphemy stems ultimately from the classical Greek abstract noun βλασϕημία blasphemia ‘slander, saying injurious things about the gods or officials.’ The second Greek element is clearly phemein ‘to speak, to say’ but the first element in the compound word is obscure. Many dictionaries state with obdurate certitude that this first element *blas is related to the Greek verb blaptein ‘to injure, to hurt.’ This is nonsense, because there is no part of the verb blaptein that offers an element ‘blas.’ Not one. Likewise improbable in the derivation is the Greek adjective blax ‘slack, stupid.’ Blax has no part with a form *blas. None.

Irreverence in the face of facts that other people have sworn may be true is one of the best defences against being hornswoggled known to human thought. We expect proof of all that is important to us during life. But on perhaps the most important question of all, we should just shrug, mope and accept that eternal life is a given, that some senile delinquent bully will look after us? Proof of his existence? Just accept him on faith. Bullshit! If ever there was any entity whose existence begged to be proven scientifically, it would be that thug of the clouds, Jehovah.

Now that old hymn writer Isaac Watts is permitted one verse:
“Let malice vent her rage aloud,
Let bold blasphemers scoff;
The Lord our God shall judge the proud
And cut the sinners off.”
                                       Psalm 94 part 2 by Isaac Watts

Thanks, Lord, for your tolerance of our mortal foibles.

A last note seeks to remind the pious that freaking out at other people's lack of faith and, say, crucifying or stoning to death blasphemers, is indeed a mental disorder. People who commit such atrocities, including whole populations of some religions, are uncivilized sub-human baboons. And they are crazy as shit-house rats. The mental disorder is termed by psychiatrists: scrupulosity. Check that word out, cross-clutchers, on your nearest psych. site.

Bill Casselman,

June 21, 2016

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