The Blasphemy Challenge

NOTE: The following post contains links to material that Christians, and other people who are respectful of religious belief, will find disturbing.

The latest dark fruit of scientist-cum-proselytizer Richard Dawkins’s not-too-bright crusade to convert people from faith in the God of the Bible to faith in the god of scientism is a gambit by some American atheists to get young people to risk damning themselves to hell.

A group called the Rational Response Squad–inspired, they say, by Dawkins–has offered The Blasphemy Challenge: Film yourself blaspheming against the Holy Spirit, post the video on YouTube, and receive a free DVD of their documentary, “The God Who Wasn’t There.” (This video “proves” that not only was Jesus not divine, but he also didn’t exist at all–which latter point will take some proving, given the overwhelming evidence for Jesus’ existence from the ancient world.)

The Blasphemy Challenge is based on a Bible story.

Jesus once warned the Pharisees–a group of scrupulous Jews who grew increasingly resentful of Jesus’ refusal to toe their line–that they were in great danger. They attributed his miracles to the power of Satan, not God, and thus, Jesus said, they were getting exactly backward the most important fact in the universe. To call “evil” what was in fact good was to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:29). And to maintain such a posture was to put oneself beyond saving, since it literally is to refuse to acknowledge God and thus receive any assistance from him.

Please note that this is called a sin because the Pharisees were not ignorant of religious truth and thus innocently mistaken. They refused to acknowledge (an act of will, not intellect) what they were in a position to know. So Jesus’ saying is simply a dramatic way of making a fundamental point: If you decide against God and fend him off, he will not force himself upon you. If you fight the lifeguard, he can’t save you.

Is this Blasphemy Challenge therefore a big deal? It depends.

Some who make the videos likely have already positioned themselves against God, so their status hasn’t changed just because they have made a video testifying to their belief. It’s not like blaspheming against the Holy Spirit has magical power so that merely uttering the words dooms your soul. It’s a figure of speech pointing to a spiritual condition, and some of the video-posters doubtless were already in that awful condition.

Others, however, might be acting out of a different agenda: rage against parents, churches, or youth groups that they find insufferably self-righteous, priggish, hypocritical, or even abusive. The Blasphemy Challenge gives them an opportunity to scream back against people who deserve it. It may have nothing really to do with God.

And still others have no idea what they’re doing. The Blasphemy Challenge for them is just a way of being naughty. To be sure, it isn’t trivial, but it’s unlikely that their lives weigh in the balance over it. Again, Jesus is referring to an outward sign of a particularly serious and perilous inward condition. Merely pronoucing this formula doesn’t indicate univocally what one’s condition is, especially if one literally doesn’t know what one is talking about.

Whatever the case, however, watching the actual videos (and I could bring myself to endure only a few) is deeply disturbing. It’s repellent, it’s painful, and it’s deeply saddening. God loves these people–each one, so very much.

What is indisputably a big deal, however, is the terrifying situation of those who encourage such actions, and those, such as Dawkins, who inspire them.

Jesus speaks to them quite directly: “It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble” (Luke 17:2).

Taking the Blasphemy Challenge might not, therefore, change someone’s spiritual destiny.

Issuing it, however, probably did.

0 Responses to “The Blasphemy Challenge”

  1. Preston

    I was deeply saddened – and struck – by the whole concept. Thanks for posting it. I am looking forward to reading Alister Mcgrath’s response to Dawkins called “The Dawkins Delusion.” I think it’s due out in May?
    You mentioned that social factors such as (rage against) parents and youth groups may inspire participation in this kind of “challenge.” Are there other factors? Is the act of renouncing God en mass a common phenomenon? I can understand if people choose to ignore God, but this is a little bold. Perhaps this is a poor comparison, but I have yet to see a site dedicated to endorsing blasphemy against Shiva or Waheguru. What’s really going on here?

  2. Andrew Lunau Smith

    I began reading Dawkins’ book on Christmas day (ironic, I know), but had to give it back to its owner after only about 40 pages as I was not the receipient of that particular gift. Haven’t really been motivated to get my own copy since. Perhaps I will. Glad to know Alister McGrath plans a response, I’ll look forward too.

    One thing that troubled me in those first few pages was Dawkins’ use of the psychological ploy that implies if you don’t read his book and come to the same conclusion, you’ve been duped, or brainwashed, or whatever. Now we see a co-ordinated effort to encourage people to subscribe to a common confession. A free gift. Many “harassed and helpless” sheep following the thoughts of a single leader. Hmmm… smells like Dawkins has founded a religion.

  3. Jennie McLaurin

    Very sad. I watched a few of the postings–all looked like adolescents or young adults. All were hurt by their own religious upbringing, and all were angry. I have hope that some will see that they are not as rational as they think, and that God is more loving, forgiving, and true than they can imagine. The public denial is shocking, but let’s remember it’s largely anonymous, like calling a stanger and confessing your sins. Another twist on internet evangelism.

  4. dh

    Great post John. I really enjoyed your insight on this and how participating in this “college” and the “college” itself is so disturbing. Here is a humorous and yet serious comment I read above it was said “…crusade to convert people from faith in the God of the Bible to faith in the god of scientism is a gambit by some American atheists to get young people to risk damning themselves to hell.” My question are these people who are so-called “converting from Faith in God to faith in the god of atheism” have Faith in the first place. Therefore are not converting from something to nothing but from nothing (they have of themselves) to nothing. (If you get my drift). 🙂 Love your site. 🙂 DH

  5. dh

    My point is those who have Faith in the one true God of Jesus have Faith and all others don’t have Faith but faith. Therefore “Without Faith it is impossible to please God” comes into play.

  6. John Stackhouse

    Preston asks about sites that encourage blasphemy of other gods. My guess is that such sites might actually exist in India and Pakistan, given the Hindu/Muslim conflicts there, as well as intramural conflicts among Hindu devotees of various gods.

    Still, this kind of thing strikes me as particularly the province of western atheists, who have a several-century history, at least, of satirizing, rather than merely disagreeing with, Christian belief.

    And, like most satire, it emerges out of anger and other emotions as well. It’s not enough, that is, to disagree or even dismiss: one wants to dismantle, discredit, and disqualify this other view. One wants to blow it out of the water. In a word, one hates it.

    So why all this emotion vented on Christian belief by people who congratulate themselves on their devotion to reason?

  7. CaNN :: We started it.

    […] THE LATEST DARK FRUIT of scientist-cum-proselytizer Richard Dawkins’s not-too-bright crusade to convert people from faith in the God of the Bible to faith in the god of scientism is a gambit by some American atheists to get young people to risk damning themselves to hell …. (stackblog) […]

  8. Cindy

    This is heartbreaking, and particularly disturbing to me because it is like looking into a mirror of my past. From my own experience, I believe that most people who will take the time and make the effort to blaspheme so adamantly are, in fact, crying for rescue. After a long and painful struggle, I’ve accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour, but still grieve over the years I wasted in obstinance and hateful persecution of my brothers and sisters in Christ.

    Praise God that His arms of grace are long enough to embrace even the most abominable sinner.

  9. oktea

    I have not gone to the Blasphemy Challenge website. I am not an athesiest, I do believe that God exists and was raised in a “christian home”. I lived for 15 years of my life in a “christian community”While they do many good works there and do believe in the trinity… they are really cultish ask anyone who lived there and left. (where one does live “communially). I prayed the prayer of Salvation when I was in my teen years. However, there have been numerous situations in my life that have taken place where I have become so imbittered towards the church and other christians. While I will not denounce God himself because I do believe that he does exist… I do denounce christianity. The reason for this being… the difficult times that I have been in (some of them are my own fault) and some are not, the response from whom are suppose to be my ” brothers and sisters in Christ” have been really crapy. Just today I was told that I am not welcome to a christian womens confrence, because of my being unhealed of my emotional wounds. Are not places of this sort be places that promote healing… I do believe that this is the straw that broke the camels back. After this slap in the face… I would rather walk away from christianity… after today I would be ashamed to have to admitt to anyone else that I am a christian or ever have been. I think that God is bigger than any of this BS. My husband is Native American and the relationship that he has with God is begining to make far more sence to me than any of this other crap. He has told me of the abuse that he suffered from “christians” growing up on the Reservation… I will never understand how the “christians” can think that they are so much better than anyone else and why there seems to be a pecking order among … some think they are so above anyone else so eilite. Well I have to say “f” that and christianity!

  10. John Stackhouse

    I am sorry, oktea, you are so unhappy and angry at people you feel have treated you badly. I am sorry you have not felt the welcome you wanted from the Christians you mention.

    I have bad stories about Christians to tell, also. But not about Jesus. Not about the Bible. And not about the Christians I have found who really do seem to love Jesus, and obey the Bible, and care for each other.

    I pray you find what I have found. There is more, sister, than the pain you have felt.

  11. MChandler

    I echo this exasperation with this hawkish strain of Dawkinism. In an age of increasingly close-minded pundantry, Dick Dawkins is a shrill voice crying out in the wilderness from the theologically uninformed end of the spectrum.

    He’d be ripe for parody
    were he not so clearly himself a parody (read: parity) of incurious fundamentalism.

  12. Becky

    God, was never invented, man has invented religions according to his own gospel. Jesus came to show us the way to God. He didn’t tell us to give our money to the Churches but to the poor. He didn’t show us how to judge but show mercy. He didn’t tell us we had to do this or that to have our most awful sins forgiven but just to trust in Him for forgiveness. It is when men over simplify things that things become so confusing.

    The main problem with Christian opinion is that people base their opinions on TV preachers thinking all Christian pastors and members represent a certain opinion. They see Christians conduct themselves inappropriately and think we are just like that. People have bad experiences in the Churches and think all Christians are that way. I must say as Christians, we need to bear the brunt of this. We need to take responsibility within Church walls. Christians do not become divine after coming to Christ, we are just acknowledging that we have sinned before God and want to reconcile with Him, plain and simple. Jesus told us to share the good news with people, but if we are not received to walk away, never to force yourself.

    This will become a big playing factor in the year 2008 and beyond, more young people are turning to Atheism as a way to rebel against the establishment. What is so disturbing is the hatred of Christianity that is really unwarranted. In seeing the “Blasphemy Challenge”, could only watch one I was so repulsed, it led me to other YouTube videos with people mocking Christians in the most heinous and insidious of ways, mostly young people. Putrid and vile things coming from the mouths of those under 30 and most under 20. You know who is even stated as making an appearence in that silly challenge is Penn Jilette (Penn & Teller) the magic act. Stupid is as stupid does, I always say.
    I wouldn’t be surprised, he is a harsh opponent to Christianity.
    Remember what the Psalmist says, “The Tongue can be set on fire from hell itself.” That is not being fundamental, this is the truth.

    After seeing these videos, the Devil knows his time is short and will take those down in his sinking ship. The look in their eyes was complete darkness, the spirit that work in the children of disobedience.

    Day to day, we see remnants of Christianity removed from American society. The Ten Commandments are removed from public bldgs, prayer from schools, Pledge of Allegiance and the money with the phrase “In God We Trust” is now making it exit from the front of the coin to the side,soon, it will be off all money. So when Atheist say, they are in the minority, their
    belief system is always fully endorsed. Let’s look at Evolution being taught in the schools, it has no scientific foundation. Evolution for the most part is 99.9% disproven but it is still taught in schools because it’s grip on the educational system. It’s a religion
    they believe in it and preach it as fact. The Bible has more truth than the theory of evolution. So whether Atheists believe it or not, they are not the victim they are
    the majority……ACLU will rarely if at all defend Christian beliefs or right, that is not the ministry they are called upon to do.

    A lot of the YouTube opinion mainly young folk claim that we are at war and screw or F—k the “Fundies” (fundamentalists) and Christianity will be obliterated, are right, we are at war. What they fail to realized is that they are on the wrong team and the team they are playing on loses in the end. I pray for them all that they find peace, God willing.

    Only in America can people act in such a way. I was reading about Saudi Arabia and to even blaspheme the Koran (Qu’ran) and Allah would insight death or tortured with being lashed. Maybe we should send Atheists to Saudi Arabia and see how they feel in a country with no Christians, that is what they would like, yes? The grass may be greener on the other side BUT it will come with a higher cost. God Bless.

  13. Chris mankey

    “Only in America can people act in such a way.”

    Or Sweden,Norway,England,Scotland,Ireland,Canada
    Denmark,Holland or and European country.

    “Maybe we should send Atheists to Saudi Arabia and see how they feel in a country with no Christians, that is what they would like, yes?”

    Maybe we should send christian there to experience a country run by old testament type laws and no seperation of church and state. They can experience middle eastern theism in all its’ barbaric glory! “Happy is he who takes your little ones and dashes them against the stones”-psalm 137:9 is that what you would like, yes?

  14. Ranger

    I don’t know Chris,
    Europe is rapidly re-“religionizing.” Atheism seems to have peaked particularly in France, Norway and Sweden, but the rapid movement of African Christians, middle-eastern Muslims and eastern European Christians seems to signal a change, which some are predicting will be rather rapid. Of course, even in France, which is by far the most atheistic of these countries, only around 25% consider themselves atheists, with the majority still remaining Roman Catholic. There are plenty of recent studies suggesting that within twenty to thirty years Europe will be predominantly Muslim or Christian, but if you are truly interested and not simply ranting, then I suggest that you read Philip Jenkin’s studies on the issue.

  15. Cris Putnam

    Excuse me sir, your essay says “To call “evil” what was in fact good was to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:29)” I went to look up the verse.
    But there is no Matthew 3:29 – this must be a misprint.


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