Quotations about:
    blasphemy


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Whoever increases the sum of human joy, is a worshipper.

He who adds to the sum of human misery, is a blasphemer.

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) American lawyer, agnostic, orator
Speech to the Jury, Trial of C. B. Reynolds for Blasphemy, Morristown, New Jersey (May 1887)
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Added on 20-Oct-21 | Last updated 20-Oct-21
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What is blasphemy? I will give you a definition; I will give you my thought upon this subject. What is real blasphemy?

To live on the unpaid labor of other men — that is blasphemy.

To enslave your fellow-man, to put chains upon his body — that is blasphemy.

To enslave the minds of men, to put manacles upon the brain, padlocks upon the lips — that is blasphemy.

To deny what you believe to be true, to admit to be true what you believe to be a lie — that is blasphemy.

To strike the weak and unprotected, in order that you may gain the applause of the ignorant and superstitious mob — that is blasphemy.

To persecute the intelligent few, at the command of the ignorant many — that is blasphemy.

To forge chains, to build dungeons, for your honest fellow-men — that is blasphemy.

To pollute the souls of children with the dogma of eternal pain — that is blasphemy.

To violate your conscience — that is blasphemy.

The jury that gives an unjust verdict, and the judge who pronounces an unjust sentence, are blasphemers.

The man who bows to public opinion against his better judgment and against his honest conviction, is a blasphemer.

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) American lawyer, agnostic, orator
Speech to the Jury, Trial of C. B. Reynolds for Blasphemy, Morristown, New Jersey (May 1887)
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Added on 13-Oct-21 | Last updated 13-Oct-21
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Blasphemy is what an old mistake says of a newly discovered truth.
Blasphemy is what a withered last year’s leaf says to a this year’s bud.
Blasphemy is the bulwark of religious prejudice.
Blasphemy is the breastplate of the heartless.
And let me say now, that the crime of blasphemy, as set out in this statute, is impossible. No man can blaspheme a book. No man can commit blasphemy by telling his honest thought. No man can blaspheme a God, or a Holy Ghost, or a Son of God. The Infinite cannot be blasphemed.

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) American lawyer, agnostic, orator
Speech to the Jury, Trial of C. B. Reynolds for Blasphemy, Morristown, New Jersey (May 1887)
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Added on 6-Oct-21 | Last updated 6-Oct-21
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There are thousands of things in the Scriptures that everybody believes. Everybody believes the Scriptures are right when they say, “Thou shalt not steal” — everybody. And when they say “Give good measure, heaped up and running over,” everybody says, “Good!” So when they say “Love your neighbor,” everybody applauds that.

Suppose a man believes that, and practices it, does it make any difference whether he believes in the flood or not? Is that of any importance? Whether a man built an ark or not — does that make the slightest difference? A man might deny it and yet be a very good man. Another might believe it and be a very mean man. Could it now, by any possibility, make a man a good father, a good husband, a good citizen? Does it make any difference whether you believe it or not?

Does it make any difference whether or not you believe that a man was going through town and his hair was a little short, like mine, and some little children laughed at him, and thereupon two bears from the woods came down and tore to pieces about forty of these children? Is it necessary to believe that? Suppose a man should say, “I guess that is a mistake. They did not copy that right. I guess the man that reported that was a little dull of hearing and did not get the story exactly right.” Any harm in saying that? Is a man to be sent to the penitentiary for that? Can you imagine an infinitely good God sending a man to hell because he did not believe the bear story?

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) American lawyer, agnostic, orator
Speech to the Jury, Trial of C. B. Reynolds for Blasphemy, Morristown, New Jersey (May 1887)
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Added on 29-Sep-21 | Last updated 29-Sep-21
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By force you can make hypocrites — men who will agree with you from the teeth out, and in their hearts hate you. We want no more hypocrites. We have enough in every community. And how are you going to keep from having more? By having the air free, — by wiping from your statute books such miserable and infamous laws as this.

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) American lawyer, agnostic, orator
Speech to the Jury, Trial of C. B. Reynolds for Blasphemy, Morristown, New Jersey (May 1887)
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Added on 22-Sep-21 | Last updated 22-Sep-21
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You can stand with the lash over a man, or you can stand by the prison door, or beneath the gallows, or by the stake, and say to this man: “Recant, or the lash descends, the prison door is locked upon you, the rope is put about your neck, or the torch is given to the fagot.” And so the man recants. Is he convinced? Not at all. Have you produced a new argument? Not the slightest. And yet the ignorant bigots of this world have been trying for thousands of years to rule the minds of men by brute force. They have endeavored to improve the mind by torturing the flesh — to spread religion with the sword and torch. They have tried to convince their brothers by putting their feet in iron boots, by putting fathers, mothers, patriots, philosophers and philanthropists in dungeons. And what has been the result? Are we any nearer thinking alike to-day than we were then?

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) American lawyer, agnostic, orator
Speech to the Jury, Trial of C. B. Reynolds for Blasphemy, Morristown, New Jersey (May 1887)
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Added on 8-Sep-21 | Last updated 8-Sep-21
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For thousands of years people have been trying to force other people to think their way. Did they succeed? No. Will they succeed? No. Why? Because brute force is not an argument.

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) American lawyer, agnostic, orator
Speech to the Jury, Trial of C. B. Reynolds for Blasphemy, Morristown, New Jersey (May 1887)
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Added on 26-Aug-21 | Last updated 26-Aug-21
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All laws for the purpose of making man worship God, are born of the same spirit that kindled the fires of the auto da fe, and lovingly built the dungeons of the Inquisition. All laws defining and punishing blasphemy — making it a crime to give your honest ideas about the Bible, or to laugh at the ignorance of the ancient Jews, or to enjoy yourself on the Sabbath, or to give your opinion of Jehovah, were passed by impudent bigots, and should be at once repealed by honest men.

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) American lawyer, agnostic, orator
Some Mistakes of Moses, Sec. 3 “The Politicians” (1879)
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Added on 11-Aug-21 | Last updated 11-Aug-21
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To make sure that my blasphemy is thoroughly expressed, I hereby state my opinion that the notion of a god is a basic superstition, that there is no evidence for the existence of any god(s), that devils, demons, angels and saints are myths, that there is no life after death, heaven nor hell, that the Pope is a dangerous, bigoted, medieval dinosaur, and that the Holy Ghost is a comic-book character worthy of laughter and derision. I accuse the Christian god of murder by allowing the Holocaust to take place — not to mention the “ethnic cleansing” presently being performed by Christians in our world — and I condemn and vilify this mythical deity for encouraging racial prejudice and commanding the degradation of women. (This comprehensive statement was arrived at by examining the statutes of those seven states that have remained in the Dark Ages, so that I might satisfy their definitions of blasphemy.)

James Randi
James Randi (1928-2020) Canadian-American stage magician ("The Amazing Randi") and scientific skeptic. [b. Randall James Hamilton Zwinge]
Skeptic Magazine (1995)


Written in an unsuccessful attempt to garner an official charge of blasphemy from any of those seven states that still had such laws on the books.
 
Added on 4-Aug-21 | Last updated 4-Aug-21
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I am a lover of truth, a worshipper of freedom, a celebrant at the altar of language and purity and tolerance. That is my religion, and every day I am sorely, grossly, heinously and deeply offended, wounded, mortified and injured by a thousand different blasphemies against it. When the fundamental canons of truth, honesty, compassion and decency are hourly assaulted by fatuous bishops, pompous, illiberal and ignorant priests, politicians and prelates, sanctimonious censors, self-appointed moralists and busy-bodies, what recourse of ancient laws have I? None whatever. Nor would I ask for any. For unlike these blistering imbeciles my belief in my religion is strong and I know that lies will always fail and indecency and intolerance will always perish.

Stephen Fry
Stephen Fry (b. 1957) British actor, writer, comedian
“Trefusis Blasphemes,” Loose Ends radio program (1986)


Reprinted in Paperweight (1992).
 
Added on 21-Jul-21 | Last updated 21-Jul-21
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One can only blaspheme if one believes.

W. H. Auden (1907-1973) Anglo-American poet [Wystan Hugh Auden]
“Concerning the Unpredictable,” Forewords and Afterwords (1973)
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Added on 14-Jul-21 | Last updated 14-Jul-21
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FAUSTUS: Blasphemy and prayer are one. Both assert the existence of a superior power. The first, however, with conviction.

David Mamet (b. 1947) American writer, playwright, director
Faustus (2004)
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Added on 7-Jul-21 | Last updated 7-Jul-21
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Act as the wisest have acted before you, and do not commence your exercises in philosophy in those regions where an error can deliver you over to the executioner.

Georg C. Lichtenberg (1742-1799) German physicist, writer
Aphorisms, Notebook C, #16 [142] (1772-73) [tr. Hollingdale (1960)]
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Alternate translation: "Act as the wisest before you have acted, and do not begin your philosophical exercises where an error can deliver you into the hands of the executioner." [tr. Tester (2012)]
 
Added on 6-Jul-21 | Last updated 6-Jul-21
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To me, at least, the greatest blasphemy in the world is not the denial of God’s existence, but the claim that we have a pipeline to Him, and that all other claimants are wrong. This assertion is what plunged the world into the bloodiest of wars in the past, and might well do so again if the zealots had their way.

Sydney J. Harris (1917-1986) Anglo-American columnist, journalist, author
“Strictly Personal” column (20 Jan 1985)


Reprinted in Clearing the Ground (1986)
 
Added on 30-Jun-21 | Last updated 30-Jun-21
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Idiot, not to know
his days are numbered who would fight the gods!
His children will not sing around his knees
“Papà! Papà!” on his return from war.

Ὅττι μάλ’ οὐ δηναιὸς ὃς ἀθανάτοισι μάχηται,
οὐδέ τί μιν παῖδες ποτὶ γούνασι παππάζουσιν
ἐκ πολέμοιο καὶ αἰνῆς δηϊοτῆτος.

Homer (fl. 7th-8th C. BC) Greek author
The Iliad [Ἰλιάς], Book 5, l. 407ff (5.407-409) (c. 750 BC) [tr. Fitzgerald (1974), l. 467ff]
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Alt. trans.:

Not knowing he that fights with Heav’n hath never long to live,
And for this deed, he never shall have child about his knee
To call him father, coming home.
[tr. Chapman (1611), ll. 387-89]

No man who fights with gods will live long or hear his children prattling about his knees when he returns from battle.
[tr. Butler (1898)]

Know thou, whoe'er with heavenly power contends,
Short is his date, and soon his glory ends;
From fields of death when late he shall retire,
No infant on his knees shall call him sire.
[tr. Pope (1715-20)]

Infatuate! he forgets
That whoso turns against the Gods his arm
Lives never long; he never, safe escaped
From furious fight, the lisp’d caresses hears
Of his own infants prattling at his knees.
[tr. Cowper (1791), ll. 474-78]

Infatuate! nor does the son of Tydeus know this in his mind, that he is by no means long-lived who fights with the immortals, nor ever at his knees will sons lisp a father’s name, as he returns from war and dreadful battle.
[tr. Buckley (1860)]

Unknowing he how short his term of life
Who fights against the Gods! for him no child
Upon his knee shall lisp a father's name,
Safe from the war and battle-field return'd.
[tr. Derby (1864), ll. 463-466]

Verily he endureth not for long who fighteth with the immortals, nor do his children prattle about his knees when he is come back from war and the dread conflict.
[tr. Murray (1924)]

That man who fights the immortals lives for no long time, his children do not gather to his knees to welcome their father when he returns home after the fighting and the bitter warfare.
[tr. Lattimore (1951)]

Doesn't the son of Tydeus know, down deep,
the man who fights the gods does not live long?
Nor do his children ride his knees with cries of 'Father' --
home at last from the wars and heat of battle.
[tr. Fagles (1990), ll. 465-468]

 
Added on 9-Sep-20 | Last updated 8-Dec-21
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Want is a master which can sometimes make
A man the gravest sacrilege commit.

[Perché il bisogno a dispogliar gli altari
ra’ l’uom talvolta, che sel trova avere.]

Ludovico Ariosto (1474-1533) Italian poet
Orlando Furioso, Canto 43, st. 90 (1532) [tr. Reynolds (1973)]


Alt. trans.: "For man, alas, will sometimes disarray / The altar, when he finds himself in need ...." [tr. Rose (1831)]
 
Added on 11-May-20 | Last updated 11-May-20
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For telling a good and incisive religious joke, you should be praised. For telling a bad one, you should be ridiculed and reviled. The idea that you could be prosecuted for the telling of either is quite fantastic.

Rowan Atkinson (b. 1955) English actor, comedian, and screenwriter
Letter to The Times of London (Oct 2001)
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Regarding proposed legislation outlaw "incitement to religious hatred."
 
Added on 8-May-15 | Last updated 8-May-15
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There is no great invention, from fire to flying, which has not been hailed as an insult to some god.

J.B.S. Haldane (1892-1964) English geneticist [John Burden Sanderson Haldane]
“Daedalus, or Science and the Future,” speech, Cambridge (24 Feb 1923)
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Added on 21-Nov-14 | Last updated 21-Nov-14
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Well aware that the opinions and belief of men depend not on their own will, but follow involuntarily the evidence proposed to their minds; that Almighty God hath created the mind free, and manifested his supreme will that free it shall remain by making it altogether insusceptible of restraint; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments, or burthens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, who being lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do, but to extend it by its influence on reason alone; that the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men, have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavoring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time ….

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
“Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom,” Preamble (18 Jun 1779; enacted 16 Jan 1786)
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During final debate around the bill's passage:
  • the first clause was struck, changing the beginning to "Whereas Almighty God ...."
  • the phrase "and manifested his supreme will that free it shall remain by making it altogether insusceptible of restraint" was struck.
  • the phrase "but to extend it by its influence on reason alone" was struck.
See Jefferson's discussion about a failed amendment to the preamble here.
 
Added on 26-Jul-12 | Last updated 4-Jul-22
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What is blasphemy? I will give you a definition; I will give you my thought upon this subject. What is real blasphemy?
To live on the unpaid labor of other men — that is blasphemy.
To enslave your fellow-man, to put chains upon his body — that is blasphemy.
To enslave the minds of men, to put manacles upon the brain, padlocks upon the lips — that is blasphemy.
To deny what you believe to be true, to admit to be true what you believe to be a lie — that is blasphemy.
To strike the weak and unprotected, in order that you may gain the applause of the ignorant and superstitious mob — that is blasphemy.
To persecute the intelligent few, at the command of the ignorant many — that is blasphemy.
To forge chains, to build dungeons, for your honest fellow-men — that is blasphemy.
To pollute the souls of children with the dogma of eternal pain — that is blasphemy.
To violate your conscience — that is blasphemy.
The jury that gives an unjust verdict, and the judge who pronounces an unjust sentence, are blasphemers.
The man who bows to public opinion against his better judgment and against his honest conviction, is a blasphemer.

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) American lawyer, agnostic, orator
Trial of C.B. Reynolds for blasphemy (May 1887)
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Added on 15-Feb-12 | Last updated 9-Feb-16
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Monty Python’s usual schoolboy humour is here let loose on a period of history appropriately familiar to every schoolboy in the West, and a faith which could be shaken by such good-humoured ribaldry would be a very precarious faith indeed.

(Other Authors and Sources)
The British Board Of Film Censors, Report on Life of Brian (1979)
 
Added on 12-May-11 | Last updated 4-Sep-16
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There is but one blasphemy, and that is injustice.

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) American lawyer, agnostic, orator
Lecture, Chicago (20 Sep 1880)
 
Added on 1-Mar-11 | Last updated 4-Feb-16
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Books that cannot bear examination, certainly ought not to be established as divine inspiration by penal laws.

John Adams (1735-1826) American lawyer, Founding Father, statesman, US President (1797-1801)
Letter to Thomas Jefferson (23 Jan 1825)
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Added on 25-Jul-08 | Last updated 16-Jun-21
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How has the church in every age, when in authority, defended itself? Always by a statute against blasphemy, against argument, against free speech. And there never was such a statute that did not stain the book that it was in and that did not certify to the savagery of the men who passed it.

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) American lawyer, agnostic, orator
Trial of C.B. Reynolds for blasphemy (May 1887)
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Added on 28-Mar-08 | Last updated 9-Feb-16
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An infinite God ought to be able to protect himself, without going in partnership with State Legislatures. Certainly he ought not so to act that laws become necessary to keep him from being laughed at.

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) American lawyer, agnostic, orator
Some Mistakes of Moses, Sec. 3 “The Politicians” (1879)
 
Added on 24-Jan-08 | Last updated 4-Feb-16
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Humor distorts nothing, and only false gods are laughed off their pedestals.

Agnes Repplier (1855-1950) American writer
(Attributed)
 
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 24-Apr-17
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We despise all reverences and all objects of reverence which are outside the pale of our list of sacred things. And yet, with strange inconsistency, we are shocked when other people despise and defile the things which are holy to us.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
Following the Equator (1897)
 
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 26-Jan-19
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If a man, holding a belief which he was taught in childhood or persuaded of afterwards, keeps down and pushes away any doubts which arise about it in his mind, purposely avoids the reading of books and the company of men that call in question and discuss it, and regards as impious those questions which cannot easily be asked without disturbing it — the life of that man is one long sin against mankind.

William Kingdon Clifford (1845-1879) English mathematician and philosopher
“The Ethics of Belief,” Part 1 “The Duty of Inquiry,” Contemporary Review (Jan 1877)
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Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 10-Jan-20
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All great truths begin as blasphemies.

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) British playwright and critic
Annajanska (1919)
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Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 8-Dec-21
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