“Should Civil Laws Forbid Blasphemy?” The American Sentinel 4, 34, pp. 269, 270.

OUR National Reform friend, Mr. N. R. Johnston, takes us to task for printing the article in the SENTINEL No. 28, under the above heading. He says:—

“Your editorial under this head is wrong because it is all based upon a wrong definition of blasphemy. You follow the writings of civilians who know no more than you should know—and not so much. Watson says, ‘There can be no blasphemy where there is not an impious purpose to derogate from the divine Majesty and to alienate the minds of others from the love of God. The blasphemer is no other than the caluminator of almighty God.’ Such an act is a most heinous sin against God, and against man, against government and against its divine author, and therefore should not be tolerated but punished.”

We knew at the time that the full definition of blasphemy was not given. The object of the article was to expose the evil of that part of the definition which makes blasphemy consist of speaking against the accepted religion. For that reason we did not quote the definition in full, reserving that part of it for another article which Mr. Johnston’s communication demands, but which would have appeared soon even though he had not written. We quote it from the same authority from which we quoted the other; that is, “Cooley’s Constitution of Limitations,” He says:—

“Blasphemy has been defined as consisting in speaking evil of the Deity with an impious purpose to derogate from the divine majesty and to alienate the minds of others from the love of God.”

It is seen that this definition is in substance the same as that quoted by Mr. Johnston from Watson, and therefore the distinction which he would make between the writings of civilians and those of theologians on this point, is not valid. The later part of the definition involves the speaking against the accepted religion, because when a government forbids anybody from speaking so as to alienate the minds of others from the love and reverence of God, it has to set up some form of governmental idea of God. Such governmental idea can be only that which is held by the majority in the government. And for anybody to speak in such a way as to alienate the minds of those people from that governmental idea of God is necessarily held by such government to be blasphemy. The Russian system is a case in point in which this principle appeals in its perfect baldness. As it prohibits the speaking in any such way as to turn anybody’s mind from the accepted religion, whoever does so is guilty of blasphemy and incurs the penalty of forfeiture of all civil rights and banishment to the most re-mote parts of Siberia. Any such system as that is as wicked as blasphemy itself.

Our object in this article, however, is not to defend the previous article, but to examine the merits of the other part of the definition of blasphemy not noticed in that, and that is, of its consisting in speaking with an impious purpose to derogate from the divine Majesty. We should like for our correspondent or anybody else to explain how any man’s speaking against God can derogate from the divine Majesty. The majesty of Jehovah does not consist in what men give to him. He is the eternal God, and is eternal and infinite in majesty as well as in every other attribute. Then what men may or may not do cannot effect his majesty to the slightest possible degree. If all men on the earth were, to-day, to break out in the most hideous possible reviling of the Lord, that couldn’t effect his majesty in the least. It would cause the further degradation of the men themselves and lessen their own dignity; but it couldnt effect the dignity of God nor degrade him. Before there ever was a man or intelligent creature God had all the majesty that he has now and all that he ever will have, and he would have had that majesty had man never been created.

The creation of all intelligent creatures was not with the proud, selfish purpose of building himself up, or of increasing his dignity; but it was out of love to them, that they might have the joy of eternal joy in his presence. And all these intelligences ever can do is either in gratitude to him to enjoy eternally the blessedness of that joy, or by sin to rob themselves of it. If any choose to rob themselves of it, as many have, that does not in the least derogate from the divine majesty. If any choose to enjoy it, as untold myriads have chosen, that does not add any to his majesty. He is the self-existing One. Complete in himself, in every perfection, and nothing ever can derogate from his divine majesty. Therefore such a definition of blasphemy expressing such an idea of the Deity as that he can be robbed of his divine majesty is in itself blasphemy.

The truth is, that the idea expressed in these definitions of blasphemy is wholly pagan. It is becoming only to man-made gods, as all but Jehovah have ever been. The gods of the heathen have always been only such as the heathen themselves made. When men make a god it is evident on the face of it that all the majesty which that god can ever have is such as those men can give to him. Therefore the more worshipers that god has the more majesty he has; the fewer worshipers, the less majesty; consequently, when anybody should speak against those gods in a way to lessen men’s reverence for them, this was to derogate from their majesty.

If, for instance, one of these gods had fifty thousand worshipers, he had, comparatively, a good deal of majesty; but if twenty-five thousand of these worshipers should turn against him, he would only have half as much majesty as he had before; and if all his worshipers should desert him he would have no majesty at all. This legal definition of blasphemy, and those who defend it, do therefore put Jehovah, the self-existent One, the God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ, they do put him upon a level with all the heathen gods as one who derives his majesty from men, and one from whose majesty the words and actions of men can derogate. And as real blasphemy is to attribute to God that which is contrary to his nature, and does not belong to him, or to deny what does; and as the legal definition of blasphemy does both of these; it is demonstrated that the legal definition of blasphemy is in itself blasphemous.

But it is asked, Did not Jehovah himself for-bid blasphemy and punish it? Yes, he did and he does yet. But he never did forbid it because he is afraid he will lose some of his majesty. Not at all. He forbids it because it is sin; because it is wickedness; because it is rebellion against divine authority. And this is why it is that when civil governments undertake to punish it, they usurp the authority of God. In all the statute books on this subject it is treated as an offense against God, which only argues that the Lord is not capable of dealing with offenses against himself; that therefore the government must take it upon itself to help him. This is only again to come down to the pagan idea and put him upon a level with all the man-made gods who are incapable of dealing with offenders.

There is an old lesson upon this subject which we would sincerely commend to the careful study of judges, jurists, lawyers, and National Reformers. It is recorded in the sixth chapter of Judges. Israel had fallen into idolatry and were overrun by the Midianites. Gideon was called of the Lord to save Israel from the hand of the Midianites. The great majority of the people of his own city, and even his father, were worshipers of Baal. Gideon was directed to throw down the altar of Baal and cut down the Asherah that was by it, and build an altar unto the Lord, and take a young bullock and offer it for a burnt offering and to burn it with the wood of the Baalim which he had dethroned. And because there were so many of the idol worshipers there, he did not dare to do it in the day time and did it at night. When the people arose the next morning, and went out to worship, they found their gods were destroyed. Somebody had derogated immensely from the majesty of Baal. Such a thing as that could not be suffered. They set on foot a diligent investigation to discover the one who had so wickedly blasphemed. “And when they inquired and asked, they said, Gideon the son of Joash hath done this thing. Then the men of the city said unto Joash, bring out thy son, that he may die; because he hath cast down the altar of Baal, and because he hath cut down the grove that was by it. And Joash said unto all that stood against him, will ye plead for Baal? Will ye save him? … If he be a god let him plead for himself, because one path cast down his altar.” Joash was wise. That decision is sound. It would be well if the legislators and the judges of the different States in the United States were up to the same level and would allow that, when offenses are committed against the Lord, he is capable of dealing with those offenses himself. Let them leave such questions entirely to the Lord, and thus show that they really believe him to be what they profess to believe he is.

Civil laws against blasphemy are becoming only to pagan and papal systems; the one, [270] having only such gods as they make themselves, whose gods only derive their majesty from men and have only such as men give them; the other, recognizing a living and self-existence God yet usurps his authority and his prerogative. The government of the United States, with which that of all the States should be put in harmony, is distinct from both these and by its Constitution absolutely forbidding religious tests, and religious legislation, stands in harmony with the word of Jehovah, the living and true God, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour of sinners, whose majesty is his own, eternal and infinite, and never can be derogated from; and who can deal with offenders without any of the jury-meddling mediumship of earthly governments.

A. T. J.

Share this: