RTE’s ‘blasphemous’ comedy sketch – opinions of an atheist and a Catholic priest

This article is written by Peter Hinchliffe, who runs the Atheist Ireland Kerry Group.

A few weeks ago a local paper asked if I could submit responses to questions raised by the issue of RTEs sketch showing the Abrahamic god being arrested for the rape of Mary. The Paper had also contacted a local representative of the Catholic Faith (Fr Kevin McNamara) and asked him some Mirror questions.

It was my impression that both sides would be printed opposite one another, but what actually happened was that our answers were used to create a piece that gave the appearance of a first person interview. This meant that much of my argument was lost, some conclusions watered down or left out in favour of my starting speculation and in general I felt a very weak argumentThe RTE  was put forward for my own contribution.

Fr McNamara had answered his questions on the phone rather than in writing so had no record, but was happy to redo the project with me, using the questions sent to me as his guide. Obviously his own original contribution would have undergone the same change in format, but he had no written copy. He is aware that this will be published on a secular website aimed at people who would not share his views, and I can only give him credit for doing so.

Here are my answers to the questions:

1. What is your opinion of the RTE sketch depicting God being arrested for sexual offences?

The sketch did not happen in a bubble, the account of Marys impregnation was not written by Atheists or non-believers and it has not been passed down and taught by those either. In Ireland the Catholic Church uses the schools it controls to teach that even though Mary did not understand and was frightened and confused she still said yes, in the last few years they produced a poster for the classrooms of six year olds depicting Mary as a young girl sitting on a bed with exactly that message, the message is clear and extremely dangerous, but this is the teaching today.

If we forget about the comedy sketch and instead imagine that argument for consent being used in a court of law, what outcome would we expect and what title would we give to the alleged offender? If after the trial we were then told that the offender had a recorded history of ordering multiple counts of mass murder, genocide, infanticide and rape, would we struggle to call him what he was?

None of this is taken from anywhere but the bible and Christian teaching, but today the catholic church demands not only the right to spread this tale in state schools but also to control how we interpret it and in that way very definitely seeks to have its cake and eat it.

2. Why would anyone feel the need to upset a person’s faith just for the sake of being humorous?

It’s an odd question, “why do we feel the need” that’s very much part of the human condition, we laugh at things for a number of reasons and we find things amusing that others do not.

I would have to ask: how do we decide that humour is inappropriate or crosses a line? Is it all good until one person is offended, two people, a hundred?

We can fall back on some basic principles, the same principles that we apply in so many other areas. The main one being that people have rights ideas do not.  All religions are ideologies, exactly the same as political ideologies or those wild conspiracy theories that are becoming more popular amongst other things.

Many people hold their religious beliefs very sincerely and feel a personal affront when they are challenged, not just in humour but in general discourse, we have no control over those feelings of offence, they can pop up at any time for an infinite number of reasons and if we give them the power to censor as we have in the past, those feelings will be wielded mightily in place of good argument or rational debate.

In this context I can only give my personal take on the humour because it is of course subjective. For millennia the church has taught that its god is a loving god, a powerful god and of course a vengeful god, many of us can clearly see it is also a petty narcissistic god and it is beyond doubt that if you followed its many hundreds of commandments you would receive multiple life sentences.

Of course I don’t believe this god is guilty of anything, especially existence, but the fact is that for a very long time people with far too much power have been telling us that not only is this all real, but its wondrous and we had better get in line and say thank you and of course respect their authority because of it- if that’s not a recipe for some humour I for one certainly do not know what is.

3. Do you feel sorry for those who feel offended?

I feel sympathy for those offended, I understand that many good decent people have a great love for the god they believe in and for the character of Mary. I support fully their right to state their feelings, to produce counter argument and to make demands for their feelings to be taken into account and for the skit to be censured. That is their right.

However RTE should have shown more courage and should not have apologised, a simple acknowledgement that feelings were hurt but that that is not uncommon in humour would have sufficed.

The skit was not conjured up simply to offend and attack individual believers. They could have done that in a number of ways to little point. This skit only worked because it was based on the Bible and the teachings of the Christian churches, if those very churches with their bishops at the helm had not sold the impregnation of a person incapable of giving informed consent as a positive act based on nothing but her supposed adoration and fear of the perpetrator the skit would have fallen flat to all observers, let us remember that is exactly what they teach in schools today.

Religions have their own agendas, they want to spread just like any other institution and of course they want to keep what they already have, they succeeded for hundreds of years in making questioning of them a dangerous act, in many Islamic theocracies it still is, just as political descent is so dangerous in countries like china, dogma is a humourless stance in any ideology.

They demand the right to a special status based solely on their view that that is their entitlement, that their message is so special it is beyond parody and humour and they demand that they not anyone else be the judge of when that line is crossed.
So yes I have sympathy for the individuals, but offence is not cause for censorship and deciding where offence crosses the line cannot be left to the offended.

4. What pleases you most about having the offence of blasphemy removed from the Constitution?

Personally I was most pleased by its international effect, we know that the blasphemy law had a chilling effect on Irish broadcasting and media and just by existing raised certain ideological positions to exemptions from critique that were not only bad for personnel freedoms but gave state endorsement for their claims of being above and protected from normal human discourse.

It is only fair to point out that removing the blasphemy law had support from many churches and individuals of various faiths and without this modern secular understanding by the religious majority it could not have passed.

But for me it was the removal of the Irish law as an argument by the Islamic theocracies for their own laws that was the greatest benefit, they in effect have the same law but exercise a far more ferocious regime of punishment and now they can never again go the  UN as they have in the past and hold up the Irish law in defence of their own.

Atheist Ireland continues to argue against such laws around the world and their political equivalents in dictatorships and one party states that are to all effect in the same basket of bloody oppressors.

5. Just because the offence of blasphemy has been removed from the Constitution, should it be carte blance when it comes to denigrating a person’s religion?

An individual has the right to practice their faith within the law without harassment, it is still illegal to harass an individual and harassing them for their religion is no more excusable than harassing them for their gender, skin colour, sexuality or even political affiliation.

However the religion itself, just like a political or any other ideological belief is not protected.

We must have the freedom to say the emperor has no clothes, or if we sincerely believe it that he has lovely clothes. We must have the freedom to refute dogma and challenge beliefs no matter if those beliefs state we cannot, to say that Angels do not exist and Mohamed was either insane or lying.

Mohammed married an underage prepubescent child. This is not just a supernatural bit of hocus pocus but an actual human event, and I look forward to the day when people in Iran, Pakistan, Saudi etc can sit at home and watch a skit of him being dragged into court for the following rape.

Gods don’t exist, so that’s everything else covered and with that I would hope to have exercised my right to not only question but refuse the teachings of the churches, mosques, synagogues, temples etc. etc. that our ancestors built so much importance into. I should add for the Buddhists that are also atheists, he without doubt was often very wrong and ate all the pies. (bad jokes have rights too)

6. What would you say to those who are offended by the sketch?

I would say so you should be, you not only have the right but if you are sincere in your beliefs the duty to be offended when your god is shown to be arrested.

But you do not have the right to be offended at the charge, because of that the character is without doubt guilty and we know he is guilty because your church rubbed that guilt in everyone’s face for millennia.

Next I would say thank you, thank you for being so outraged so monumentally outraged that you would seek to remove this skit. I don’t agree with you and I don’t think you should succeed but I appreciate it.

That I know of not one stone has been thrown, not one threat issued against the people involved, no one has called for anyone’s death.
like millions of your fellow humans be they Muslim, Jew, atheist or whatever rattles yer cornflakes you are on my side and I am on yours, the side of peaceful if often angry disagreement. Feel free to buy me a pint one day and we can argue this as people of any ideological difference should – rationally.

Here are Father McNamara’s answers to the questions:

Q1. What is your opinion of the RTE sketch depicting God being arrested for sexual offences?

The sketch was downright offensive to those of us who claim to have faith. While some freely choose to have no faith for their own well informed and good logical reasons, those of us, like myself, who have faith were very hurt by this sketch.  This was not funny or indeed was it comedy.  Leaving religion and God aside at the moment can one imagine the following.  A sketch is made to poke fun at those with Down Syndrome/Aspergers/Autism or folk like myself who are overweight.  While many might laugh on what was said and acted out about the aforementioned, how would such people and their loved ones feel.  Surely their conditions should be respected and not made fun of.

To understand Our Blessed Lady’s story (Mary), one has to approach it with faith (acknowledgement of the existence of God).  The Incarnation was an invitation to Our Lady to carry in her womb the Saviour of the World.  She had a choice, it was not something forced on her.  Her response was “I am the handmade of the Lord, let what you have said be done onto me”.  God gives everyone free will, how we use it is our own personal choice.

In modern day Ireland, parents have a choice to send their children to Catholic or non-Catholic schools.  If they choose Catholic education, their children will experience the Catholic Faith/Ethos which is taught to them.  Not forced on them – they too can choose to accept or reject it.

It is with shame and embarrassment that I readily confess the so-called Catholic Schools in our country hurt and wounded so many children in their care.  They brought the fear of God to them rather than the love of God.  Equally, child sexual abuse and in recent days the Mother & baby Homes Report have shown all of us how some in the Church were so evil and downright unchristian and were awful to children and their unmarried mothers.  It saddens me beyond words that a former Cardinal of Ireland stated: “You must have an informed conscience and I will inform it”.

I think the sketch in question was made in response as to how the Church of the past hurt and crushed so many people, but there are those of us in the Church that have no hand, act or part in that shameful and awful history.  That is why the sketch was so offensive.

Q2.  Why would anyone feel the need to upset a person’s faith just for the sake of being humorous?

One of the reasons I would think is to upset those in authority in the Church who are always very quick to come out and condemn such irreverence towards articles of faith.  Yet those same authorities have been silent and have covered up grotesque wrong doing against innocent Church members.  I feel offensive humour is not the way to tackle this wrong doing.

Q3. Do you feel sorry for those who feel offended?

Very much so.  Its more painful when one considers that the vast majority of those offended by this sketch are those who are paying a license fee to RTE.  Paying RTE to broadcast blasphemy.

Q4. What pleases you most about having the offence of blasphemy removed from the Constitution?

I think the blasphemy law needs to be revisited and looked at again.  What was removed from our constitution I think has resulted that the sacredness and mystery of religious belief is fair game to be ridiculed and made fun of.  Blasphemy was not in the constitution to protect Church leaders or to put them above the law.  Rather it was in place to respect the Doctrine of Faith – not man made but rather God given.

Q5. Just because the offence of blasphemy has been removed from the Constitution, should it be carte blance when it comes to denigrating a person’s religion?

In this country the only religion that is denigrated and ridiculed is the Catholic Faith.


Atheist Ireland