Pious Irreverence: The Virtues of Blasphemy

Recent events have led me to think about the role of a set of beliefs and the place for people that may hold differing beliefs. Somewhere in all of that pondering, I started thinking about the difference between blasphemy, heresy and apostasy. That train of thought led to some musing on the virtues of blasphemy (relating to some slightly less recent events). So here are some thoughts about what I’ve termed “pious irreverence,” a somewhat paradoxical, but I think valuable mindset/activity/paradigm/thing.

Some terms that may be useful in drawing some of the distinctions that I think will help determine what is and is not acceptable follow. Unless otherwise noted the definitions given come from the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the only dictionary worth quoting for feeling pretentious.

Apostasy: Abandonment or renunciation of one’s religious faith or moral allegiance.

Heresy: Theological or religious opinion or doctrine maintained in opposition, or held to be contrary, to the ‘catholic’ or orthodox doctrine of the Christian Church, or, by extension, to that of any church, creed, or religious system, considered as orthodox.

Blasphemy: Profane speaking of God or sacred things; impious irreverence.

Profane: Of persons or things: unholy, or desecrating what is holy or sacred; unhallowed; ritually unclean or polluted; (esp. of religious rites) heathen, pagan.

Pious: Of an action, thought, resolve, etc.: characterized by, expressing, or resulting from true reverence and obedience to God; devout, religious.

Irreverence: The fact or quality of being irreverent; absence or violation of reverence; disrespect to a person or thing held sacred or worthy of honour.

Heresy is typically much less of a concern for the LDS Church, which focuses more on correctness of practice than belief. Some of this can be traced back to Joseph Smith, who once said:

“[Unlike the Latter-day Saints] Methodists have creeds which a man must believe or be asked out of their church. I want the liberty of thinking and believing as I please. It feels so good not to be trammeled [sic]. It does not prove that a man is not a good man because he errs in doctrine.”

Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 288

Now, my title is misleading, since the sort of ‘pious irreverence’ that I’m proposing is by definition NOT blasphemy, which must be “impious irreverence.” However, before we get there let’s explore why this action would not be apostasy, which I think is inherently damaging. The main distinction, for me, is the “abandonment or renunciation.” At that point, there is no trying to hold on to your faith.

So, “pious irreverence.” Yes, the phrase is inherently contradictory and paradoxical, but that’s part of the value that I see in it. I think there’s something to be said for finding truth and meaning in the places where ideas intersect and battle each other for primacy. The two key ideas that I pull from it are the devotion and love for God that piety denotes, brought into conversation with the violation of reverence from the idea of irreverence. This juxtaposition highlights a place where I can interact with deity in my lived experience, which is quite different than the roses, unicorns and butterflies world that I feel like is assumed when religion is discussed.

Not that my life has been particularly difficult, but my world of faith and belief is complicated (perhaps overly so because of my analytical personality). Anyway, I believe that humor is a key to addressing complicated, difficult issues and that when used to understand how we relate to the divine that humor will likely include a level of irreverence. At least, that’s the case for me.

That the origin of the humor is trying to understand and comes from a place of devotion though, is important (maybe not the origin of the comedian, but at least in interpreting and responding to it). I think that is the difference between pious irreverence and blasphemy. Allowing for such behavior/comments/thoughts creates a space where it’s ok and accepted to express frustration and confusion with religion and the divine, but with others that want to find room and belief.

There’s maybe even some scriptural precedent for this sort of thing. Abraham arguing with God about destroying Sodom and Gomorrah, seems to be a prime example of this sort of pious irreverence. I think of Jesus as snarky, but loving, so it’s not much of a stretch to support irreverence. I believe in a God who weeps; if He weeps, He sure better laugh or being God sucks (a little pious irreverence in action for you). I mean, if God had anything to do with platypuses (which are straight-up awesome), He has one fantastic sense of humor.

Having such an attitude allows me to find joy in difficult times. Some people may be naturally able to brush off trials as if they’re nothing and keep some sense of optimism in the face of death, destruction, failure, disease, etc. I am not really one of those people. But I can be when I have a sense of humor, often an irreverent one. I think feeling joy is a key part of our existence here and my sense of pious irreverence helps me to do that.

2010-06-05 08.10.46
Look! Liam Neeson is Jesus! Now, where’s his lightsaber…

I follow God on twitter—He’s hilarious (also profane and probably blasphemous, so be warned, offensive language awaits). The juxtaposition of things like that has all sorts of humorous possibilities. I feel closer to God because of my pious irreverence, not distanced from Him. And ultimately, isn’t that what life’s all about?

Spread a little pious irreverence (I’ve got a great Easter poem to share, so be on the lookout) and feel the joy.

Or maybe, I’m just going to Hell…

 

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