My colleagues and I often care for patients suffering from hallucinations, prophesying, and claiming to speak with God, among other symptoms—in mental health care, it’s sometimes very difficult to tell apart religious belief from mental illness…. Our conclusions frequently stem from the behaviors we see before us. Take an example of a man who walks into an emergency department, mumbling incoherently. He says he’s hearing voices in his head, but insists there’s nothing wrong with him. He hasn’t used any drugs or alcohol. If he were to be evaluated by mental health professionals, there’s a good chance he might be diagnosed with a psychotic disorder like schizophrenia. But what if that same man were deeply religious? What if his incomprehensible language was speaking in tongues?
Reports state that the Film and Publications Board have developed new guidelines to alert sensitive viewers in more detail about the blasphemy that occurs in movies and in publications. The Board classifies and rates films in terms of seven categories, ranging from “A”, deemed “suitable for all ages”, to “18”, considered not suitable for persons under that age.
Over and above this classification it also provides information for viewers, by means of symbols, on each film’s content. “V” warns of violent scenes; “S” indicates scenes involving sexual conduct; “N” is for nudity; “L” is information about strong language; “B” is a blasphemy alert; and, “P” is advice that the material “contains scenes or language that is biased or prejudiced with regard to race, ethnicity, gender or religion or other group-identifiable characteristics”.
The Board is now ready to warn us poor viewers of different kinds or degrees of blasphemy. I would imagine on the one side one would get something like mild blasphemy (“MB”), which would entail the use of the Lord’s name. On the other extreme one would get something like extreme blasphemy (“EB), which would entail, say, depictions of Jesus having sex with one of his disciples.
Given the fact that our Constitution guarantees both freedom of religion and freedom of conscience, thought, belief and opinion, the Board might want to add another category to its warning system. Perhaps it should also warn non-believers about the content of films that endorse specific religious beliefs or explicitly or implicitly rejects or propagates hatred against those individuals who do not believe in a specific deity.
I am only a little bit facetious when I claim that especially children who are not brought up in a specific religious tradition might well need to be protected from films, say, that suggests non-believers will burn in hell (or, come to think of it, will be less likely to win the Lotto). What about movies in which speeches are made about the wonders of Jesus or Allah – surely atheist parents should be warned about such movies so that they can choose whether they want to expose their children to beliefs that they might view as primitive and dangerous?
If we assumed that the Constitution protects the beliefs of non-religious individuals to more or less the same degree as the beliefs of religious individuals, my proposal would not seem too far-fetched. But, of course, that is not the case.
Religion has a special place in our constitutional firmament and can be used to justify actions and behaviours which otherwise would never have passed constitutional muster. Thus, I would be hard pressed to convince a court to accept racial or gender discrimination on the basis of my non-religious beliefs.
Yet, no one can imagine that the
In our democracy non-religious beliefs are not nearly as well protected and highly regarded as religious beliefs, perhaps because non-religious beliefs are (rightly?) seen as being less important to most non-believers than religious beliefs are to believers.
Should us non-beleivers take this lying down?BACK TO TOP