During a radio interview with La Zanzara (“The Mosquito”) in 2014, famed Italian photographer Oliviero Toscani discussed a hypothetical situation in which an alien landed in the country and walked into a Catholic Church for the first time.
Oblivious to religious beliefs, he said, the alien would notice a bloody Jesus on a cross, tortured saints, nude angels… and be horrified by what it was seeing. Hell, a club devoted to masochism wouldn’t be nearly as disturbing!
Imagine to be an alien who has just landed in Italy. You enter in a beautiful Catholic church, without knowing anything about religion. You enter and you see a bloodied man hanged and nailed to a cross, an altar with naked babies flying, Saint Bernard [he meant Saint Bartholomew] without the skin… I believe that a masochist club wouldn’t be such at the upfront.
He said in that same interview that the Church was a “men-only club” and that he had been molested by a priest when he was a child.
For all that, Toscani (above) was charged with blasphemy, which is still a crime in Italy. In 2006, the law changed… but only to include blasphemy against non-Catholic religions as well. This week, a judge handed Toscani a fine of €4,000 (roughly $4,452 USD) and compared his rhetoric to that of a radical Muslim imam.
Defining Christ on the cross as “someone hanged” is a manifestation of the profound disrespect for the values of Christianity, disrespect comparable only to the worst propagandist language of a Muslim fundamentalist preacher.
To be clear, what Judge Ambrogio Moccia said is far more disturbing than anything ever uttered by Toscani, who now plans to appeal the decision.
The reaction from various Humanist groups has been exactly what you’d expect: a stunned rejection of a victimless crime.
The Italian Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics called the punishment “disconcerting” while Gary McLelland, CEO of Humanists International, reiterated his group’s support for the repeal of blasphemy laws worldwide:
As humanists we keep advocating for the full and immediate abolition of all blasphemy laws worldwide, but especially in Europe. We do this because in predominantly Islamic states, where blasphemers face prison or death penalty, governments often justify the use of their blasphemy laws by pointing to the existence of such laws in Europe.
We hope that Italy’s Constitutional Court will overturn the sentence against Toscani, opening the way for the full abolition of blasphemy laws in Italy. In the meantime, we invite all humanist organizations and individuals around the world to join our coalition to #EndBlasphemyLaws worldwide.
In 2017, when the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom released its periodic report on blasphemy laws, nations were given a score of 0 (free speech all around) to 80 (the harshest blasphemy laws imaginable). Nations like Iran and Pakistan — oppressive and Islamic — received scores in the 60s.
Italy received a 56.2.
The law needs to change. The charges against Toscani should be dropped. Or perhaps more people just need to blaspheme until everyone else gets used to it.
(Screenshot via YouTube)