You have heard the blasphemy

I’ve a piece up on Cif Belief reflecting on good blasphemy and bad blasphemy, having read James Frey’s new book. A taster:

Of course, Jesus was himself accused of blasphemy. In the story that will be rehearsed in churches during holy week, Jesus is asked by the high priest whether he’s the son of the blessed one, and he responds: “I am.” The high priest tears his clothes, saying: “You have heard the blasphemy.”

It’s usually religious authorities that declare something blasphemous because it challenges their religious power. The point here is that the life and death of Jesus show the world what God is like, Christians believe. Jesus is blasphemous because he challenges the notion that no one can see God and live, as Moses was told in the book of Exodus. It’s a good blasphemy. It lies at the foundation of the new faith Jesus inspired. Perhaps new faiths always spring out of good blasphemy.

Actually, now I think about it again, it’s not actually power that’s at stake, but authority. The high priests have the authority of their institution, but little or no natural authority by virtue of who they are – which by all accounts, Jesus had in spades.

Incidentally, if you want to see how scientists do blasphemy, peruse the row over EO Wilson’s switch from kin selection to group selection in evolutionary theory. Wilson’s charge is that kin selection is accepted as the orthodoxy though few seem to have actually done the maths. (Wilson’s collaborator, Martin Nowak, who has done the maths, was recently at the RSA.) Wilson is reported as saying, ‘What we’ve done is clear the way for a new period of research, unencumbered by the doctrinaire aspects of kin selection theory.’

The scientists will fight it out, but on the face of it, group selection would seem to make much better sense of my interest in this area, the phenomenon of friendship, of which reciprocal altruism could never make much sense, or so it seems to me.