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Asking the clergy about degrees of blasphemy

What is blasphemy and are some forms of it worse than others? Our clergy discuss who gets hurt by it and why.

Pastor Jim Lupis, Grace & Truth Church, Coram:

Yes, there are degrees of blasphemy. Taking God's name in vain is less blasphemous than disrespecting him, disdaining him or denying him.

Blasphemy is anything that goes against the Lord, anything derogatory, such as cursing God. The Lord is to be revered. Jesus said that is the only sin that won't be forgiven -- blaspheming the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:31, Mark 3:22-30).

We have to remember that God is not on our level. He is not our next-door neighbor. We need to have respect for him. He is our father. He can be our best friend, but he still must be respected.

Who do you hurt when you blaspheme? Think about your children: When they disrespect you, they can really hurt you. In a relationship with the Lord, do we hurt him? God is God, but can we hurt him, offend him? More important, what we are truly hurting is our relationship with him, and possibly the relationship of those around us and their possible relationship with God. We're defying his power. We also can blaspheme by the way we live our lives, but the height of blasphemy is by our words.

Brother Gary Cregan, O.S.F., principal, St. Anthony's High School, South Huntington:

First, you have to understand the definition of blasphemy. It is directly opposed to the Second Commandment. It consists in uttering against God inwardly or outwardly. It includes words of hatred, reproach and speaking ill of God.

For me, I'd have to ask questions about what was the intent of the person. If your intent is to publicly blaspheme God and to perhaps hurt others as a result of that, it is far more grave than accidental statements said in private that may not have full intent. Both are wrong, but there are degrees. I don't think an inward thought is as profound as an outward blasphemous statement.

When I was in North Carolina for 10 years, I would occasionally use an expression that was not appropriate to the culture. Our language here on Long Island can be more harsh than in other parts of the country. What is an acceptable figure of speech here is something that a God-fearing Christian in North Carolina wouldn't use.

"Gosh darn" is substituted for "God damn" in many other places than Long Island. "God damn" is a public act of taking the Lord's name in vain. This flippant figure of speech is not right, but it is different from trying to publicly profane Jesus or decrease the grandeur of God.

They're all grave acts. For Catholics, this is the kind of stuff we talk about in confession or with our confessor.

How damaging it is to your own soul when you blaspheme is up to God, not to the clergy. Blaspheming is a slow and steady whittle. You're lessening your relationship with God, not God's relationship with you.

Habeeb U. Ahmed, first vice president, Islamic Center of Long Island, Westbury:

If you look at the word "blasphemy" in the dictionary, you get a variety of meanings, including cursing, disrespectful, godless, insulting, sacrilegious, etc.

I do think there are degrees of blasphemy. As a Muslim, the most offensive kind of blasphemy will be if somebody disrespects God Almighty himself; burning or destroying of our holy text, the Quran, or disrespecting Prophet Muhammad. We have been instructed to love and respect him more than ourselves.

A couple of examples of lesser forms of blasphemy that took place in the New York area include vandalizing the sign of an Islamic center and scattering bacon (which is forbidden in Islam) across a prayer area in a park.

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