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You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.


Basic Information

Blasphemy is the crime of misusing the name or authority of (one or more of) the god(s) worshipped in that jurisdiction.

In criminal terms, the scope of the offence is usually quite limited - often to used of "sacred words" (usually the names of deities and major religious figures) as a curse or otherwise in a disrespectful or insulting way. Theologically, the definition can extend to deliberately propagating false teachings under the aegis of a given religion and this too can be criminalised in the right circumstances. It is also entirely possible to posit a religion that regards any contradiction, criticism or general lack of deference to its belief system as blasphemy.

In some religions/cultures only a believer can be held culpable for blasphemy - in others, blasphemy can be charged against anyone.

Punishments vary, but in general a culture will take the offence very seriously or more or less ignore it. If taken seriously, punishments can range from death - either officially or unofficially administered - to mutilation or fines. Even in polytheistic cultures with established rivalries between cults, there will be some things that are intolerable - such as the Roman concept of nefas1. In other cultures blasphemy may attract nothing more than the contempt of the faithful.

Compare sacrilege - in which it is physical acts rather than words that offend against the sacred.


1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • PCs who come from a 'blasphemy tolerant' culture - or who are carelessly played by people with modern western prejudices - may find themselves in trouble very quickly.
  • Unintentional blasphemy is often fun - mis-naming a toy or pointing your boots in the wrong direction may generate unintentional offence.
  • Intentional offence - by deliberate blasphemy - is a very modern luxury for most offenders and only really safe when excercised against religions that are very tolerant anyway. In settings with highly interventionist deities it may be even less safe.
  • Even in a 'blasphemy tolerant' culture PCs who are careless in their speech may lose friends and alienate people in unfamiliar places.
  • An interesting concept in your typical fRPG setting where most fantasy religions openly encourage offence, up to and including violence against other sects - and deities actively intervene in the world, passing out curses and plagues by way of revenge.
    • A common take is that characters are protected against divine retribution if working directly on the business of their own deity - freelance operators have to fend for themselves.
    • Again, blasphemy in a fantasy religion may be defined in terms of general godlessness, or trafficking with demons or once again as attacks on a sect that aren't sanctioned by another sect.
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