While some people are reflecting on which religions execute blasphemers, Protestants may want to be a tad circumspect — Americans as well, for that matter, if they think that John Winthrop made the U.S. a city on a hill.
Here’s one example of an attempt to assess Judaism, Christianity, and Islam on the wickedness of blasphemy:
That Christianity has less of a violence problem is self-evident, but the point is still lost on some people: at The Guardian, Ian Black declared that, in regards to the religion’s resistance to images of the Prophet Muhammad, “Islam is not unique. Judaism forbids the use of ‘graven images’ and Christianity has at times frowned on visual representations of sacred figures, allowing only the cross to be depicted in churches.”
This is a paragraph so shockingly dimwitted in its appraisal of both Christianity and Islam, and the differences between the two, that it is hard to know where to begin. I cannot readily speak for Judaism—the last time I attended a Jewish service was at a buddy’s Bar Mitzvah well over a decade ago—but I can say that Black’s appraisal of Christianity is, quite literally, total nonsense. For starters, Christianity since the sixteenth century has been a fractured religion, particularly on the subject of iconography; it does not really make sense to speak of Christianity “frowning” upon the use of imagery, unless you are willing to clarify just which branch or denomination of Christianity is doing this frowning. Catholicism is well-known for its use of crucifixes, for instance, although you can find them in Lutheran and Anglican churches, along with some other denominations. But you’re not apt to find a corpus amongst Baptists or Presbyterians, and again here Black’s characterization is frankly bizarre: it would be a profound understatement to say that the Southern Baptist Conference, for instance, “frowns” upon the artistic customs generally associated with Catholicism.
But if this piece were written in 1645, it might have a very different feel thanks to Massachusetts Bay’s Capital Laws (1641):
1. (Deut. 13. 6, 10. Deut. 17. 2, 6. Ex. 22.20) If any man after legall conviction shall have or worship any other god, but the lord god, he shall be put to death.
2. (Ex. 22. 18. Lev. 20. 27. Dut. 18. 10.) If any man or woeman be a witch, (that is hath or consulteth with a familiar spirit,) They shall be put to death.
3. (Lev. 24. 15,16.) If any person shall Blaspheme the name of god, the father, Sonne or Holie Ghost, with direct, expresse, presumptuous or high handed blasphemie, or shall curse god in the like manner, he shall be put to death.
That should put a wrinkle in the Reformation-to-Revolution-to-Toleration narrative and may cause some rethinking of the Puritans’ influence in forming the American nation.
This should not be read as some kind of exercise in moral equivalency that likens Islamic terrorism to Protestant state laws against blasphemy and idolatry. It is only designed as a reminder that Protestants too had to come out of their theocratic slumber by means other than those supplied by the reformers.