Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Blasphemy Challenge

In the Christian tradition, faith in the holy spirit can save any person from the pain and suffering of eternal damnation. Only one sin, however, according to the “Blasphemy Challenge,” cannot be forgiven in such a manner. This is the sin of denying that holy spirit, of denying the power of the Christian savior. Of blasphemy.

Of course this idea rubs many people the wrong way. Some deny the fundamental ideas behind it, others rally around it in support, and still more claim it’s just not that simple. An idea like this can create ripples on the pond of human interaction. And what better way to monitor these ripples (or even amplify them) than to use the tools that society uses to express themselves and their ideas?

Enter Web 2.0. This is how some specialists and thinkers refer to the form the internet has taken in the recent past; the internet as social tool, interactive medium, and socially-structured entity. YouTube is a particularly good example of a Web 2.0 application, as it is structured, run, and filled with content not by developers, but by a band of normal people.

In the first of many forays into Web 2.0 territory, I plan to discuss a short video called “The Blasphemy Challenge.”

As I said above, a religious conviction as described tends to encourage people to speak out. When someone claims that the way to salvation is to accept one specific god, or the way to damnation is to deny that specific god, people are bound to get excited. Be it in support of such believers or in rampant denial of any of their claims, voices are bound to rise.

In this short YouTube video, entitled “The Blasphemy Challenge,” one group tried to coax out the dissenters. They offered a free copy of an atheistic documentary film for any individual willing to publicly, on YouTube, deny the holy spirit. They ask people to make a video of them denying the Christian savior in exchange for a free DVD.

Or as they so succinctly put it in the video, a $30 DVD in exchange for your soul.

It is no shock that the responses poured in. People immediately had things to say, as would be expected. The social network that is YouTube went into full action, with deniers as prevalent as dissenters. People were denouncing the holy spirit just as often as they were renewing their conviction to their Christian faith. The outpouring of immediate response was, of course, no surprise.

What was more surprising was the slow but sure incorporation of this simple challenge video into the YouTube cannon. Now, even some of YouTube’s comedy programs were referring to the Blasphemy Challenge and integrating it into their normal comedic videos. (Infamous zombie-slaying preacher “Father Fearless” led the pack.)

What started as a publicity stunt for an atheist documentary became a regularly cited footnote in the YouTube world. It became a springboard for the usual YouTube comedy, drama, and personal video blogs.

This leaves me to wonder. Is YouTube the next frontier for divulging important issues and encouraging debate? Or is it merely the newest vehicle for meaningless arguments, narcissism and popular entertainment?

Is YouTube more akin to the printing press, or to the Jerry Springer Show?

I invite comments. Please share your opinions on this topic and on the Blasphemy Challenge in general.