Ireland's new anti-blasphemy law is exactly the type of thing Galileo and Copernicus had to worry about
In the vendor stalls in South Africa, you can buy dried vulture brains. When the brain is crumbled and rolled into a cigarette then smoked, it's supposed to give you the ability of clairvoyance and premonition.
Wildlife protection groups are concerned because gamblers of all varieties are smoking vulture brains to play games of chance or bet on the ponies - and the upcoming World Cup in South Africa is guaranteed to increase consumption as bets are placed on the games.
But smoking vulture brains is a superstition, and those are hard to break, even when the evidence points elsewhere: people will be burnin' vulture brains while watching the World Cup on a 50-inch LCD TV and placing bets on-line.
It is regretful that vultures may be driven to extinction for something so stupid, but that's how it is: until other factors come along, people will believe what they believe, and the superstitions about vulture brains will go on.
Don't think that because Ireland is a predominantly Catholic nation that these laws are skewed towards the Holy See alone; the law defines blasphemy as, "publishing or uttering matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion [my italics], thereby intentionally causing outrage among a substantial number of adherents of that religion, with some defences permitted."
This goes beyond Ireland's borders: the new law "is dangerous because it incentives religious outrage, and because Islamic states led by Pakistan are already using the wording of this Irish law to promote new blasphemy laws at UN level," said Michael Nugent, chairman of the organization Atheist Ireland, in a statement.
It is doubtful anyone is going to determine that plastics or other petrochemicals are blasphemous any time soon - although if some crazed religious sect somewhere decides that burning oil is "despoiling the souls of our dinosaur brethren," who knows?
And what about biotechnology? There has already been controversy in the US over the use of stem cells used from embryonic fetuses - which itself developed from the spiritual/secular controversy in America over abortion, so what happens if stem cell research is declared blasphemous? And after that? Practically every form of medicine can offend someone somewhere.
Except smoking vulture brains.