29th November

The Blasphemer

Ten witnesses, one after another, had testified that the accused had articulated the opinions drawn up in the indictment. Ten witnesses, each corroborating the evidence of the others, confirmed that he had ridiculed the notion that the Bible was divinely inspired, asserted that the Universe existed long before the ‘invention’ of God by men, denied the existence of spirits, and claimed that no such places as Heaven or Hell existed. The jury would hardly have to leave the court to consider its verdict. The punishment for blasphemy was death.

Only one thing could save him, and it was of this that his counsel spoke urgently when the court adjourned. He would call him as a witness – the only witness – in his own defence, and between them they would try to convince the court that the opinions he had expressed were the ravings of a madman.

‘But I am completely sane,’ he said. ‘Madness is believing that humans were created only six thousand years ago, and that the Universe was built by a single being whose existence cannot be proved.’

His counsel urged him to lower his voice and set all theological arguments aside. Did he agree, when the court resumed, to give nonsensical and contradictory answers to the questions that would be put to him, so that all would conclude he was mad?

‘Nonsensical and contradictory?’ he answered. ‘Those words describe not my beliefs but those of clergymen. My position is based on a rational examination of the facts, not on fairy tales and gobbledegook.’

Again his counsel implored him to be silent. Did he not understand the seriousness of his situation?

‘Absolutely,’ he said. ‘The madmen who wish to hang me for my sanity may spare me for being mad and indeed I would have to be mad to approve such a verdict. Not being mad, I must hang for the crime of being sane. So be it. If you call me to give evidence, I will not speak. If you do not call me, I will assert my right to speak, and assure the court of my sanity.’

‘Then you really are mad,’ the lawyer said. ‘I can do nothing more for you.’

Reader: Kirstin McLean
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
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