did he just say something sacrilitigious?

Es­ti­mated reading time is 6 min­utes.

FACE­BOOK GETS MY AT­TEN­TION in the early morning hours as I sip my coffee and wait for that part of my brain/mind that ra­ti­o­ci­nates to kick into gear. I scroll through my time­line and when an in­ter­esting image catches my at­ten­tion, I read it, and some­times chime in. I try to be pos­i­tive and hu­morous: yes­terday I made a some­what silly com­ment on someone’s Face­book page and I coined a word that somehow re­lated in some way to the orig­inal post: ‘sac­ril­iti­gious.’

It is, of course, a play on the words sac­ri­le­gious and liti­gious and no doubt the Face­book post had some­thing to do with some­thing re­lated to re­li­gion or faith.

With me, it could have been inane Rep*blican pol­i­tics, which is as close to an act of faith as most Amer­i­cans get in a cul­ture that wor­ships re­li­gion but fears and loathes spirituality.

And throughout the day that silly word kept pop­ping back in my head. So here I am with it today . . .



Ni­et­zsche’s title was Die Fröh­liche Wis­senschaft and was first trans­lated into Eng­lish as The Joyous Wisdom. But The Gay Sci­ence has be­come the common trans­la­tion since Walter Kauf­mann’s enor­mously pop­ular trans­la­tion of 1960.

What does the dictionary say?

Ac­cording to the ever-trust Merriam-Webster, the word sac­ri­lege means:

•  an act of treating a holy place or ob­ject in a way that does not show proper respect

•  a tech­nical and not nec­es­sarily in­trin­si­cally out­ra­geous vi­o­la­tion of what is sa­cred be­cause con­se­crated to God

•  gross ir­rev­er­ence to­ward a hal­lowed person, place, or thing

Also cour­tesy of Merriam-Webster we have liti­gious, which means:

•  too ready or eager to sue someone or some­thing in a court of law

•  tending or likely to en­gage in lawsuit

Arriving at a definition for sacrilitigious

If I com­bine as­pects of the de­f­i­n­i­tions above, I could ar­rive at sev­eral op­tions for sac­ril­iti­gious:

•  the act of suing someone in a court of law over an in­trin­si­cally out­ra­geous vi­o­la­tion of what is con­sid­ered sacred

•  ready to sue someone in a court of law as a gross ir­rev­er­ence to­ward a hal­lowed person, place, or thing

Ei­ther way, we are looking at a word that means taking someone to court—something that takes place in con­sen­sual (shared) re­ality and is em­pir­i­cally verifiable—over an ac­tion, state­ment, writing, records, etc., that the plain­tiff con­siders an as­sault on his re­li­gious beliefs.

That is his be­lief in some­thing that is not a part of con­sen­sual re­ality and cannot be ver­i­fied empirically.

So, sac­ril­iti­gious is about one person suing an­other or having an­other person pros­e­cuted for com­mit­ting a crime against his faith.

It hap­pens else­where and it could happen here . . .


Debatably sacrilitigious writing

In 1882, German philoso­pher, cul­tural critic, poet, com­poser, and Latin and Greek scholar Friedrich Wil­helm Ni­et­zsche alerted the world to the fact that God was dead. And I will leave this topic to the experts:

“The meaning of the phrase [God is dead] is often misunderstood—many have in­ter­preted that Ni­et­zsche be­lieved in a lit­eral death or end of God. In­stead, the line points to the western world’s re­liance on re­li­gion as a moral com­pass and source of meaning. As he ex­plains in The Gay Sci­ence:

‘God is dead. God re­mains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we com­fort our­selves, the mur­derers of all mur­derers? What was holiest and might­iest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us?

What water is there for us to clean our­selves? What fes­ti­vals of atone­ment, what sa­cred games shall we have to in­vent? Is not the great­ness of this deed too great for us? Must we our­selves not be­come gods simply to ap­pear worthy of it?’

Nietzsche’s works ex­press a fear that the de­cline of re­li­gion, the rise of atheism, and the ab­sence of a higher moral au­thority would plunge the world into chaos. The western world had de­pended on the rule of God for thou­sands of years—it gave order to so­ciety and meaning to life.

Without it, Ni­et­zsche writes, so­ciety will move into an age of ni­hilism. Al­though Ni­et­zsche may have been con­sid­ered a ni­hilist by de­f­i­n­i­tion, he was crit­ical of it and warned that ac­cepting ni­hilism would be dan­gerous.” (Phi­los­ophy Index)

In the 19th cen­tury, the idea of taking an au­thor to court for any­thing other than libel was prob­ably never en­ter­tained. Today, Friedrich might be hauled be­fore a jury of his peers—and Hah! on finding peers for Nietzsche—and taken to the cleaners through sacrilitigation!



Date­book (cover-dated Sep­tember 1966): “I don’t know which will go first—rocknroll or Chris­tianity.” And all hell broke loose upon the land and the Right­eous among us who helped the Lord smote thou­sands of Bea­tles records. 1

Debatably sacrilitigious speaking

In March 1966, the London Evening Stan­dard ran a se­ries of ar­ti­cles en­ti­tled “How Does a Beatle Live?” They fea­tured in­ter­views with George Har­rison, John Lennon, Paul Mc­Cartney, and Ringo Starr by jour­nalist Mau­reen Cleave. She had in­ter­viewed the Fab Four reg­u­larly for sev­eral years. John fa­mously stated:

“Chris­tianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that. I’m right and I’ll be proved right. We’re more pop­ular than Jesus now. I don’t know which will go first, rock and roll or Chris­tianity. Jesus was all right, but his dis­ci­ples were thick and or­di­nary. It’s them twisting it that ruins it for me.”

And nothing happened.

In Eng­land.

In July 1966, nearly five months after UK pub­li­ca­tion and no one having said any­thing any­where about John’s re­state­ment, Date­book pub­lished the in­ter­views in the US. In Birm­ingham, Al­abama, a disc-jockey named Tommy Charles heard about the quo­ta­tion and broad­cast it on his show.

He asked lis­teners to phone in the re­sponse was over­whelm­ingly neg­a­tive: “We just felt it was so ab­surd and sac­ri­le­gious that some­thing ought to be done to show them that they can’t get away with this sort of thing.”

In 1966, this led to bon­fires con­suming old Bea­tles records and pic­tures and mag­a­zines and trin­kets. Most of this hap­pened in the southern states—where all the ex­citing things take place.

Today, in a world where the Supreme Court has ruled that the sit­ting Pres­i­dent of the United States can be sued by pri­vate in­di­vid­uals and or­ga­ni­za­tions with a po­lit­ical ax to grind, no doubt all four of the Bea­tles would have been sub­poe­naed. 2



Critic Lucy R. Lip­pard opined that Piss Christ is “a darkly beau­tiful pho­to­graphic image. The small wood and plastic cru­cifix be­comes vir­tu­ally mon­u­mental as it floats, pho­to­graph­i­cally en­larged, in a deep rosy glow that is both omi­nous and glorious.”

Debatably sacrilitigious art

Piss Christ is a pho­to­graph by An­dres Ser­rano de­picting a plastic cru­cifix in a glass of yellow fluid—supposedly the artist’s urine. The photo was one of the win­ners of the South­eastern Center for Con­tem­po­rary Art’s Awards in the Vi­sual Arts. And it cre­ated a brouhaha still felt by artists to this day.

Many people who are not in­volved in the con­tem­po­rary art world found An­dres Serrano’s pho­to­graph Piss Christ to go be­yond the bound­aries of taste and border on sac­ri­le­gious. Ac­tu­ally, it’s a rather striking image and might have been seen in a very dif­ferent light if the artist had named it, say, Be­hold The Man, and only let a few friends in on the source of the gold low.

But, alas, he did not . . .

And the moral of this story is?

The next time you feel the urge to say or do or write or paint or pho­to­graph some­thing that might of­fend someone else’s faith-based per­spec­tive on what is proper and al­low­able, you might want to con­sider whether that someone might find your some­thing sacrilitigious . . .



HEADER IMAGE: Hell hath no fury like that of a right­eous Amer­ican chris­tian teenager. Ap­par­ently, this photo was taken out­side of Can­dle­stick Park in San Fran­cisco on Au­gust 29, 1966, as the Bea­tles were per­forming one of their last con­verts in­side. Many of these kids grew up only to have their own chil­dren se­duced by the Devil through the back­masking of sa­tanic mes­sages in heavy metal records in the ’90s.



1   Of course, this was be­fore God in­vented used record stores. Had they been around these kids could protested by swap­ping their old Bea­tles records for new Mon­kees records . . .

2   And since the sub­poenas would have co­in­cided with the group’s de­ci­sion to give up touring, we would still be blaming that damn DJ and those dumb chris­tian kids for turning the Bea­tles way from our stores and our con­cert halls!


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