What is a religious feeling?Religious feelings can be e.g. the experience of being loved by God, joy about resurrection and forgiven guilt or the experience of the vastness of creation etc. These are experiences of inner liberation, which get connected to religious ideas. There can also be feelings of shame and guilt, fears of a revengeful or punishing God etc., described by the Austrian psychotherapist Erwin Ringel as "ecclesiogenic neuroses" (=neuroses created by the church). With a closer look, the so-called religious feelings are various expansive or restrictive feelings, which anyone can have, and which become religious, when they are associated with religious content. Only by adding the cognitive connotation, which ties the feeling to a religious context, any given feeling can be turned into a religious one.
What does it mean: To hurt a religious feeling?
By being mindless, we can easily hurt someone, and it is always a person, who is hurt, and not a feeling. By behaving in a certain way, we trigger a feeling of hurt in the other person. When talking about "hurting religious feelings", we actually talk about a person being hurt by us, e.g. when we blaspheme God. The other person does not feel respected in her faith. We can set this straight by descriminating between the object of faith, to which we can have our own attitude and opinion, and the faith of the person, which we have to respect. There is no need to share our critics in words that snub the other person (for by that we would disrespect and blaspheme the other person), but we can say that we have a right to have our opinion and viewpoint alike the other person and anyone else. And we trust the other person to have the maturity to endure differing opinions.
So the phrase "nobody should not hurt religious feelings" serves to camouflage the person behind a mysterious feeling. The person with the feeling does not have to justify or explain her way of feeling, but demands a right to being respected unconditionally, while sparing any effort of respecting the critical person. Instead, by putting out the absolute validity of their feeling, they superimpose it over anything else, be it the feelings of other persons or the reason. So they avoid to take responsibility for their feelings and to confront them with their thinking and reason.
Nietzsche, a ruthless persuer of any kind of hypocrisy, pointed out: "A kind of honesty has been alien to all founders of religions and the likes of them: They have never made a matter of conscience of knowledge out of their experiences: 'What is it really I have experienced? At that time, what has happened in me and around me? Was my reason bright enough? Was my will directed against any fraudulence of the senses and brave in the defense against fantasies?' None of them asked like that..." (Nietzsche, The Gay Science, Book 4)
Public Criticism and Blasphemy
Religious criticism or blasphemy shared in public is part of the freedom of opinion. Who feels hurt by that, should not blame the critic, but instead clarify for himself that his own faith cannot be harmed by what other people think or speak, and even less the object of the dispraise. By attacking the author of an unpleasant opinion personally instead of confronting him with his own opinion, transfers the argument to a personal level, where it does not belong. Public debates should not be personalized. Classical rhethoric has unveiled it as an unfair trick in debate to use an argumentum ad hominem (to argue against the person instead against the matter). This trick is used when one's own position on the matter seems to weak to win the debate.
By this, an unnecessary quarrel is unleashed, which indicates that an identification is in play: The person feeling hurt has identified himself with the religious content by unconsciously assuming e.g. "I am the God who is dispraised, so I am dispraised" or "I have to defend God against blasphemy". He acts as if this God would be in danger, although just his faith is threatened. So by attacking the offender he defends his faith against his own uncertainty. By silencing the critical person, he hopes to secure his faith.
As soon as someone reacts like that, it means that his faith has not passed the test, is too weak to stand up against the critical attack. A counter-attack is started, which is no longer about the content of the criticism but about the prohibition of questioning the faith of someone. Faith is considered as basically fragil and prone to misguidance, so it has to be protected against criticism at any cost. A strong faith would not need any protection as it can face any challenge. Even under the most severe violence, noone can be forced to relinquish his faith.
In some countries, religious feelings are protected by law. As argued above, religious feelings cannot be hurt, but only persons. To protect people from hurting their integrity by treating them disrespectfully is part of any democracy and civil society. So most countries protect their citizens against insult, defamation and verbal injury. This is enough to safeguard respectful and civilized behavior among the participants of the public debate. But to have a special category of "religious injury" is not comprehensible. After all, there is no special protection against hurting philosophical, esthetical or spiritual feelings, let alone economic, sportive, educational or political feelings. This special position of religion seems like a relict from predemocratic times of the enmeshment of state and church.
Public criticism full of hatred and disrespect against whatever, is marginalizing itself. It does not need to be taken seriously let alone personally. What has to be considered is the emotional background fuelling the hatred, and this is what should be addressed by the public. Religious critisism full of hatred does not need to be fought because of hurting religious feelings, but because of the destructive impulses contained in hatred. Civil societies and democratic states have to condemn and control any form of hatred and have to protect people from actions driven by destructive emotions. Intolerance from whatever side has to be replaced by tolerance in a society based on the integrity of all citizens and their feelings.
What does it mean: Insulting a religion?
Religions are not persons, so they cannot be insulted. In some countries, they are legal personalities and can defend themselves against unfair or disrespectful treatment. Whoever feels insulted as a member or supporter of a religion, when there is disrespectful criticism against the own religion, is identified with his religion. In the sense of all religions, this is a sacrilege, religious megalomania. The religiously hurt person sins against his own religion. Noone is allowed to identify with his religion.
This is why e.g. Jesus was sentenced to death by the jews. By claiming to be God he violated basic rules of the Hebrew religious laws. No man is allowed to identify himself with God. In the Muslimic world, not even images of Allah are made as he is so far from any human imagination. So it is a sin to compare, let alone identify oneself with Allah. So anyone who feels insulted because of an insult of a part or the whole of one's own religion has already committed a sin in terms of his own religion.
When someone dispraises all members of a religion, e.g. all jews by spreading antisemitic slogans, then a single jew can feel insulted only when he claims to represent all jews. This is arrogant as well. By using communicative reason it is immediately clear that the dispraise is based on missing reasonable thinking. "All jews" cannot have the exactly same attributes So the offender has made a meaningless statement that cannot affect anyone personally and that has not to be taken seriously.
Yet, the intention has to be taken seriously, as unreasonable statements are driven by aggressive emotions. As aggressive statements (based on aggressive thoughts based on humiliating experiences) can lead to aggressive actions, such statement have to meet objection.When someone is complaining about his "religious feelings" being violated, it is about the violation of an inflated ego, which is in the worst case identified with a God, a religion or the members of a religion. Tragically people with this form of religious megalomania want to set especially "great deeds" by killing as many other people as possible. It is just about confirming the exorbitance of their ego. Before even setting off to their action, they have already sinned against their religion.
In some countries, where religion acts as basic ideology of the state, any criticism of religion is prosecuted as it threatens the fundaments of the regime. The common term of the crime is insult of religion. As pointed out above, religions cannot be insulted as they are not persons. So this "crime" is used arbitrarily to punish enemies of the ruling regime.
Some examples: Saudi-Arabia: Blogger Raif Badawi who fights for equal rights of different religions, was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1000 lashes. Egypt: