Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Art of a Secular Atheist - "defamation of religion"

In 1999 I held my first solo exhibition "The Mysteries" and amongst paintings mostly celebrating a surreal and symbolic vision of mythology some were subtly, or not so subtly depending upon your perspective, critical of religion.

The Mysteries series of paintings were so titled to encapsulate the main interest and inspiration for their development, formed from ideas that had emerged through the study and ongoing interest in ancient Greek myth and mythology. It was from this relatively personal exploration that another strong theme has emerged into a broad criticism of religion. Then and since I continue to give as the prefacing title of such paintings Baleful Worship and with them I point to concerns about what a religious world would bring using canvas and oil paint.
Baleful Worship - Submission (detail)  © L. Raymond
Within The Mysteries began the first germination of the Baleful Worship theme where I assert the worship of a religion whether of a deity or a nothingness is a fatally flawed concept for humanity to adopt. History and recent events teach us religion provides a useful model and platform from which to develop and utilise negative aspirations for a nation state, race or a people. The negative aspects that manifest can include that a religion will have as an ultimate aim the purpose of achieving dominion over opposing religions and social if not socio-political systems. As such it is inherently a platform that does not tolerate criticism or dissent. It becomes Totalitarian in dominance and emerges a Theocracy, a political-religious State and system that enforces as rule of law a religion upon a country and a people and one that at its core is sensitive to any criticism of the doctrine which underpins it.

Islam today demonstrates it is particularly sensitive to any criticism claiming its critics instead must suffer from Islamophobia (sic) and have a racist intent toward Muslims (who are multi-race). It is effective propaganda, the more simplistic the argument the better for such a purpose, and is utilised like pepper spray to shut down argument by declaring it racism and intolerance when any critical examination of Islam's religious texts and practices are raised. Making it all the more important to investigate the doctrine as a consequence. All religions do not tolerate criticism well or unquestioningly (even though return argument is expected and welcome) but it is rare to claim the blanket accusation that all critics of a religion are racist and intolerant. The worst backlash from the Christian and Judaic sector currently has been to counter Atheist criticism for the most part with the label of "militant" or that they are representative of a "new" and unreasoned "radical" atheism. There exists racism and intolerance but it cannot be claimed to exist in all critics or opponents or uncomfortable arguments. The blanket declaration equates to a blanket ban, a censorship, a chilling of criticism of Islam at all, because it is a religion and somehow exempt. Hopefully that by doing so, in such uncritical blanket terms and so frequently, it is also becoming more obvious for the propaganda that it is.

Intolerance is the characteristic critics of Islam are branded with...that the critic is intolerant of Islam and not the matter raised referencing Islamic intolerance. Islam conversely is claimed by its followers and defenders to be very tolerant and peaceful so anyone claiming different is doing so because they, the critic, are intolerant. Simple propagandist argument that works to good effect as with the racism charge. And, in the face of violence performed on behalf of and in defence of Islam, the victims directly or other entities, Israel, the USA, military invasion of Islamic lands e.g.: Afghanistan, are instead blamed not the perpetrators of violence or the doctrine they use to support their violence and disgruntlement. Certain Islamic Clerics re-confirm followers of Islam are justified in conducting violent retribution against an opposition (infidel) who harm, dishonour, "insult" the peaceful and tranquil religion of Islam. Omar Bakri compliments a follower of Islam who hacked a UK soldier to death after first running him down with a car in a British street states:
 "The prophet (Mohammad) said an infidel and his killer will not meet in Hell. That's a beautiful saying," he said. "May God reward (Adebolajo) for his actions." reuters 
Baleful Worship and this recurrent theme questions the psychology and legitimacy of religion's to demand unquestioning and uncritical worship by its devotees and of course to demand retribution on its behalf.

A more recent Baleful Worship - Submission focuses on Islam for these main reasons:
1. The cheap and persuasive propaganda argument that if you criticise Islam, as the popular claim goes, you do so because you are racist and intolerant; works like riot police with pepper spray, indiscriminate but effective.
2. Islam via doctrine manifests a means by which to practice and defend misogynistic and other human rights abuse behaviours under a veil of protected legitimacy whilst of course claiming it represents the exact opposite and only lashes out in defence.
In my Baleful Worship paintings the female form is a generic representative of a prostrate or standing follower posed typically so as to appease a deity/doctrine. The alter or object/focal point for devotion has variously been, industrial machinery, a pile of debris, an organic phonic-boiler, an alien nursery, and lately a veiled tentacled monster. The underlying symbolism has become menacing. Is Islam menacing detractors/critics by declaring them enemies of Islam and valid targets for attack? Is the violence perpetrated in the name of Islam the fault of the religion's follower's interpretation of its doctrine or of its inadequately evolved doctrine? Can Islam under the Koran and Sharia be deemed tolerant? An if so tolerant under what definition. Does Islam indeed understand tolerance or does it have the interpretation that tolerance equates only with one's submission to it?

Under Anti-defamation of religion laws my questions would be declared intolerant. Which makes such a law a declaration of censorship of thought and idea and a nod to a return to a dark ages Inquisition style persecution of religion's detractors as a heresy. That one must not criticise religion, in thought or deed, based upon its doctrine (Koran, Bible, Torah) spells the resurrection of blasphemy law. Such law would make it illegal to critique, "insult" religion and if deployed any critic of religion would be a heretic and a blasphemer for doing so. With past and recent proposals to the UN human rights commission to protect religion from defamation 'aka' introduce world wide blasphemy law with the sole aim of protecting Islam from criticism represents a serious intention to limit the human right to freedom of expression of thought, and the transmission/receipt of ideas. It was found to contravene Article 19 of the  UN's Declaration on Human Rights and has been rightly voted down...again as recently as 2010. To criminalise criticism deemed to have harmed the reputation of religion as it in turn has harmed or vilified its followers is an extreme and dangerous step. Just ask Indonesian atheist Alexander Aan and unfortunately there are countless others.

The architects attempting to frame such a restriction on "the right to freedom of opinion and expression" consist mainly though not exclusively of nations where for the main the state recognised religion is Islam or where there exists a state Theocracy. The Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission submission in 2008 treads a tight-rope balancing act, complimenting the "good intentions" behind it, though declining to endorse the proposal. HREOC's authors agree throughout the document that there is such a thing as "defamation of religion" that much needs to happen to "combat the defamation of religion" (though their preamble and introduction caution against use of the verb "combat" in the original proposal but then unabashedly use it themselves anyway). It was difficult to recognise HREOC's actual stance and, safe "fence sitting" appears to be the overall aim. The submission's authors revealed too that HREOC would like to have a more firm understanding in place at Commonwealth level of the condition they describe as "ethno-religious" (sec. 2.2) and that though aspects of some Australian State legislature have recognised it this is only under certain narrow conditions, that a person of a religion can have "ethno-religious" qualities and a claim to racial vilification. Leaving the door clearly ajar for all manner of subjective agenda to be applied in the future it will result in a distortion of human rights and equal opportunity more than an advancing of them arguably.

Defamation law already chills speech to a disturbing truth obscuring level in order to protect individual's or company's reputation as being only "good" - truth is not material in Australian law without proof and proof of accepted justification. Defamation law aims to obscure opinion which does not uncritically support that a reputation is good. Were defamation of religion to be its extension world wide then the same would apply for when ever anyone critiqued actions carried out in the name of a religious doctrine upon which a religion is founded or of the religious doctrine itself. To know a religion one must examine its doctrine. This would prevent critical examination and would enable a  return of blasphemy laws on a world wide scale. Imagine the level of inquisition that would emerge. Many critics against this push to implement a defamation of religion law have pointed correctly to how this would cause a damaging limitation on freedom of expression and thought and could lead the way for malicious litigation by the aggrieved claiming personal harm from criticism of their religion - because defamation law allows for this already. In doing so they are pointing out in part the flaws in defamation law that make it a playground of options for the aggrieved to take out their grievance on and to punish a critic with under the full gaze and assistance of the law and by extension the State.

So, why baleful?
  1. Threatening harm; menacing: "Bill shot a baleful glance in her direction".
  2. Having a harmful or destructive effect.
evil - sinister - bad - baneful - harmful - pernicious
and, worship?
Religion requires unquestioning devotion (faith) to doctrine in the name of an entity (God, Jehovah, Allah). The worshiper is informed they submit to, believe in, follow and if necessary defend the one true god delivered doctrine in the name of the faith and the faithful. It is because of this and other claims by religion that religious doctrine is therefore open for examination and criticism and those who would argue to defend their religious doctrine will have their arguments open to equal examination and criticism. However, the religious and clearly Islam, claim exemption from such examination because it is not permitted by their doctrine in the first place. Reason holds that one is not vilified by argument and examination one is educated by it and through their use. But religion claims exemption and with defamation law at its side and the concept that a religion can be classified as "ethno-religious" along with the concomitant support of a racial vilification and tolerance act in toe you can pull a trifecta of legal barriers to shut down all nasty criticism of religion.

Is this the world in which we want to live and leave for our descendants?

I believe in no religion and I know through reason that the separation of religion and the state must be upheld with the transparent exclusion of any religious interference within legislature and governance to have a truly independent government, democratic and free society. The opening of Australian Parliament with "The Lord's Prayer" for example must go. It does not belong in any part of our government procedures even as a nod to an earlier ritualism. If it is not already the case it can be taken to have more meaning than a ritual alone.
That I suppose now makes me a "militant secularist" too.

Paintings - oil on canvas ranging from 1999 - 2010 © Lee-Anne Raymond
Humanity can live without religion. The question is can we survive despite religion?

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About Leeanneart

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Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
We are first and foremost human with a responsibility to the humanity within us and not to any faith, political, apolitical, social or societal group, union or faction. We are responsible for our own reputation, and for what deeds we do and what achievements or otherwise in life we enjoy. The rest is nonsense.