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Art and religion

January 28, 2015

Ever since man (or woman) glanced out of their cave and marvelled at the world around them, trying to understand, to make sense of a thousand wonderful, strange and terrifying miracles, he has tried to capture, to define his existence through art. From charcoal drawings of mammoth and hunt, ritual and gods, to elaborate and difficult to conceptualise modern, abstract art, self-expression has always been a pivotal aspect of humanity.

As art has been used to interpret and understand nature, it has been used to express imagination,to record the world around us, and to reacquaint, re-establish and redirect our thoughts and feelings. Art has been used to convey images, to convey feelings of sadness, joy, hope, fear and empathy. It has also been used to influence response; laughter and tears.

As we become more and more able, as access to art has become wider and as we have grown to understand the world and move away from our gods and ancestors, art has also been used to vulgarise and satarise, to prod at authority and gently assert and communicate change. The concept of freedom of expression that we are so proud of has been quoted to defend and justify a range of creations.

The depiction of the Islamic prophet, Mohamed has caused pain for certain individuals and groups. The artists were not ignorant to the potential scandal and insult their work would elicit. But, the oft misquoted phrase crops up, suggesting that although I don’t like what you’re doing, I’ll defend to my death your right to do it. All well and good, but because we can do a thing, does it necessarily follow that we must do that thing? Because legally we can produce art that may insult, should we do it? the counter argument I would suggest is, surely God or his chosen prophet doesn’t need mere men to fight their battles for them.

Whatever the moral implications of the art that is deemed to insult a religious group, there is certainly no justification in the spilling of blood to defend a philosophical position. However insulting, whatever the motive behind the art, the artist and other innocents do not deserve the retribution of pain and death.

The distinct and real irony is that the prophet Mohamed has been depicted in art, in fact if you visit the right museum you can see his image beautifully and skilfully drawn. So, using a spurious point of history in order to defend violence is wrong. However, waltzing down the route of blasphemy is quite another thing. Blasphemy, that insipid little word has been used as an excuse to torture and kill innocence for centuries in Christianity. From the Inquisition to the Benedictines, the crime of blasphemy has allowed evil men to cause unimaginable suffering.

So where does this leave us? Should art and artists be allowed to interpret the world in any way they choose? Should art follow a different set of rules, allowing artists to depict anything with the defence of freedom of expression? And should those fanatics be excused their outrage because a moral line has been crossed? The answer is surely simple. If your god exists judgement exists. And if there is to be a judgment in the afterlife, those artists will be punished. Surely, if you believe in your credo, if you seek to punish men with violence, you are in effect playing god, and surely that is wrong.


From → Art, Culture, Religion, Society

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