Sunday, 18 May 2014

Opinion: Decriminalise Apostasy and Blasphemy Yesterday

Let the gods fight
There is a story in the Bible of Gideon who in an act of zealotry destroyed the altar of Baal. The worshippers found out and gathered a mob to lynch him when someone reasoned with them that if Baal was so aggrieved by the desecration of his grotto and altar, then Baal, the god the people worshipped should himself exact judgement on Gideon, the miscreant.
The reasonable message there was, despite the grievance and offence caused the worshippers, “If he [Baal] is a god, let him contend for himself, because someone has torn down his altar.” [Reference and context][Judges 6:25-32 – The Message]
More pertinently, the argument put forth is on many levels, first of all, men are prone to zealotry, sometimes taking extreme and provocative actions. People would be seriously offended and seek to take the law into their own hands by meting out some form of punishment to assuage their grievance.
Disarming our great gods
In so doing, they appear to disarm or belittle the ability of the deity to act for itself where the deity has been contemned. The question is, are men supposed to plead the case of their gods or are they supposed to allow the gods in whatever their omnipotent or omniscient capacity to seek retribution for any disrespect or desecration by any man?
Are you going to fight Baal’s battles for him? Are you going to save him? Anyone who takes Baal’s side will be dead by morning. If Baal is a god in fact, let him fight his own battles and defend his own altar.” [Judges 6:31 – The Message]
I dare say, this should extend to all deities be it in established religions or any form of religious symbolism or act of worship. Much as each man should not seek to cause religious offence to others, it is important for the religious to let the gods fight their battles for the conscience, the soul or punish infractions of men.
No compulsion
There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion. The right course has become clear from the wrong. So whoever disbelieves in Taghut and believes in Allah has grasped the most trustworthy handhold with no break in it. And Allah is Hearing and Knowing.” [Surah Al-Baqarah 2:256][Context]
The Al-Qurʾān is unequivocal about the issue of religion in this verse, there should be no imposition and it is a matter of choice. Yet, if people do cross the line (Taghut), this could mean many things from disbelief, through blasphemy to apostasy, the judgement for that is left with Allah rather than with men.
The other verses that support this quote clearly state that the choice is that of the man and the reward or punishment is of Allah.
Usurping the role of deity
It then begs the question why men have arrogated to themselves the duty to judge and pronounce judgements in place of their deities to punish men for their actions taking away the greater prerogative of mercy and longsuffering of deity in whom they believe?
Do men expect to be rewarded for taking the law into their own hands fighting for their gods where all do not believe the same nor are all of the same consciences even if they seem to follow the same religion?
What is the justification for exacting judgement on another man for what they choose to believe or not believe as they are persuaded of message, experience or life and where does this stop or who then controls this vigilantism?
The next question is why the state should ever get involved in these matters as if they now act in the stead of deity to criminalise people and exact judgement on behalf of God?
I covered the issue in the blog below.
Separating religion and state
It goes without saying that the state has no business promulgating laws that criminalise religious thought, be that disbelief, blasphemy or apostasy. The state however may sanction offence caused other by refereeing civil cases brought by the offended; not to abridge the freedom of speech and expression but to ensure that the use of such freedoms is not abused to incite violence or cause unrest amongst the people.
It is in view of the arguments that I have proffered above that I call on the 21 countries that criminalise apostasy and the many others that criminalise blasphemy to abrogate and expunge such laws from their statute books.
The state’s involvement in these matters first politicises religion which can be used to nefarious ends like the Muslim cleric who allegedly framed a Christian girl in Pakistan putting her at the risk of capital punishment and yet he was acquitted probably because the witnesses against him were nobbled.
There is also the risk of vigilantism as seen here and here, worse still is when it is used to oppress those of a different religion. What religion a person follows should always be an adult choice, it should never appear to have congenital provenance.
Personal choice above all else
If a person cannot make an independent choice of what to believe because of their heritage or what their parents believed in the 21st Century, then we have moved the age of conscience back to before the Dark Ages where the powerful acted like demigods with impunity, answerable to no one but the whim of how much power they can wield.
The world is certainly more advanced than this, and more and more, blasphemy and apostasy laws are looking like a homage to Barbarity than a celebration of the freedom and the liberty of thought, the coming of the civilised man. Abrogate these odious laws without delay.
Other references


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