Monday, 5 May 2008

Religious faith and human rights

Last week, the Archbishop of Canterbury delivered a lecture at the London School of Economics. The title was Religious faith and human rights.

You can read the full text of the lecture here.

Natalie Hanman has written at Comment is free about this lecture. Her article is titled Cross purposes. In the article she asks which comes first: gender equality before the law, or religious liberty?

This article also explains about the current UK legislation imposing a “public sector equality duty” and the proposals to extend this duty into more areas.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Monday, 5 May 2008 at 11:11pm BST | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England | equality legislation

The Priest-Who-Is-Mad noted this lecture, here: (my comment on it is there also. Basically . . . BALDERDASH!)

Posted by: JCF on Tuesday, 6 May 2008 at 5:10am BST

The failure of the secular state to protect against torture is not an argument against the moral purpose and the moral authority of the secular state. In the past the Church failed even more drastically to protect human rights and the very idea of human rights had to be established in face of church opposition. The argument of Habermas, Nicholas Boyle and others that the Enlightenment vision of human dignity and human rights derives from Christianity is one-sided.

Posted by: Spirit of Vatican II on Tuesday, 6 May 2008 at 11:02am BST

The discussion of the body in this lecture is rather confusing. Human beings as such have human rights. What go into descriptions of what human beings are? Is it only to ensure protection for the embyro or fetus? If so, better stick to the old idea of the soul or find some modern equivalent for it.

I also do not see the need for the ironic attitude to secular modernity and to the Enlightenment appearing at several points in the lecture, e.g. β€œThe state is both the guarantor of rights – more clearly than ever with the emergence of the 'market state' in which the most important reason for recognising the legitimacy of a state is its ability to maximise your choices, as Philip Bobbitt has demonstrated – and the authority that claims the right to assess and on occasion overrule individual liberties.”

Posted by: Spirit of Vatican II on Tuesday, 6 May 2008 at 11:27am BST

"the very idea of human rights had to be established in face of church opposition"

It still does. There will always be certain elements in the Church whose need to identify with the Christians of the early Church is so great they would find persecution in a sunny day. Such people will see any advance of the human rights of others as a diminishing of their own. Look what happened in Britain with the laws around same sex couples. People actually argued their rights were being infringed if they were prevented from infringing the rights of others. They even claimed God's backing! The current debate in the Anglican Church has a strong thread of that. There are, of course, similar people on "the other side". The idea that one is standing against persecution is very attractive and romantic, after all, just as much so to liberals as conservatives. We've all felt it, regardless of our politics. The problem is that such people are just so loud.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Tuesday, 6 May 2008 at 1:29pm BST

Here are some choice morsels of Vatican pharisaism that tell a lot about the unease of religious institutions with human rights:

"13. Including "homosexual orientation" among the considerations on the basis of which it is illegal to discriminate can easily lead to regarding homosexuality as a positive source of human rights, for example, in respect to so-called affirmative action or preferential treatment in hiring practices. This is all the more deleterious since there is no right to homosexuality (cf. No. 10) which therefore should not form the basis for judicial claims. The passage from the recognition of homosexuality as a factor on which basis it is illegal to discriminate can easily lead, if not automatically, to the legislative protection and promotion of homosexuality. A person's homosexuality would be invoked in opposition to alleged discrimination, and thus the exercise of rights would be defended precisely via the affirmation of the homosexual condition instead of in terms of a violation of basic human rights.

"14. The "sexual orientation" of a person is not comparable to race, sex, age, etc. also for another reason than that given above which warrants attention. An individual's sexual orientation is generally not known to others UNLESS HE PUBLICLY IDENTIFIES HIMSELF AS HAVING THIS ORIENTATION OR UNLESS SOME OVERT BEHAVIOR MANIFESTS IT. As a rule, the majority of homosexually oriented persons who seek to lead chaste lives DO NOT PUBLICIZE THEIR SEXUAL ORIENTATION. Hence the problem of discrimination in terms of employment, housing, etc., does not usually arise."

The highlighted passages spell out clearly the Vatican's ideal for gay persons: SILENCE AND INVISIBILITY.

Posted by: Spirit of Vatican II on Tuesday, 6 May 2008 at 1:51pm BST

Alas, if this lecture gives clues, we cannot expect Canterbury to subscribe unambivalently any time soon - to an independent notion of global human rights which has its own authority to bear witness against abuse and meanness. Clearly, the thrust of these remarks is to claim that such authority must always be subservient to the alleged special religious roots from which any notions of human dignity and protection from abuse are claimed to spring.

But this neglects the immense contributions of all the churches - with few exceptions? - to abuse, meanness, and violations of human dignity over long centuries. Which continues to the present in many iterations of ethics or theologies which innately start off, defining the Other as less than human compared to some conservative understanding of the exemplary believer?

Alas. Lord have mercy. We believers have a long way to go, to claim exclusive patents on understanding and protecting human dignity. This is subtle, but way too close for my comfort as a thinking citizen, to the current state claims that torture is not torture if it is done for the supposedly correct reasons. Just like the trash talk and mistreatment of queer folks? Or uppity women?

Posted by: drdanfee on Tuesday, 6 May 2008 at 4:30pm BST


The same could be said of one's religion, surely? Is the Vatican opposed to legislation barring discrimination on the basis of religion?

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Tuesday, 6 May 2008 at 6:19pm BST

The gay issue has brought to light serpents of arrogance, manicheanism, disrespect for human rights, lying under the Rock of our Churches (both the Roman and the Anglican). It is a presenting issue indeed, a revealing catalyst. Now that our sickness is disgracefully exposed to our more enlightened secular contemporaries will we learn for it and seek healing in dialogue?

Posted by: Spirit of Vatican II on Wednesday, 7 May 2008 at 4:19am BST

Human rights and Christianity are simply incompatible. Catholic beliefs, in particular, are the antithesis of human rights.

Posted by: Merseymike on Wednesday, 7 May 2008 at 12:21pm BST

"The same could be said of one's religion, surely? "

Exactly! Frequently, you hear people opposing protection of gay rights because we shouldn't protect "lifestyle choices" in the constitution. Well, to profess a religion is certainly a choice. Religions, as our Evangelicals brethren are quick to point out, require a certain lifestyle. Indeed, certain religions are very detailed on what that lifestyle must be. So we already DO give constitutional protection to lifestyle choices. To be gay is merely to be gay. While stereotypical behaviour exists, the mere state of being gay does not dictate what one eats, when one does or does not work, what one wears, how one speaks, or any of numerous behaviours dictate by some or all religions. There's a word for people who falsely blame others for things they ignore, excuse, or are proud of in themselves. There's a word for people who enjoy the constitutional protection of their lifestyle choices, yet deny human rights to others, falsely claiming that what is one's state of being is actually a lifestyle choice, and inferior to those who enjoy the protection of the state. It's the same word we use to describe people who ignore whatever parts of the Bible they don't like, yet claim most vehemently that others are not only guilty of this, but are condemned for doing so.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Wednesday, 7 May 2008 at 1:15pm BST

Another article commenting on the Pope and human rights is by Simon Barrow

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Wednesday, 7 May 2008 at 4:14pm BST

"Catholic beliefs, in particular, are the antithesis of human rights."

Nonsense! Basic to Catholic belief is that human beings are valued by God merely because we ARE human beings, not because of what we do or do not do. Our inherent values as human beings is central. That cannot be said to be the antithesis of human rights.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Wednesday, 7 May 2008 at 5:06pm BST

No, Ford. You can't have 'rights' if you are subservient to a controlling god, and are inherently sinful and requiring of repentance. Its entirely inconsistent.

Posted by: Merseymike on Sunday, 11 May 2008 at 1:25pm BST

In the same way that a state exists first and foremost to protect individual rights so that they may flourish, the Church exists for the same reason. Rights are irrelevant in anarchy.

Posted by: Walsingham on Monday, 12 May 2008 at 5:56pm BST

"No, Ford. You can't have 'rights' if you are subservient to a controlling god, and are inherently sinful and requiring of repentance. Its entirely inconsistent."

Are you saying you are perfect? If not, you are accepting the idea of being, as you put it, "inherently sinful". You accept the doctrine of Original Sin every time you say "Nobody's perfect." Furthermore, it seems your issues are with authority. You come from an Evangelical backgroud. That explains a lot. I figure God was only ever presented to you as an authoritarain lawmaker who demands total obedience or He will reject you outright and torture you for all Eternity unless you abase yourself. Just because the evangelical understanding of God resembles an abusive parent doesn't mean that's what God is. I sympathize, but that's only one interpretation of Christianity, and a very unhealthy one at that. I find it amusing, actually, that you refer to being "subservient to a controlling God." I have never felt myself subservient. Confronted with the reality of an Eternal, omnipotent Being who created and sustained all that is, I don't feel that following what such a Being reveals about His desires for His Creation is subservience, rather it is drawing closer to the only force in the Universe that really has meaning. Your issues with authority figures are yours to work out, but God is no taskmaster, no overseer, no vindictive judge. I empathize, but it is not a good thing to dismiss the faith of a large number of people because you have been damaged by a distorted interpretation of that faith, most especially when that interpretation is actually quite a recent thing in the history of that faith. God doesn't seek to control you. If you think otherwise, someone has to answer for so misleading you and for the damage to your soul that shows so clearly in your anger at the Church, and God Himself.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Monday, 12 May 2008 at 6:10pm BST
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