For human rights to flourish, religious rights have to come second

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In Britain, discriminatory attitudes – to racism, to women, to homosexuality – have changed quickly and profoundly. But are religious beliefs now hampering progress?

There is certainly no shortage of one thing in the world, and that's a lack of goodwill to all men. And women. And children. If it isn't Russia introducing laws against homosexuality, then it's Saudi Arabia resisting the idea that women should drive cars. If it isn't Burma, spoilt for choice, decade after decade, as to which ethnicity to cleanse, then it's a bunch of African countries extolling female genital mutilation.

And outrageous as these horrors are, even the countries that we in the UK see as our natural allies, and consider as sharing our values, are hardly perfect. The US clings to capital punishment, thwarted only by a lack of the chemicals necessary to kill. Australia stands against gay marriage. Israel continues to favour the needs of settlers over established populationsEurope continues to harbour virulent antisemitism.

Britain is hardly without problems either. Hardly a day goes by without some giant, discriminatory insult provoking heated indignation. If it isn't a forgotten X Factor winner blithely sharing his homophobia, then it is a little-known university rule-making body being blasted for promoting gender segregation. If it isn't some obscure politician demanding that all Europeans should be sent back to Europe, then it's some woeful cliche of a lawyer bemoaning the horrors of sexually predatory children.

Our own transgressions against human rights may seem minor compared to those being perpetrated abroad, and our condemnations of them satisfyingly uncompromising. But it is surely helpful to remind ourselves that our own anti-discriminatory consensus is an extremely recent development. Living adults remember when their sexuality was illegal, when women had the right to complete an undergraduate course, but not to receive a degree. While people continue to count racism against them as part of their daily experience, their parents can remember when this wasn't even against the law. People who expected to die without being brought to account for their sexual crimes against children, as Jimmy Savile did, are belatedly seeing the inside of a court of law.

Written By: Deborah Orr
continue to source article at theguardian.com

32 COMMENTS

  1. No. For human rights to flourish religious right must come last.

    For instance animal rights could come second. Then fill in your favorites until religious rights come last

    James Aurthur?!? I don’t even remember him. I guess he was forgotten.

  2. Yes, Orr’s comments are right on the money. But something just as profound is also a problem. For some time I have been reviewing various comment sections on a wide variety of websites. Why is it that so many people express openly such hostility, hate, rage, and bigoted comments and feel perfectly fine about it? Is it just the nature of comment posts or is all of society harboring such seething, vile hatred toward everyone who doesn’t think like they do? What can or should we do about it? How do you feel about it? I find it depressing to the point that I stopped reading all blogs and comment sections about two weeks ago and, amazingly, I feel better! Seriously though, what does this say about society and our world? Has this always been the case?

    • In reply to #3 by Indygrl76:

      Yes, Orr’s comments are right on the money. But something just as profound is also a problem. For some time I have been reviewing various comment sections on a wide variety of websites. Why is it that so many people express openly such hostility, hate, rage, and bigoted comments and feel perfectl…

      I think the comments show how thin the layer of shelter is that is given by civilisation (we use a comparable expression in Germany but I can’t find how this is expressed propperly in English – I hope you get what I mean). Comments on the internet are like the behavior on the German Autobahn. It’s a least a war zone because everyone believes he or she is “anonymous” and cannot be punishe for wrong behavior. And in this case the people behaving like that risk their own lives and the ones of others without haven a guilty conscious!

    • In reply to #3 by Indygrl76:

      Yes, Orr’s comments are right on the money. But something just as profound is also a problem. For some time I have been reviewing various comment sections on a wide variety of websites. Why is it that so many people express openly such hostility, hate, rage, and bigoted comments and feel perfectl…

      I can recall a time before the WWW when writing a letter to a newspaper had to contain your name and address. Now people can anonymously spew their bile without fear of recourse. Simple attributes such as politeness and respect flew away. I too become very disillusioned and mostly don’t bother except this site, where I know that people are respectful, even if having differing views, which is as it should be.

  3. Religious rights have always acted as a brake on human rights, the high and mighty will always say you cannot do that because their invisible friend will be angry until we stand up to this nonsense progress will always be stunted.

  4. It doesn’t matter what casuist reasoning is used. Religious declared rights are intended to be human declared rights. If they are not then they are no longer beneficial as being a part of that religion and have either become extremist or completely seperate of that religion.

    It is not appropriate as a wet dream to find any case based reasoning to say religion should not exist when its ill functioning. It needs repair to be functioning along-side human rights as intended originally. No political interference into the “declared religious rights” of a group or “declared rights of humans” by politicians, in order to invalidate one or the other.

  5. When teenagers in my class exclaim “This is Gay!” as a substitute for “This sucks” or “this is crap”, I always give them a lecture about Alan Turing the enigma machine and the conception of binary, the lives he saved in WW2 and how how he was driven to suicide by the ungrateful country he arguably had more impact on saving than any other individual. They get the message and eventually the students start telling other kids not to use it so they don’t have to hear the story again (at least 2 a week-different classes though). The genuinely homophobic ones I bring them over the waste paper basket and tell them to dispose of their iphone in there are they wouldn’t want to associate themselves with the product of a homosexuals work would they then? Funnily enough they are never that homophobic. When they accuse another student of being gay, I ask them exactly how they know that. This gets blank looks and sniggers for the brighter students. I then give them a lecture about tolerance, some statistics and let them know there is quite likely a homosexual in the class. I’m boring them into better manners one student at a time. Step 1 suppress your homophobia publicly, step 2. acceptance.

  6. She’s good, Deborah Orr (she is Will Self’s wife, and would doubtless not want to be appreciated for that reason alone).

    But when she writes “Britain is in a good position to start working out a framework whereby people with diverse beliefs can live together without conflict, safe in the knowledge that the religious beliefs of all who respect human rights will be respected in turn”, she leaves hanging how this is to come about.

    I am quite content to respect religions which respect human rights. But I do not believe that is going to come about unless and until modern democratic societies take steps to actively disrespect those that do not. There needs to be a stick as well as a carrot, whether it be removal of tax exemptions or (in the UK) the right to be an “established” church, or the right to set up your own courts (sharia, beth din), or the “right” to opt out of humane animal slaughter, or the “right” to mutilate infant children without informed consent, and so on and so forth.

    We are still in the phoney war stage; the bit where everyone pretends that being a right-on liberal means we should celebrate all this cultural diversity, and respect all its many little foibles and quirks. We should not. We should tell religions – and they are all guilty to some extent, even the generally-inoffensive Church of England banning women bishops say – that the respect they demand has to be earned, and that they need to put their own houses in order.

    “My magic book says no” is not an acceptable response.

  7. Religious rights should be down among the rights to carry on your culture, provided it does not hurt anyone. We all know of cultural practices that are downright loathsome. I have often seen the aphorism (which I can only paraphrase) “Your right to swing your arm ends where it hits me.”

  8. My opinion is that people start dividing themselves when they “invented” a private property, and continued to nurture this evil and wrong idea. “Mine” and “Yours” are not natural human states. Those who wanted to accumulate natural resources at the expense of other human being have introduced unnatural conditions – imbalance between humans. Although many people think that private property is something quite natural and good, it is not! It gave us wars and fight about natural resources that are basics of societies, it provided so called class inequality, social roles and social stereotypes. All social structures (politics, healthcare, education, science, economy and church) are modeled upon hierarchical communication, which is actually wrong communication! Private property along with religion (as the product of it) are “roots of all evil” in this world. We will not have human rights as long as this types of communications exist! Remove hierarchy in society (which you call democracy) and term “human rights” will not exist.

    • In reply to #10 by Modesti:

      My opinion is that people start dividing themselves when they “invented” a private property, and continued to nurture this evil and wrong idea. “Mine” and “Yours” are not natural human states. Those who wanted to accumulate natural resources at the expense of other human being have introduced unnatu…

      Surely it goes back further. If you are a primate there is your tribe “us”, consisting of mostly a small group sharing some of your genes and there are the other tribes “them”. Your tribe is bound to be in competition with the other tribes as you need the same resources. The development of human morality seems to consist of expanding the group treated like yours and shrinking the group of others.

      Christianity provides a reason for dividing the world into them and us. “Us” are the ones we are going to share eternity with and “them” are the lot who are going to burn downstairs. It also provides a compelling argument to expand the group of us with verses like “as you did until the least of these you did unto me”. Pity they are so often ignored.

      Michael

      • In reply to #12 by mmurray:

        In reply to #10 by Modesti:

        Surely it goes back further. If you are a primate there is your tribe “us”, consisting of mostly a small group sharing some of your genes and there are the other tribes “them”.

        Entirely so. The particular group forming mechanism we use is common to all primates. Its the pleasurable cuddle chemical oxytocin released to pacify a suckling young and mother and co-opted by evolutionary processes as a kin detector, the trigger for which may be grooming, nurturing, food provision etc.. The lame brain trigger means this goes off frequently with those nearby who for the longest time were most likely to be near kin, but later it roped in others nearby who cuddled and nurtured as-if-kin. These strong (chemical!) bonds bound tribes together well but inevitably created out-groups (who had their own internal obligations) to be vigilantly guarded against.

        Religion’s first useful trick was to make super-tribes possible with sky daddies and mummies redirecting the chemical loyalty above the local. Great for agriculture and annexing your neighbor’s fields, and slowly refined as the arms race of sky daddies finally simplified things to the ultimate Super-Sky-Daddy-of-Everything-and-Everyone.

        Alas several inventors of religion had the same idea, with a fair few SSDoEEs (by definition logically incompatible) now slugging it out, all still fueled by the cuddle chemical. But it feels so good, how can it be wrong?

  9. She’s right, of course, but the article leaves most of the heavy lifting still to do. All dogmas are potentially harmful to making a better choice now. All idealisms work against the unexpected circumstances of a complex reality.

    Her reasonable social covenant-

    But human rights are not imaginary. They’re conceptual. They rest on a single idea – that all humans have a common need for certain conditions if they are to flourish as productive members of society, and that all humans have a responsibility to ensure that everyone attains and maintains those rights.

    would not get past many Libertarians who would brush off such personal demands without appropriate contracts in place and followed by the careful accounting of all the cross invoicing involved.

    Until we can point to a no-dogma solution e.g. “Betterism” (tm Quine…our Quine) Not Idealism, and a pragmatic evolutionary-type mechanism to deliver it (Wilkinson and Pickett show a way by comprehensively analysing outcomes to inform our next small course alteration) we will be dogged by accusations of mere dogma substitution as seen in the comments at the Guardian CIF website.

    • In reply to #17 by YesUCan:

      In my opinion, freedom is a “right.” Religion and religious practice could be evaluated on this basis.

      Freedom is not unlimited. A modern democracy would not tolerate a religious requirement to stone adulterers, say.

      The Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees freedom of religion. but that is somewhat conditioned by whether a state chooses to recognise something as a religion.

      That’s where it gets messy, from considering whether a state should recognise say Scientology or Satanism or Wicca, down to whether Saudi Arabia should permit Christianity.

      • In reply to #19 by Stevehill:

        In reply to #17 by YesUCan:

        In my opinion, freedom is a “right.” Religion and religious practice could be evaluated on this basis.

        Freedom is not unlimited. A modern democracy would not tolerate a religious requirement to stone adulterers, say.

        The Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantee…

        Thank you Steve for drawing attention to The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. According to this document, religious rights don’t have to come second, but 18th… As for your comments about practice in the form of stoning etc. these are already heavy/multiple violation of fundamental human rights according to The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

  10. In German the §175 that put sexual activeties amongst men under punishment was abolished 1994! In some of the German Bundsesländer (especially the ones with Christian in the name of the leading parties) they are still not allowed to marry!

    As a descendant of Carribean ancestors I was confronted with racistical actions throughout my youth in a rural German area. And even science has to protect itself again and again against religious conservatism (e. g. stemm cell research). But As I mentioned in my posting religion is much more cunning today, acts out of the background and starts crying out loud “blasphemy” if someone criticizes their actions.

    The child abuse scandal is no longer an issue here althhough nothing was done even to clear the circumstances. The church decided to handle it internally and no one is doing something against it. They even got rid of the institute, that was originally chosen to investigate in the cases, because the results didn’t match the churches expectations and the institute denied to change the results or to keep them secret. That was it!

    In Switzerland women usually get arond 17,9% less wage in the same jobs as men, start with less, take longer to get promoted in business and end with still less wage! There is stll a lot to do!

  11. In German the §175 that put sexual activeties amongst men under punishment was abolished 1994! In some of the German Bundsesländer (especially the ones with Christian in the name of the leading parties) they are still not allowed to marry!

    As a descendant of Carribean ancestors I was confronted with racistical actions throughout my youth in a rural German area. And even science has to protect itself again and again against religious conservatism (e. g. stemm cell research). But As I mentioned in my posting religion is much more cunning today, acts out of the background and starts crying out loud “blasphemy” if someone criticizes their actions.

    The child abuse scandal is no longer an issue here althhough nothing was done even to clear the circumstances. The church decided to handle it internally and no one is doing something against it. They even got rid of the institute, that was originally chosen to investigate in the cases, because the results didn’t match the churches expectations and the institute denied to change the results or to keep them secret. That was it!

    In Switzerland women usually get arond 17,9% less wage in the same jobs as men, start with less, take longer to get promoted in business and end with still less wage! There is stll a lot to do!

  12. And all sentiant beings need to have the similar rights that come above “human” rights. Putting human rights infront of religious rights is just a stop-gap measure (in the right direction).

    • In reply to #21 by old-toy-boy:

      And all sentiant beings need to have the similar rights that come above “human” rights. Putting human rights infront of religious rights is just a stop-gap measure (in the right direction).

      What other ‘sentient beings’ do you have in mind?

      Technically the word just means “having senses”. So wasps, say.

  13. Good article and I agree completely…what rights should a concept like religion have over real people like women for example…..of course human rights need to be first and that requires equality of humans….its got zero to do with religion at all….but they just keep interfering as if they have some extra entitlement ….Which they Don’t……we don’t need to accept what they say just because they say it…..Rights must make sense and be fair for all people then we can agree on those things…. what you believe and who you pray too…..is IRRELEVANT to human rights….

  14. Oh goody, another of those Grauniad columns of vacuous pseudo-intellectual claptrap for which it has become so justly famous.

    Ignorant of history:

    The human rights movement was born out of violence – the violence of the second world war in general and of the Holocaust in particular.

    Ignorant of philosophy:

    Human rights are often mocked as imaginary.

    Ignorant of, if not holding a heroic perspective on, speculation on recent politics:

    …. the worship in some quarters of economic inequality and the power it confers to the few gives religion a run for its money …

    All, it would seem, in order to work out a socialist angle on what went wrong:

    … if some people are allowed to practise their religious beliefs, then all should be able to. How easy that is to say. How hard it is to implement. Multiculturalism, really, can be seen as an attempt to put that simple, treacherous idea into practice.

    Sadly, identity politics is not put under the microscope – the obvious weaknesses in the focus on vested, organised, interests, set aside.

    While I appreciate the sentiment, I prefer my political ideology and rhetoric with some critical analysis and some actual thinking.

    Britain is in a good position to start working out a framework whereby people with diverse beliefs can live together without conflict, safe in the knowledge that the religious beliefs of all who respect human rights will be respected in turn.

    This is exactly the kind of platitudinous, dogmatic, hallucinatory view of politics that prevents me from buying the Grauniad.

    The idea that people of faith should put the ideas that spring from that faith second to those ideas that we can validate as good is not exactly new. We had that little thing called The Enlightenment. For goodness sake, it only lasted more than a century.

    The Writer (for once I’m so annoyed I can’t even be bothered with attribution) clearly writes from the position of one who lives in a country in a post-reformation, post-enlightenment, situation – yet utterly fails to recognise the challenge that this constitutes to the methods of thinking prevalent in countries where faith still holds sway. Indeed the level of ignorance of the levels of dogmatic and faith-based belief that permeate British society is, to put it as politely as I can, impossible to credit in one who was, presumably, paid to write this utter tosh.

    Peace.

  15. As far as I’m concerned “religious rights” amount to the freedom to proselytise nonsense, the freedom for certain holy men to bite off a newborn’s foreskin, the freedom to deny science, the freedom to create smokescreens into real enquiry about the world, the freedom to keep women in their place as baby machines, the freedom to oppose contraception, the freedom to put the fear of God into believers.

    If that’s religious “freedom”, I want none of it !

    • In reply to #26 by Mr DArcy:

      As far as I’m concerned “religious rights” amount to the freedom to proselytise nonsense, the freedom for certain holy men to bite off a newborn’s foreskin, the freedom to deny science, the freedom to create smokescreens into real enquiry about the world, the freedom to keep women in their place as…

      Agreed. I respect the right of anyone to have a religion and believe in its nonsense, if that is their desire, but there it must stop before having any effect on human rights. The religions I know about have absolutely nothing to offer in the way of human rights that secularism has not already adopted and made law, but have numerous doctrines, dogmas and practices that are destructive for humanity. Let them have their religion, but tell them to keep it to themselves. It is not needed.

  16. I can recall a time before the WWW when writing a letter to a newspaper had to contain your name and address. Now people can anonymously spew their bile without fear of recourse.

    Perhaps people should minimally include their age. I sometimes think I must be arguing with a sixteen-year-old. (Not that all 16 year old are ignorant, but immaturity has something to do with much of the bile on the internet.) Come up with a solution and you will make history.

    • In reply to #29 by QuestioningKat:

      I can recall a time before the WWW when writing a letter to a newspaper had to contain your name and address. Now people can anonymously spew their bile without fear of recourse.

      Perhaps people should minimally include their age. I sometimes think I must be arguing with a sixteen-year-old. (Not tha…

      I was so sure I was debating a teenager I suggested that he would feel a little differently about things, when he’d grown up and experienced a little more of of life, as a way to deflect the bad temperedness in our exchanges. The 50 year old was not in the least pacified.

  17. In reply to #3 by Indygrl76:

    Yes, Orr’s comments are right on the money. But something just as profound is also a problem. For some time I have been reviewing various comment sections on a wide variety of websites. Why is it that so many people express openly such hostility, hate, rage, and bigoted comments and feel perfectl…

    I think the comments show how thin the layer of shelter is that is given by civilisation (we use a comparable expression in Germany but I can’t find how this is expressed propperly in English – I hope you get what I mean). Comments on the internet are like the behavior on the German Autobahn. It’s a least a war zone because everyone believes he or she is “anonymous” and cannot be punishe for wrong behavior. And in this case the people behaving like that risk their own lives and the ones of others without haven a guilty conscious!

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