Archives for posts with tag: Human Rights
I find myself feeling increasingly isolated by the groupthink I see everywhere these days.
 
Am I the only person who is uncomfortable with the spirit of the times which divides people and judges them on the basis of what they believe or how they vote?
 
(Photo of a memorial to prisoners of war killed building the Thai-Burma railway in World War 2.
Hellfire Pass, Thailand)
 
 
How sad it would be
 
 
If I believed in tolerance so strongly,
I could show no tolerance
to those who saw things differently.
 
 
If I praised diversity in all things
except opinion.
 
 
If I defended human rights
with personal abuse,
foul language
or violence.
 
 
If I believed those who thought differently
were stupid,
deluded,
bigoted,
or evil.
 
 
If I my belief in a cause
stopped me reaching out in friendship.
 
 
If I believed I held the truth and it were mine alone.
 
 
How sad it would be.
 
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(Available on Kindle)
 
What a delight it was to read this short book. I couldn't put it down. Partly an autobiography; partly a critique of contemporary western society and culture: and partly a manifesto of belief and wisdom gathered over a lifetime as a philosopher; Roger Scruton has distilled insights that speak to my heart and soul.
 
In the twenty first century Roger Scruton is very much a counter cultural subversive, although quite a different type from some of the self congratulating 'progressive' thinkers who have graced the stage over past decades. When the spirit of our age is everywhere 'setting us free' from our traditional values, it has been a welcome surprise to find there is at least one voice uncomfortable with that trend.
 
His ideas confront and contradict much of what is assumed as wisdom in contemporary culture. I have reproduced parts of some of them here. Mostly, I have prefered to let his words speak for themselves. Partly because they are so richly pregnant with wisdom that anything I could add would be trivial in comparison but also, I think, because the more I add, the less likely I expect anyone will bother to read any of this. Which would be a pity. There is wisdom worth reading here. I do not expect everyone will agree with everything Scruton writes, but it is nonetheless worth reading, even if only to clarify what it is you believe.
 
I have selected, edited and rearranged the order of what follows and used my own headings but I haven't altered anything that would change the thrust of what Scruton is saying. Apart from the headings, my words are in italics. The photographs, apart from the title page, are mine.
 
 
On Growing Up
“To grow up aged 54 is not a great achievement. But it is better than not growing up at all.”
 
Well Roger, I think I may have beaten you by a few years, but not that many. Still, I know exactly what you mean. Growing up has nothing at all to do with reaching voting age, or driving a car, or being able to drink alcohol legally.


On Progress and Human Rights
“We have made an idol of progress. But ‘progress’ is simply another name for human dreams, human ambitions, human fantasies. By worshipping progress we bow before an altar on which our own sins are exhibited. We kill in ourselves both piety and gratitude, believing that we owe the world nothing, and that the world owes everything to us. That is the real meaning, it seems to me, of the new secular religion of human rights. I call it a religion because it seems to occupy the place vacated by faith. It tells us that we are the centre of the universe, that we are under no call to obedience, but that the world is ordered in accordance with our rights. The result of this religion of rights is that people feel unendingly hard done by. Every disappointment is met with a lawsuit, in the hope of turning material loss to material gain. And whatever happens to us, we ourselves are never at fault. . . . But this world of rights and claims and litigation is a profoundly unhappy one, since it is a world in which no one accepts misfortune, and every reversal is a cause of bitterness, anger and blame.”
 
What more can I say?


On Religious Faith and the Rise of Secularism
“My years as a voyeur of holiness (have) brought me, nevertheless, into contact with true believers, and taught me that faith transfigures everything it touches, and raises the world to God. To believe as much is not yet to believe; but it is to know your insufficiency.”
 
Yes, I know very well my own insufficiency. That seems to me to be a start. I have also come into contact with people here and there whose holiness has inspired me. I'm not talking about the hypocrites who are a dime a dozen in our churches (and outside them too). I am talking about people who are genuinely humble and draw others to them.

 
“Those brought up in our post religious society do not seek forgiveness, since they are by and large free from the belief that they need it. This does not mean they are happy. But it does mean that they put pleasure before commitment . . . without being crippled by guilt.
(But we still) have gods of a kind, flitting below the surface of our passions. You can glimpse Gaia, the earth goddess . . . of the environmentalists; Fox and Deer are totemic spirits for the defenders of animal rights, whose religion was shaped by the kitsch of Walt Disney; the human genome has a mystical standing in the eyes of many medical scientists. We have cults like football, sacrificial offerings like Princess Diana and improvised saints like Linda McCartney.”
 
And we still have secular sins that by and large will lead to excommunication from progressive society: Being judgemental; a racist, a homophobe, or a climate change denier. But it's not only wrong thinking that will see you excluded. Pedophilia, never acceptable, has been elevated to be the most detestable and unforgiveable sin; a long way above drug trafficking and murder. Who says 'sin' is an outdated concept? It is alive and well in our secular world.


On the need for the Church to be “relevant” and to align its teachings with modern thinking.
“What an absurd demand – to be relevant! Was Christ relevant? To be relevant means to accept the standard of the world in which you are, and therefore to cease to aspire beyond it.”
 
Absolutely!
Nothing wrong with the Church going to where people are, as long as, in the process, you do not forget who you are and why you are Church. Democracy is fine as a political system, but it is a lousy way to decide theology. If a majority of people believe black is white, it doesn't make it so.

 
On Vows versus Contracts
“In modern society there is a growing tendency to construe marriage as a kind of contract. This tendency is familiar to us from the sordid divorces of tycoons and pop stars, and is made explicit in the ‘pre- nuptial agreement’, under the terms of which an attractive woman sells her body at an inflated price, and a man secures his remaining assets from her future predations. Under such an agreement marriage becomes a preparation for divorce, a contract between two people for their short- term mutual exploitation. This contractual view of marriage is deeply confused.
 
 
Marriage is surrounded by moral, legal and religious prohibitions precisely because it is not a contract but a vow. Vows do not have terms, nor can they be legitimately broken. They are ‘forever’, and in making a vow you are placing yourself outside time and change, in a state of spiritual union, which can be translated into actions in the here and now, but which always lies in some way above and beyond the world of decaying things.
That we can make vows is one part of the great miracle of human freedom; and when we cease to make them our lives are impoverished, since they involve no lasting commitment, no attempt to cross the frontier between self and other.
Contracts have terms, and come to an end when the terms are fulfilled or when the parties agree to renounce them. They bind us to the temporal world, and have the transience of human appetite. To reduce marriage to a contract is to demote marriage to a tie of self interest, to trivialize the erotic bond, and to jeopardize the emotions on which your children depend for their security.
We become fully human when we aim to be more than human; it is by living in the light of an ideal that we live with our imperfections. That is the deep reason why a vow can never be reduced to a contract: the vow is a pledge to the ideal light in you; a contract is signed by your self interested shadow.”
 
This discussion of vow versus contract goes to the heart of life. I say this as one who has broken a marriage vow and has seen what darkness results. What I learned will stay with me for the rest of my life. When we define relationships and dealings with contract clauses instead of vows we lose something we cannot afford to lose: our own sanctity.
 
 
On Ethics and Decision making
“Discussions of embryo research, cloning, abortion and euthanasia – subjects that go to the heart of the religious conception of our destiny – proceed in once Catholic Europe as though nothing were at stake beyond the expansion of human choices. Little now remains of the old Christian idea that life, its genesis and its terminus are sacred things, to be meddled with at our peril. The piety and humility that it was once natural to feel before the fact of creation have given way to a pleasure- seeking disregard for absent generations. The people of Europe are living as though the dead and the unborn had no say in their decisions.”
 
And for those who have swallowed the line that science is the highest truth?
 
“No scientific advance will bestow eternal youth, eternal happiness, eternal love or loveliness. Hence no scientific advance can answer to our underlying religious need. Having put our trust in science we can expect only disappointment. . . . The best that science can offer is a theory of the how of things; but it is silent about the why.
However much we study the evolution of the human species, however much we meddle with nature’s secrets, we will not discover the way of freedom . . . Freedom, love and duty come to us as a vision of eternity, and to know them is to know God.”
 
 
On the Hypocrisy of some Animal Activist Campaigners
“The argument (against fox hunting) is serious and challenging, especially if expressed (as it rarely is) by someone who knows what hunting actually involves. However, a moral argument must be consistent if it is to be sincere.
The pleasure taken by cat lovers in their pets (who cause 200 million painful deaths each year in Britain alone) is also a pleasure bought at the expense of animal suffering. The RSPCA, which moralizes volubly against hunting, shooting and fishing, keeps quiet about cat keeping, for fear of offending its principal donors.”
 
Those who know me know my thoughts on cats.
 
On Politics
“. . . societies are not and cannot be organized according to a plan or a goal . . there is no direction to history, and no such thing as moral or spiritual progress.”
 
That may make you sit up with a start. Really? Have we been hoodwinked into thinking history marches ever onward and upward? Scruton thinks we (humans) will always get in the way of our own grand narratives of progress and so do I.

“The strange superstition has arisen in the Western world that we can start all over again, remaking human nature, human society and the possibilities of happiness, as though the knowledge and experience of our ancestors were now entirely irrelevant. But on what fund of knowledge are we to draw when framing our alternative? The utopias have proved to be illusions, and the most evident result of our ‘liberation’ from traditional constraints has been widespread discontent with the human condition.”
 
Do we have nothing to learn from our heritage, our traditions and our past? Scruton thinks we have a lot to learn and that we ignore it to our peril.
 
“There is no way in which people can collectively pursue liberty, equality and fraternity . . . because collective reason doesn’t work that way. People reason collectively towards a common goal only in times of emergency – when there is a threat to be vanquished, or a conquest to be achieved. Even then, they need organization, hierarchy and a structure of command if they are to pursue their goal effectively. . . . Moreover – and here is the corollary that came home to me with a shock of recognition – any attempt to organize society according to this kind of rationality would involve . . . the declaration of war against some real or imagined enemy. Hence the strident and militant language of the socialist literature – the hate- filled, purpose- filled, bourgeois-baiting prose.”
 
Perhaps this is why politics can be so nasty and adversial? Maybe that is why when we aim at building a new society we feel the need to demonise our opponents? E.g. Climate change deniers? Religious nutters? Bogans? Rabid Right Wing Reactionaries? Left Wing Loonies?
 
“Real freedom, concrete freedom, the freedom that can actually be defined, claimed and granted, (is) not the opposite of obedience but its other side. The abstract, unreal freedom of the liberal intellect (is) really nothing more than childish disobedience, amplified into anarchy.”
 
Ouch! . . . But pure gold to this old conservative.
 
 
On Education and Schooling
“(A) vision of European culture as the institutionalized form of oppressive power is taught everywhere as gospel, to students who have neither the culture nor the religion to resist it.
(My school) had not been infected by the modern heresy that tells us that knowledge must be adapted to the interests of the child. On the contrary: our ‘beaks’ believed that the interests of the child should be adapted to knowledge. The purpose of the school was not to flatter the pupils but to rescue the curriculum, by pouring it into heads that might pass it on.
Even the most rebellious among us shared the assumption on which our education was based, which is that there are real distinctions between knowledge and opinion, culture and philistinism, wit and stupidity, art and kitsch.”
 
Today, in schools, it seems we mostly try to train students to be good employees and faithful consumers. By and large we have given up trying to educate them in the sense that Scruton is using. Schools in western countries are funded and run as agents of economic development, rather than institions where education is pursued for its own sake. This has been one of the most disappointing things I have seen happen in my career as an educator. My regret is that I have felt powerless to do anything about it.
 
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Well. That was a small taste of Scruton's ideas and thoughts on what is worthwhile. Maybe you will seek his work out. I think he is worth listening to. Maybe you see the world differently. I'm not so arrogant as to think people who disagree with me must be wrong.

If you are a seeker of knowledge and wisdom I recommend Scruton's book to you.
 
 
 
 

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Saturday morning coffee overlooking the Broadwater, only 10 minutes walk from home (except that I drove). Life is good. Surrounded by people enjoying their morning coffee and conversations. No sharp, jagged, dangerous bits to be seen. Just plenty of sun, water and pelicans.
At times like these you could close your eyes and imagine . . . well, whatever you wanted to.

But even here and now, reality has a habit of crowding out such thoughts. There it was on my ipad, in the midst of the news from Gaza and the Ukraine:

The Thai surrogate mother of a baby with Down syndrome who was abandoned by its Australian parents says she has been left to provide for the child she has named Gammy, who also suffers from a life-threatening heart condition. The woman gave birth to twins but the Australian couple who engaged her abandoned the boy and took his healthy sister home with them.

My first urge was to write about those Australian parents, flying out with their perfect, designer label daughter, leaving the factory reject son behind. However I find I can’t summon the enthusiasm. I would much rather write about the two other people in the story who, the way I see it, are definitely worth writing about.

It seems to me the young Thai woman who carried Gammy inside her body for nine months is every bit the mother Gammy needs, even though she is not biologically related to him. I am full of admiration for her. She has very little materially, but what she has is something Gammy’s biological parents do not have: Mercy and love in abundance. I hope and pray that in the years ahead, this young woman is sustained in her mothering, and rewarded with Gammy’s love. What a rich and authentic person she is, in ways that count.

For those of us who sit with our morning coffee amidst the sunshine and the pelicans and imagine life is good, she stands out as a saint, a heroine, a person who points out what is important and lasting amidst the cheap and superficial. Thank you young lady. You are better and holier than you know. Life is good and this morning you have reminded me of how and why it is.

Life may appear to have dealt the little boy Gammy short, and indeed it has, if we use the criteria that first come to mind. Abandoned by his biological parents, rejected as worthless junk. A life-threatening heart condition will also probably mean his time with us will be short. At least though, one person cannot bring herself to throw him away. He has someone to love him and care for him, regardless of the cost and the inconvenience. Gammy may not realise it straight away but that is worth more than gold. In at least one person’s eyes he is worthwhile, independent of what he is capable of being or doing.

As I drain my coffee I cannot help but thank God for these two unlikely people, whose story has reminded me of what matters.

God doesn’t make junk Gammy. Your mother is his reminder to you of that.

Mama Jumbe’s Facebook site found its way to my facebook page this morning. I have copied it here:

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“Nothing to see here. Just 234 girls that were abducted from school 2 weeks ago that nobody is talking about.
It’s not the Malaysian Flight 370 or Sandy Hook Elementary, so the media hasn’t deemed this must-see TV. But parents who can’t sleep have taken machetes to cut through the country side to look for their daughters with no luck, diminishing hope, and no voice to be heard by the rest of the world.”

Rob’s editorial

Boko Haram Muslim extremists have claimed responsibility for kidnapping over 200 secondary school girls in one attack in Nigeria last month. In the last couple of days one of their leaders has appeared on a video taunting authorities and the girls’ families. He seemed very pleased with himself. Apparently Allah told him to take the girls. Allah has also told him it is ok to sell them on to slavery, according to a credible source – himself. What a croc!

And the response from the world?
Studied silence; hands over ears.

. . . Interesting just how flexible and relative is our threshold for moral outrage. I can’t help thinking, if it had involved some westerner’s rights or entitlements being under threat, the frothing at the mouth would now be well underway.

Where is the outrage from Muslims at what some of their more extreme brothers have done in their name?

Where is the response from Nigerian authorities to ensure the safety of their own citizens?

Where is the West? The snatch teams? The attack helicopters?

Where is the condemnation from the usual suspects who normally jump all over human rights abuses?

These poor kids are presumably Christians, and thereby it seems, invisible to professional hand wringers in the western world. Their human rights are just a theoretical construct it seems; to be ignored when it suits. Their ‘crime’ was to want to go to school to sit for their exams.

A criminal gang broke into their school and snatched them away at gunpoint. I don’t want to think about what they have endured since then. Neither do their families; their mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, who are left with a black bottomless chasm at the centre of their lives. No one wants to listen. They are on their own. I think of my own daughters when they were at school and I want to hurt the scum who took them.
Two hundred young kids treated like expendable goods, and the western world’s outrage meter is not even registering.

It’s not just sad. It’s appalling. Our hypocrisy stinks! Our confected outrage at any number of other causes is shown for just it is: selective, convenient and expendable.

I feel a rising anger at the pious hypocrisy which is at the heart of our western culture. We deserve the contempt in which we are held by those who are presently working to undermine and destroy us and our way of life.

Maybe its not anger that I feel. Maybe I’m just ashamed.

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(Human Rights image from Electronic Frontiers Australia website)

What are we worth?

If we discount the obvious things like wealth, good looks and intelligence, how can we measure our value? I don’t know about you, but I’ve known some wealthy, good looking and clever individuals for whom ‘worthy’ wouldn’t be the first adjective that comes to mind.

On the other hand, does our worth depend on how helpful we are? How ‘nice’ we are? How influential we are? How selfless we are? How committed we are to causes? How gently assertive we are? How ‘together’ we are? How much fun we are to be with? How sporty we are? How socially adept we are? . . .
I really hope, with crossed fingers and toes, that not too many of the above count for much in the value ratings. If they did, I am pretty sure I would be in some difficulty.

Despite this, I believe I am worthwhile and valuable (as are you). But I don’t believe any of that value comes from personal qualities which we all have in different combinations. I have learned not to fret at my many and varied shortcomings, obvious as they are to myself and those around me. As unfortunate as some of them undoubtedly are, I don’t believe they are relevant when it comes to determining my value in the scheme of things, any more than yours are to your value.

I think we need to look elsewhere.

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(Animal Legal Defence Fund website)

You see I believe you and I have innate value as human beings. Yes I think dogs and cats and other animals (whales, monkeys, dolphins, polar bears and pandas) have their own value too. But that’s another matter – I shouldn’t stray off topic!
You and I have innate value and so I believe we should show each other kindness and consideration in our dealings. We should care about each other and protect each other when necessary. We should not stand back and allow ourselves or others to be exploited, abused or otherwise harmed.

So far so good. Many of these ‘shoulds’ are compatible with contemporary “Human Rights” legislation and to the extent that they are, I applaud the preoccupation of our legislators and political commentators with such things. The thing is, human rights can be, and sometimes unfortunately have been, invoked selectively to bring about their own injustice. They can be, and sometimes have been, used as a vehicle of ideological warfare.

Mostly however, I believe our current sensitivity to “Human Rights” is a force for good. It’s just I fear we might be being encouraged to think these “Rights” are a modern creation; the product of “progressive” thinking; of the United Nations Charter of 1948 for example.

I believe the value of a human being is not beholden to a United Nations decree, or any other political decree for that matter. Our human “Rights” are not a gift from our political masters and betters. They are intrinsic. They exist because we exist. They exist because we are who we are.

I am, as you may know if you have read my other blog entries, a Christian. Not a ‘crazy’ one; not a self righteous one; not one who is arrogant enough to think I own all the answers; but unashamedly a Christian. A bruised and battered Christian but a Christian nonetheless. I believe God created each one of us with great care and love, and regards each one of us as worthy of his time and effort. That is the source and the guarantee of my value (and yours) in the scheme of things.

Because, as a Christian, I believe that every human is worthwhile, I would like to see us temper our thinking on “Human Rights” with the additional perspective of “Human Responsibilities”. You see, without accompanying human “Responsibilities” I don’t think there can be effective human “Rights”.

While people might be understandably keen to exercise their human rights, unless their fellows accept their own human responsibilities, the exercise of those rights will always be futile. There is, after all, a difference between having a law and seeing it observed.

I think we do ourselves a disservice as a society by promoting rights without responsibilities. It saddens me when I come across individuals and organisations who “know their rights”, but ignore their responsibilities. I also think we do ourselves a disservice by not realising our innate value as humans; as special creations, each one of us.

You may not see things the way I do; that humans have rights and dignity because they are innately valuable as created beings; that human rights do not exist in isolation. You may see human rights as having come into existence through legislation or through a United Nations protocol. Be that as it may. If you are a believer in human rights I am happy to claim you as a fellow traveller on the road.

Peace and blessings to you.

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(Blog.secularprofile.org)