Thursday, 8 April 2010

Fisking the Westminster Declaration

2 comments
The Westminster Declaration is written by 20 UK based Christians of various influence and renown. This includes Lord Carey, the Former Archbishop of Canterbury; Cardinal O'Brien of the Catholic Church in Scotland; and  Michael Nazir-Ali,  the former Bishop of Rochester. Since its launch at Easter weekend it has gained over 12,000 signatures and counting.The declaration comprises an overview, then a statement of beliefs and values followed by the three areas they aim to speak out and act in defence of: human life, marriage and freedom of conscience. I will start with the statement of beliefs and values. 

Their Beliefs and Values

As Christians we reaffirm historic belief in God the Father (who created us and gave us the blueprint for our lives together); in God the Son Jesus Christ our Saviour (accepting his incarnation, teaching, claims, miracles, death, resurrection and return in judgment); and in God the Holy Spirit (who lives within us, guides us and gives us strength)….

In a modern liberal democracy anyone and everyone should be free to believe whatever gobbledegook they want to. Presumably the above nonsense makes sense to Christians, so no issue there. However the first problem is in the final sentence of this first paragraph:

….We commit ourselves to worship, honour and obey God.[My emphasis here and in all quotes below]

When I first read this, my first thought was that anyone is free to worship or honour whatever they want, however, when it comes to obeying - there are limits. This fear was immediately confirmed in the second paragraph of this section:

As UK citizens we affirm our Christian commitment both to exercise social responsibility in working for the common good and also to be subject to all governing authorities and obey them except when they require us to act unjustly.

One would like to think, that as a UK citizen, if such a Christian were to lose their faith, their “commitment to exercise social responsibility in working for the common good” would remain unaltered. Certainly Christianity  is not necessary for such a commitment, however is it even sufficient when they wish to exclude acting unjustly?

This depends on how injustice is determined. Given the previous emphasis over obeying God, the implication is that injustice is determined by such Christians, that sign or support this declaration, as being relative to God’s commands and if governing authorities conflict with their subjective opinion, they do not have to act as required.

Unfortunately history is littered with “obeying God” being used as a justification for many past injustices and worse - slavery, misogyny, homophobia, apartheid, ethnic cleansing and genocide. It is true that Christians have sometimes been on both sides, using the argument of “obeying God” to fight those injustices rather than support and promote them. However, given this, it is surely impossible not to conclude that “obeying God” is a wholly indeterminate and hence arbitrary basis for determining injustices. It is a standard of injustice that is woefully and dangerously inadequate in the 21st Century anywhere.

Whilst I agree we should all act to make our government more rather than less just, we need a far better basis than what has been so far implied. Their underlying value here allows promoting injustice in the name of “justice” - it can and has all too easily inverted the meaning of justice in the past – especially when invoking God in support. Let us hope that this analysis will not show that this is the case and that other terms are also not inverted.

George Santayana famously said “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Lets us remember and learn from the past and move forward, rather than forget and move backwards. We need better not worse standards for identifying and fighting injustice. Lowering standards is not an improvement in defence of justice.

Maybe I am jumping the gun, let us see how these values are explicated in their three areas of concern?

Human Life

We believe that being made in the image of God, all human life has intrinsic and equal dignity and worth and that it is the duty of the state to protect the vulnerable.

Sometimes, in such a declaration, what is not said is as relevant as what is said, and one implication of the first line is that they have zero regard for any non human life. So they do not care about obscene and unnecessary maltreatments of animal nor extinction of any species – except where environmental change discomforts humans?

Again they can believe whatever they want to believe with respect to “image of God”, one does not need such a belief to consider any individual of equal worth or dignity.  Again, I hope that if any of these signees or supporters of the declaration lose their faith, they still recognise that all individuals are worthy of equal consideration. Of course, such an “image of God” argument has failed to prevent injustices in the past and often actively encouraged them, the signees have provided, as yet, zero indication that things would be different now.

This makes me wonder do they mean what everyone else means by “vulnerable”? Can I or anyone assume any of the terms they use mean what everyone else in polite society thinks they mean? Lets see what they mean by vulnerable then:

We will support, protect, and be advocates for such people – including children born and unborn, and all those who are sick, disabled, addicted, elderly, in single parent families, poor, exploited, trafficked, appropriately seeking asylum, threatened by environmental change, or exploited by unjust trade, aid or debt policies.

Interesting that those subject to religious discrimination and persecution are not listed among the vulnerable.

Now note my emphasis and how the three lines (above, here and the one below) of this paragraph switches from “human life” through “people” to “human being”. These are three distinct although related concepts, they are most certainly not synonyms, at least here.

In particular, an unborn foetus (most certainly first trimester) is not yet a person nor a human being.  When conceived it is most certainly not a person or a human being, what is there to protect? Clearly “vulnerable” here does not include the future pregnant mother, however vulnerable they actually are…

What on earth does the “appropriately” mean  in “appropriately seeking asylum”? To charitably interpret it as if said by a non-Christian is as likely to mislead as anything. Given the intent of the rest of the declaration, who decides what is appropriate? God? Christians? These are not the grounds that any citizen who wishes to keep living in a modern liberal democracy would endorse.

We pledge to work to protect the life of every human being from conception to its natural end and we refuse to comply with any directive that compels us to participate in or facilitate abortion, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide, euthanasia, or any other act that involves intentionally taking innocent human life.

Why the selection of “natural” in “natural end”? When someone who has led a good and fulfilling life, is now naturally suffering in unending pain with no hope of reprieve, they are to be denied their own dignity and worth in choosing to end their own life because it is unnatural? When a terminally ill child is born, with no hope of surviving a few days or weeks, they would rather the child naturally dies in suffering and agony by withholding medical care rather than provide a painless means to end their avoidable suffering?

It appears the signees seem happy to impose additional suffering on the child’s parents and on the members of a terminally ill patient’s family as these all watch as their loved ones suffer unnecessarily and viciously, all due to Christian conscience, which only goes to show that the signees have a warped concept of worth and dignity - then again they did not use “suffering” here, did they?

The pledge here insists that they do not facilitate or participate in “embryo-destructive research” (so embryo-constructive research is ok?).

An interesting story, that just happened in Israel, can cast light on one issue here. It has just introduced a novel solution to the problem of free-riders in organ transplants. The religious do not donate organs but all too willingly accept them, creating a short fall in available organs. The solution is to prioritise those who sign consent to be organ donors. The ones who do not consent go to the bottom of the organ recipient list.

Maybe the same principle should apply here? Anyone who signs this declaration goes to the bottom of the list for gaining any of the benefits of embryo research? I am sure none of the signees would want to be a free rider nor benefit from such research as that, by implication, means participating in it.

The signees are also asking us to sacrifice human beings and cause suffering to many others in the name of their God! All those who lives could be saved and relieved of suffering due to the benefits of embryological research are to be sacrificed because of what they think their God commands! The signees demand human sacrifice of innocents all in the name of preserving the dignity and worth of innocents!

This leads to the final issue in this sentence - who gets to decide who is innocent or not? Is it these Christian’s subjective interpretation of God? Or are they just saying that the guilty can be killed by the state? Do we want to regress to having state sanctioned official killings in the UK?

We will support those who take the same stand.

In the USA there have been the murders of gynaecologists who carry out abortions. According to this declaration those doctors are not innocent – they are the “murderers” of “unborn” children taking “human life” of “persons” “unnaturally” – these doctors are “guilty”.  The signees do not say that that there is a prohibition of taking the lives of the “guilty”. Maybe they would not act to take the lives of those “guilty” doctors, and as far as I know it has not happened in the UK yet but the above makes clear they would support those who do – after all they take the same stand as the signees.

It should be quite clear that the fuzziness of human life, person, human being, dignity and worth is indicative they do not really mean what they are claiming and often mean the opposite!

Marriage

We pledge to support marriage – the lifelong covenantal union of one man and one woman as husband and wife.

So they do not recognise divorcees? They will not allow divorcees to re-marry?

We believe it is divinely ordained, the only context for sexual intercourse, and the most important unit for sustaining the health, education, and welfare of all.

You can have as many beliefs as you want but how does this match up to reality? If it does not so much the worse for your beliefs. Why is it that Christians get divorced as often as non-Christians? Divine ordination of Christian marriages has not helped reduced their divorce rate.

Certainly I would agree that caring environment is better for the welfare of our children than not. Sadly many marriages are not the basis of such a caring environment, as the data on incest and domestic violence shows. Rather than divorce as one means to secure a better and more sustaining environment, the signees would want these disastrous marriages to carry on, creating the opposite. To blithely ignore these facts is not to give equal consideration to the worth and dignity to everyone. Not if you are focused on sustaining the health, education and welfare of all.

As for “the only context for sexual intercourse”, Christians need to account for the higher prevalence of teenage pregnancies, venereal disease and the consumption of pornography (oh they did not mention that, may be that is ok?) in areas with higher levels of Christian adherence, in many countries around the world.

Now this is highly correlated with, in many of these areas, the promotion of abstinence over condoms, the lack of sexual education, the deliberate and immoral mis-education about sex such as that condoms cause AIDS, the unavailability of safe alternatives for sex inside and outside of marriage and so on.

Interestingly many of these policies are due to explicit Christian interference in state policies, interference of the type that the signees are implying here in general. One way to protect the vulnerable is not promote situations which makes people vulnerable but that is what all these polices do.

The more you look at this declaration the more incoherent it becomes. Part of this incoherence might be to cover up the elephant in the room – only man and woman can be married and only married couples can have sex. In other words homosexual intercourse would be impossible under such views – does this make these innocents “guilty”? Would not such a Christian society makes such people vulnerable? However they are not “innocent” and so not worthy of protection?

We call on government to honour, promote and protect marriage and we refuse to submit to any edict forcing us to equate any other form of sexual partnership with marriage.

We can all see the elephant now. So they want to preserve their prejudice and bigotry against homosexuals and this declaration says they will regardless of any government edict otherwise. Coupled with the above list of the vulnerable omitting those subject to religious prejudice, what else can any unbiased observer conclude that any signee is endorsing bigotry, specifically homophobia? I doubt they would sign this unwittingly, but you never know, certainly many signees must be well aware of what they are pledging to promote.

We commit ourselves to continue affirming what we believe as Christians about sexual morality, marriage, and the family.

You can commit all you want in the privacy of your own home with consenting adults but outside that, when these commitments conflicts with a modern civilised democracy, hiding behind the claim that “I am only following orders” - by obeying God - should carry no weight in the public sphere. It is becoming clear that anyone who signs this declaration is against the modern civilised democracy that many have suffered and died to bequeath to us.

Maybe the conscience section will alleviate all my concerns so far, or maybe not. Lets see.

Conscience

We count it a special privilege to live in a democratic society where all citizens have the right to participate in the political process.

It should be the norm and it should be an equal right.

We know that in many places today and thought history this “special privilege” of equal citizenship has been denied. Whilst there are many reasons for this, any signee of this declaration needs to be aware that such specifically Christian ideals as expressed, here has been one of those reasons why we do consider it a “special privilege” and not just a norm today, those ideals making it special because in times past when such ideals dominated societies, this “special privilege” did not exist!

We were subjects of divinely appointed monarchs working hand in hand with Christian institutions, we were slaves, serfs and servants of God and not allowed equal dignity and worth. We were not citizens.

Those days are past in the UK, lets not bring them back. If you want to preserve this “special privilege” that is a good reason not to sign this declaration and to condemn those who do. That would be the act of a good Samaritan.

We pledge to do what we can to ensure our laws are just and fair, particularly in protecting vulnerable people.

Given everything else in this declaration this is just empty rhetoric to distract the unwary. This might make you feel warm inside but you need to do a reality check.

We will seek to ensure that religious liberty and freedom of conscience are unequivocally protected against interference by the state and other threats, not only to individuals but also to institutions including families, charities, schools and religious communities.

So the signees wish to preserve their right to take state funds and provide services…not to all, certainly not to homosexual couples willing to adopt children who could benefit from a caring environment, to discriminate against non Christians in employing people in supplying these services, to gain tax exemptions for “charities” that only support their own institutions and buildings and do no real charitable work, to teach this discrimination and proving misleading and failed sex education at schools, this list could go one but this post is already long lets stop there.

Methinks they have a different notion of “special privileges” to what they were implying above. The signees wish to have and preserve special privileges not available to the non-Christian. Maybe it was not a mistake that they omitted “equal” in the first line of this section?

As for “other threats” what does this mean? The signees have not spoken about freedom of speech and expression which would protect anyone from discrimination in pursing their beliefs and conscience whatever they were, provided it did not harm others. Is freedom of speech one of these “other threats”? Is showing the inconsistencies, incoherencies and immorality in this declaration such a threat? We need to be told.

However this line does not only apply to Christians, does it? Here is another problem, we already have an elephant, so I suppose now we are letting the cat out the bag. Everything so far has focused on Christian liberty but they could not say that here without being overtly prejudiced. So “religious liberty” was used instead.

If this is what is now being argued for, on the pain of consistency, whatever basis the Christian signee can use to claim dispensation for requirements to act unjustly, is also available to a member of any other religion.

One could say, as has happened, that extremist Muslims have exercised their religious liberty in blowing up London buses and trains and attempted to blow up Glasgow Airport. They were within their rights and expressing their conscience in doing so. This is the type of society which signees wish to live in.  Anyone can claim dispensation to act against the laws of this country because their religion regards them as unjust. And we must protect their right to religious liberty even as we are being killed. An excellent means to preserve a “just and fair” society.

The arguments just here for religious liberty are no such thing. Let us call a spade a spade, signees of this declaration are arguing for religious tyranny! And anyone, not of any religion, does not have the same “special privilege” to so act, we have to turn back the clock, return to the dark ages, be subjugated to the discrimination and prejudices of the Christians, purely in virtue of them being Christians. And this is meant by “what we can to [do] ensure our laws are just and fair”. Hmmm.

We will not be intimidated by any cultural or political power into silence or acquiescence and we will reject measures that seek to over-rule our Christian consciences or to restrict our freedoms to express Christian beliefs, or to worship and obey God.

Now the declaration is quite blatantly belligerent and showing everyone what it really stands for. Far from supporting the worth and dignity of everyone and protecting the vulnerable, this declaration is an argument to promote discrimination, bigotry and tyranny.

Commitment

We call upon all those in UK positions of leadership, responsibility and influence to pledge to respect, uphold and protect the right of Christians to hold these beliefs and to act according to Christian conscience.

No, anyone in such positions of leadership, responsibility and influence needs to condemn such threats to equality, fairness, liberty and civilisation. Christian and non-Christian alike, if you want to promote and improve the values of our country, we should all be united in exercising our freedom of speech to criticise and condemn anyone who signs this declaration.

Updates

See also The Press On The Westminster Declaration and The Manhattan Versus The Westminste Declaration.

2 comments:

Luke said...

faithlessgod,

I see you've submitted this for the latest Humanist Symposium. Unfortunately, it does not follow the guidelines of the blog carnival because this post spends all its time criticizing a religious position, but almost no time at all celebrating atheism as a positive alternative.

faithlessgod said...

Hi Luke

Yes I submitted it for 3 carnivals. I then noticed you were hosting the next humanist symposium and checked the submission requirements, for which this does clearly not fit. So I did not expect it to be in the next Humanist Symposium, regardless of whom was hosting it.