Thursday, 15 April 2010

The Manhattan versus the Westminster Declarations


The UK based Westminster Declaration was unlikely created in a vacuum, and it would not be saying much to presume that the USA based Manhattan Declaration is more than likely the inspiration for it.

Now there are differences between these two apart from just length (the Manhattan one is considerably longer) as noted in my post on the press’s take on the Westminster Declaration.

Prior to the launch of this declaration I did not consider the USA version (as we can now say) relevant. Regardless I did read some critiques on it from Alonzo Fyfe, and his arguments  might well be the inspiration for my arguments from human sacrifice and religious tyranny that I certainly read from the Westminster Declaration.

I am not sure whether it is worth making a side by side comparison of the differences between the two declarations but given Fyfe’s likely inspiration for some of my insights, some readers might find it of interest to look at the analysis from both Christians and non-Christians for the Manhattan Declaration.

Alonzo Fyfe – the atheist ethicist – is one of the top atheist bloggers and a summary of his analysis can be found at The Manhattan Declaration X: Summary. There is no post of his listing all 10 of these posts but this search link provides all 10 (start reading from the bottom post for the whole analysis). His summary alone is superbly and boldly stated, with far more originality than my critique of the UK version, and certainly with no holding back of any punches. He finishes it with:

In short, the authors of the Manhattan Declaration have given us a manifesto in which they reserve for themselves the liberty to impose any demands they see fit on others, while also preserving for themselves the liberty to refuse any demands that others may see fit to impose on them. It is a manifesto of arrogance and bigotry in which the authors deny moral responsibility for their own ideas by shifting that responsibility [to] a god that they invent in their own image. [This] god they invented is not only an arrogant and bigoted god, but a god demanding massive human sacrifice in the form of premature death and suffering. The authors, of course, do not wish to admit that they are the authors of this demand for death and suffering. Here, too, they wish to shift the responsibility to a god that they have created in their own image.

Unfortunately for  the USA versions, I have not been able to find any decent analysis, rather just bloggers saying they are proud to sign these declarations. If anyone finds any critical analysis from theists, Christians and non-Christians – pro or con these declarations – could you please post a link in the comments?

However with regards to the UK version I have found an excellent critique by self-professed Christian Charles Foster writing on the Practical Ethics blog, entitled The Christian Right is Wrong.

I find it interesting to compare my fisking – written from the perspective of someone for whom Christianity has always been an alien and alienating, antiquated, archaic and absurd worldview – and that of someone who presumably grew up in it and still endorses it as someone who teaches ethics and medical law at Oxford.

His scathing review actually makes me wonder if this declaration will actually turn out to be a benefit to a secular UK as he argues that “[i]t will reduce significantly the ability of Christians to make a contribution to public life”!

He provides a very interesting take on the theological gobbledegook - that I am eminently unqualified to criticise (why else would I call it gobbledegook?) - which prefaces the declaration, when he says:

The parallels with the foundational creeds of Christianity are unmistakable, and we’re meant to see them. The clear message is: If you call yourself a Christian, you’ll agree with what’s in this Declaration. And the corollary is deafening, threatening, and equally unmissable: If you don’t agree with what’s in this Declaration, you’re not Christian at all: you’re beyond the pale, and ought to watch your eternal back. This is sheep and goats stuff.

As for the body of the declaration he provides many juicy thoughts, of which I will only quote one more:

Speaking purely as a citizen, I’m worried. If one accepts the Declaration’s reasoning, there can be no possible objection to the rule of Britain’s Muslim communities by Shari’ a law. Perhaps that should happen, but it is not as blindingly obvious that it should happen as the Declaration suggests. There’s something to discuss,  and this Declaration is saying that there isn’t - that it’s simple.

Thoroughly recommended reading. My faith in religious moderation is restored.

It is early days for the Westminster Declaration but it is interesting to note that the Manhattan Declaration has, to date, obtained 437,000 signatures since its launch on November 20, 2009. Now still in the first month of its launch the Westminster Declaration has so far gained over 22,000 signatures.

Plausibly assuming there are no substantive difference in internet access and inclinations to sign pledges across the Atlantic (that is that whatever sub-set of those who endorse the sentiments expressed in the Manhattan Declaration and signed that, would be equivalent to the sub-set of those who endorse the Westminster Declaration and sign this one), we can use the level of signatures to indicate the threat that this specific religious extremism poses here, compared to the USA. In the USA there are approximately 300 million people whilst in the UK there are approximately 60 million. On this basis we would expect that around 87,000 signatures (1/5 of the USA equivalent) would indicate an equivalent religious sentiment in the UK.

Of course we do not have data on the velocity and acceleration of signatures and it is likely that it is higher in the UK – albeit starting from a lower point - and lower in the USA (since many of those who would have signed do know about it and have already signed). So we can review this relationship in a few months, once both have had sufficient time to be known and responded to the relevant parties. I predict that overall number here will be lower than the 1:5 ratio rather than higher, I hope I am not wrong.