The basis for an Australian charter of human rights.
Submissions like the one from the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Australia provide a vivid example of why Australia needs a charter of human rights which is based on mature forms of moral reasoning rather than self-preserving ideologies.
The Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Australia argues that their unique form of Christianity should be forced on all Australians because
1. Australia was founded as a Christian Nation
2. Moral Absolutes are necessary for true morality
3. Australian common law is based on the O.T. Ten Commandments
4. Their version of morality is the only correct one
This arrogant position is based on ignorance and a primitive form of moral reasoning which violates the very concept of universal human rights.
Australia is a multi-cultural and multi-faith nation.
Although Kristy has convincing blown away any notion that Australia was founded on the Christian religion, Australia’s religious history is actually irrelevant to the formation of a charter of human rights. At this point in time, Australia is a nation of people with a variety of religious and ideological beliefs, including many who have little or no belief in world-controlling or personally punitive supernatural beings.
Any charter of human rights must be widely acceptable and fair to all. No religious or ideological group should be allowed to dominate or to insist that all citizens be forced to conform to its unique values. This may mean that such a charter must include clauses which actively protect people from the agendas of groups operating at a primitive moral level.
The proposals by the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Australia, for example, would violate the European Convention on Human Rights. Article nine of the Convention states:
1. "Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance."
2. "Freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others."
The European Convention allows for freedom of religious belief and expression with the proviso that such beliefs and practices do not break the law of the land or impinge on the rights or reasonable needs of others. Australia would do well to emulate this.
Group Morality is neither static nor universal
Consideration of history and culture reveals that moral values are neither universal nor static. What is deemed to be moral in one place or time is deemed to be immoral in other times and places, and conversely, what is immoral in one place or time is deemed to be moral in other times and places.
Cross cultural studies show that specific moral values differ from nation to nation, culture to culture, community to community, family to family and even from person to person. History shows that group morality changes over time. It evolves across generations as a result of environmental influence, increasing knowledge and thoughtful discourse.
The barbarism of past centuries has given way, at least in industrialized countries, to codes which emphasize justice and fairness for all.
Examples of changes in moral values prevalent in Australia over the last fifty years include attitudes to dancing, card playing, attendance at movies, dress codes (women wearing trousers or showing legs, arms, midriffs, breasts), displays of public affection, sex before marriage, artificial contraception, females working after marriage, divorce, medically induced abortion, homosexuality, gay marriage and euthanasia.
The Christian Bible, which the Evangelical Presbyterian Church upholds as law, does not display a static or absolute set of moral principles either. It is a collection of books which depict evolving attitudes and values from Genesis to Revelation. The moral codes defined and prescribed in the first few books are very different from the moral principles defined and prescribed in the final pages.
The concept of absolute moral values is immature.
The reasoning of groups like the Evangelical Presbyterian Church rests upon a belief in the existence of moral absolutes. Such a belief is logically inconsistent because the supposed creator of these absolutes is not required to be subject to them and nor are any people of authority who are deemed to be acting under his direct, or even his indirect, orders. The Christian Old Testament of full of stories about righteous people who believed they were free to rape, kill, torture and enslave others because they had been instructed to do so by the Yahweh god. This behaviour is often in stark contrast to the rules which this god commands that these same people keep.
This type of thinking is a feature of primitive moral reasoning and should not inform a maturely designed charter of human rights.
Personal Morality is developmental.
Psychologists have shown that morality, like cognitive skill, matures in line with experience, education and mental challenge. Like cognitive skills, not every one reaches the top of the developmental tree. Some people are experts while the bulk of us are not.
It is important that national charters of human rights be based on the kind of reasoning which is evident in the highest levels of this scale.
Kohlberg’s stages of moral development.
Lawrence Kohlberg’s seminal work on the development of moral reasoning describes six stages in the normal process of moral development.
At stage 1 children think of what is right as that which authority says is right. Doing the right thing is obeying authority and avoiding punishment. At stage 2, children are no longer so impressed by any single authority; they see that there are different sides to any issue. Since everything is relative, one is free to pursue one's own interests, although it is often useful to make deals and exchange favors with others.
At stages 3 and 4, young people think as members of the conventional society with its values, norms, and expectations. At stage 3, they emphasize being a good person, which basically means having helpful motives toward people close to one. At stage 4, the concern shifts toward obeying laws to maintain society as a whole.
At stages 5 and 6 people are less concerned with maintaining society for it own sake, and more concerned with the principles and values that make for a good society. At stage 5 they emphasize basic rights and the democratic processes that give everyone a say, and at stage 6 they define the principles by which agreement will be most just.
Stage One is characterized by an obedience and punishment orientation. The child assumes that powerful authorities hand down a fixed set of rules which he or she must unquestioningly obey. At this stage a child assumes that rulers have a right to establish themselves by displays of power and vengeance and to rule by threat of punishment and hope of reward. Mercy, or failure to punish, is seen as evidence of weakness, not of morality.
This is the stage which describes the behavior of the Biblical Yahweh, the god who was originally a deity of the Midianites and other desert tribes before the Israelites picked him as their supernatural champion and/or he selected them to be his Chosen People.
The law of the Jewish god, Yahweh, is barbaric.
The so-called Ten Commandments are actually the Top Ten of 613 commandments listed in the book of Leviticus. Most were reputedly dictated by the same god, from the same mountain, at the same time, to the same prophet, who then proclaimed them to the Jewish nation as Yahweh’s law.
Very few of these commandments (from either the Catholic or the Protestant versions) meet the common standards set out in the criminal codes of modern civilized countries, let alone the evolved standards of current ethical codes.
The penalties which the Yahweh god prescribed for breaking any one of the Top Ten, as well as many of the other Commandments, was painful death – usually by stoning, strangulation or decapitation at the hands of the faithful.
The first round of such deaths occurred immediately after Moses descended from Mt Sinai and found his people worshiping the god Baal. The worshipers were slaughtered by the prophet’s army before they even had a chance to find out what law they were being punished under. Apparently the “thou shalt not kill” commandment did not apply to prophets or their minions.
Apparently it did not apply to the divine author, either. The more exotic forms of tortured death were attributed to the Yahweh god himself: children mauled by bears, genocidal drowning in an epic flood, national slaying of first born children, whole cities destroyed by fire and/or volcanic ash not to mention countless brutal slayings, rapings and enslavements carried out at his specific behest.
Few modern Australians would tolerate laws which punish those who fail to keep the Top Ten of Yahweh’s commandments, especially if this involves the administration of the appropriate Biblically prescribed death. Slaughtering people for failing to keep the first four of the Top Ten (all of which involve the exclusive worship of the Yahweh god) would be especially unpalatable in such a multi-faith community. We would regress to the primitive moral level which operated when Calvin arranged to have the ruling authorities burn his version of “heretics” at the stake.
Other commandments in this series provide instructions for fathers selling their daughters into slavery, provisions for an owner to beat his slave to a pulp without punishment (provided that the slave survives for a few days after the beating), the requirement to stone disobedient and disrespectful children to death and a prohibition on wearing clothing containing more than one type of fiber. Wearing a cotton polyester shirt would contravene these laws but causing mortal or grievous bodily harm to a slave would not.
A charter of human rights should include clauses which clearly preclude the insidious development of these frightening possibilities in the name of religious freedom. Freedom of religious and ideological belief should include the right to be free from the requirements and practices of those who hold different beliefs. The operating factor should be the reasonable comfort of the receiving individuals, not the comfort to those who wish to disseminate or practice their beliefs.
Old Testament morality is not viewed as “Christian” by mainstream adherents of this religion.
The first recorded theological disagreement in the Christian church occurred when St. Paul argued against the original apostles that several aspects of the Jewish moral codes should be discarded by Gentile Christians. The rules of the “law and the prophets” were neatly side-lined by the argument that Jesus had fulfilled them.
The parable of the woman caught in adultery (John 7:53-8:11), believed to be an apocryphal story added by a scribe in the 2nd Century, underlines how the teachings of the early Christian Church increasingly differed from those of the Jewish scriptures.
Modern day Christians routinely extend the Pauline argument to state that none of the rules given to the Israelites continue to prevail now that Jesus has made a new deal with this god.
Now that Christ has come we are no longer under the Old Testament Law. Christ came to fulfill the Law and He accomplished that on the cross.
Traditional or evangelical Christian law should not form the basis of an Australian charter of human rights. Such a charter must be based on the highest level of moral reasoning. Because of the lobbying behavior engaged in by politically powerful conservative religious groups, the charter should include clauses which prevent the enslavement or harming of Australian people under laws and practices which are based on immature forms of moral reasoning.
The reasonable needs of all minorities should be met with the proviso that meeting these needs does not impinge on the reasonable rights of others. Powerful or majority groups should not be privileged or exempted by this charter in such a way that minority groups suffer. Nor should powerful minority groups be privileged or exempted from this charter in such a way that it gives them an unreasonable advantage over other groups, whether these be minorities or not.
Particular attention should be paid to those who are vulnerable to influence or abuse due to illness, immaturity or impaired cognition, those whose sexual orientation differs from the norm, those whose beliefs about the supernatural differ from the norm and those who have racial or bodily characteristics (facial features, skin color, body build, height, weight) which cause them to stand out from the prevailing norm or against the dominant or ruling group
Rights may include the enforcement of temporary, or even prolonged discomfit, if this meets a greater need of the recipient. This should include the enforced provision of a need which is not immediately apparent to the recipient by virtue of cognitive immaturity, insufficiency, deficit or disability. Examples would be compulsory education in a specified range of subjects, national inoculation programs and the treatment of those with conditions which impair the mind. The charter must be careful to include provisos which make it difficult for governments or other authorities to abuse such programs in order to gain something for themselves at the expense of the recipient. On the other hand, such provisos must not be so restrictive that the real needs of the recipient are not met. The forced treatment of dementia and other mental disorders comes under this umbrella.
Freedom of speech should include the right to criticize the policies or acts of political figures and government authorities without fear of retribution. It should also include the right to criticize the content of religions, ideologies and philosophies, especially if the champions of these systems reserve the right to criticize other systems and their adherents. These rights should come with the proviso that the language used to express such criticism does not vilify a person or incite hate, prejudice or violence against a person or group of people.
The final basis for this charter must not be the will of the majority, but adherence to the overriding principles of fairness and justice for all people, regardless of creed or lack of it, race, age, health, wealth, gender or gender identity, skin color, facial characteristics, country or origin, spoken languages, cognitive skill, marital status or sexual preference.