Monday, November 23, 2009

The Manhattan Declaration Part I: Religious Liberty

According to a recent declaration on Christian principles, if a person were to stand up in a crowded room, shout "Allah Akbar", and start shooting everybody present, it would be a violation of his religious liberty to duck and cover and head for the door, or to shoot the person who is doing the shooting.

A group of Christians have released a proclamation that they have titled the "Manhattan Declaration: A Call to Christian Conscience" in which they talk about a number of moral concerns regarding life and death (abortion, euthanasia, stem cell research), marriage (homosexual marriage), and religious liberty.

(See: Manhattan Declaration: A Call to Christian Conscience.")

I have no doubt that the authors of the text would protest the above account. However, their discussion on religious liberty leave this as a logical implication of the principles they put forward.

No one should be compelled to embrace any religion against his will, nor should persons of faith be forbidden to worship God according to the dictates of conscience or to express freely and publicly their deeply held religious convictions. What is true for individuals applies to religious communities as well.

What the shooter in this example is doing is expressing freely and publicly his deeply held religious convictions. Apparently, according to this declaration, he has a right to do so. To say that somebody has a right is to say that others have a duty to interfere. Clearly, when the authors of this declaration argue for a right to religious liberty, they are arguing for a duty on our part not to interfere with them. A direct application of this principle to the example of the shooter implies that we would be morally prohibited from taking any action that would interfere with the shooter's interest in expressing his most deeply held religious sentiments.

Clearly, the authors of this declaration would not declare that the shooter has such a right. However, this leaves them with a choice. If they are going to deny that such rights exist, then they need to alter their principles accordingly. Sometimes it is permissible to interfere with somebody else's expressions of deeply held religious convictions.

In this declaration, the authors state that Christian doctrine requires that they obey the law and to engage in civil disobedience when the law is unjust. However, this is a Christian doctrine. To impose this doctrine on others would, it seems, be a violation of the prohibition on "worshiping God according to the dictates of conscience." So, even though a Christian who would sign this declaration may not be an advocate of the use of this type of violence, the declaration gives moral sanction and permission to those who would.

Should a person whose conscience permits such violence be prohibited from worshipping God according to those dictates? If the answer is "sometimes yes", then the prohibition can clearly sometimes be violated.

One of the great advantages of having an inconsistent and inherent moral philosophy is that the agent gets to appeal to that half of the contradiction that is most useful at the moment in justifying their actions. If a health care provider wishes the liberty to refuse to provide abortion services to somebody who may want an abortion, prohibiting them from refusing is a violation of their religious liberty. If a homosexual couple wishes to get married according to the dictates of their conscience, apparently, then it is the religious liberty of the Christian signers of this document to prohibit such unions that is at stake.

For some reason the authors of this doctrine have adopted a set of principles in which they get all of the liberty, while everybody else gets all of the burdens. Yet, they claim that this self-contraditory and self-service doctrine does not come from man (specifically, not from the brains of the authors guided by their own convenience), but from God.

This is not an argument, which I have been protesting against in the past week, that says that religious moderates are to be condemned for the wrongs of religious extremists. This is an argument that looks at a specific declaration that has been set forward and shows the logical implications of that declaration. It is no different than raising objections to act utilitarianism on the grounds that it would authorize a doctor to kill a healthy patient to use his organs to save five patients who would otherwise die.

I assign my criticism only to the argument itself, and to those who endorse this argument – specifically its signers, but also any who would endorse the principles even without signing.

The principles in this policy ultimately implies that there is no limit on what a person may do, since any opposition or interference would, on these principles, violate the agent's right to "express freely and publicly their deeply held religious convictions."

That is exactly what the 9/11 hijackers were doing . . . expressing freely and publicly their deeply held religious convictions.

That is exactly what the terrorist who detonates a nuclear weapon in Washington DC would be doing . . . expressing feely and publicly their deeply held religious convictions.

Certainly there must be religious convictions that people must not be permitted to express freely and publicly. Yet, the Manhattan Declaration gives us no such limit.

There is a reason why the Declaration does not give us any limit. This is because it is not actually a doctrine of religious liberty. It is a recipe for religious tyranny. It was written by people who, in the first two sections of the paper, wish to impose their religious beliefs on others even to the point of doing great harm to the interests of people who do not share their religion. It is quite certain that people with those types of values are not going to want to declare that there are limits in the harms that religious people may impose on others.

Instead, they are going to cap their declaration of religious tyranny with a set of principles that say that "We support religious liberty. This means that we have the liberty to do whatever pleases us and the rest of you have an obligation to submit."

No, I did not forget that they are not actually speaking about a right to "do whatever pleases us". They have a right to worship God according to their own conscience. Yet, there is no God. Nobody gets any moral law from God. Instead, people assign their own wishes and desires to God, and they do so according to their own pleasure. So, while they declare, believe, and certainly wish us to believe that they are acting on a higher moral value. They are, in fact, acting according to their own pleasure and using God in an attempt to justify the harms that they would have others suffer.

That is certainly what we find here. We find a declaration written by people who would be pleased with the liberty to impose their values on others without regard to the people made to suffer. To give their actions legitimacy they tell us that they are not actually acting according to their own pleasure. Instead:

The nature of religious liberty is grounded in the character of God Himself, the God who is most fully known in the life and work of Jesus Christ.

In other words, it is God that grants them to do these harms. These are not being inflicted at the pleasure of those who created the Declaration. They are God's will. So, they must be legitimate. And we have an obligation to "religious liberty" to allow them to inflict those harms it pleases them to inflict.

It is a very convenient theory.

14 comments:

Cal said...

So, a Christian group releases a statement endorsing the rights of all to practice or not practice religion - pretty much the least controversial opinion imaginable in a pluralistic society - and you imagine implications that nobody but you sees in the text to twist it into a tacit endorsement of religious murder.

Alonzo, my man, you've finally done it. You've descended into complete self-parody. I salute you.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Cal

Yet, you can't offer a word to explain where I might have made a mistake in my analysis.

And, you bear false witness against what I wrote. The declaration merely pretends to be an endorsement of religious liberty. When, in fact, it is a statement of the Christian right to rule and the duty on the part of others to obey.

Cal said...

I offered no further analysis because I think the absurdity to be so manifestly obvious that it need not be explained to the average observer, and any attempts to explain it to your sycophantic audience would be in vain.

But, I'm in a good mood, so I'll bite. Let's look at the statement in question:

"No one should be compelled to embrace any religion against his will."

Amen to that (if you'll pardon my terminology).

"Nor should persons of faith be forbidden to worship God according to the dictates of conscience or to express freely and publicly their deeply held religious convictions."

Most sane people would read this as a basic affirmation of the right to free exercise of religion. But, in your zeal to manufacture a controversy, you've apparently seized upon the statement's lack of a clause explicitly stating where legitimate religious rights end and religiously-motivated infringement on others' rights begins.

I'm sure there's a formal, highfalutin definition for such logical fallacies about assuming facts not in evidence. Maybe you could look it up.

Fortunately, however, we need not go to such effort, since the statement itself explicitly condemns the destruction of human life and violation of the rule of law:

"In this declaration we affirm: 1) the profound, inherent, and equal dignity of every human being as a creature fashioned in the very image of God, possessing inherent rights of equal dignity and life."

"we take seriously the Biblical admonition to respect and obey those in authority. We believe in law and in the rule of law. We recognize the duty to comply with laws whether we happen to like them or not, unless the laws are gravely unjust or require those subject to them to do something unjust or otherwise immoral."

The premise of your blog post was laughable; your assertion that I have somehow misrepresented what you wrote doubly so. You have not made a remotely convincing effort in the original post to support the allegation that "it is a statement of the Christian right to rule and the duty on the part of the others to obey," aside from their beliefs on abortion & same-sex marriage -- and based on your past writings, I don't believe you are familiar enough with the motives, arguments & beliefs of either the contemporary pro-life & traditional marriage movements or the seminal works of the Enlightenment onward (Locke, the Framers, Tocqueville) to have even the slightest qualification to diagnose their positions as tyrannical, or consider legitimate vs. illegitimate influence on religion to the political process.

Jayman said...

Alonzo, after reading the full declaration it is hard to take your post seriously. The fact that you admit that the signers of the declaration would protest your interpretation of the document suggests that you know their words were not intended in the way you take them.

First, they have a section devoted to protecting human life. Yet you want us to believe they would have no problem if someone murdered people in a crowded room. Note that they also believe civil disobedience may be required. Why didn't they mention violent disobedience?

Second, in the section on religious liberty, there is no indication that they believe anything goes if it is done in the name of religion. We Westerners know that religious liberty still has some boundaries and don't need that spelled out in a relatively short declaration (do we?). They include examples like a pro-life surgeon not being forced to perform an abortion or a church not being forced to wed a same-sex couple. The abortion or marriage could still be performed elsewhere (if they're legal).

Third, the declaration states that Christians should fight for things like justice and compassion. I would consider these to be limits on what one can do in the name of religion.

Fourth, the declaration implies that its signers will work through the democratic political process. I suppose you could say that want us to submit to their agenda in the same sense that the President or Congress wants us to submit to their agenda but that wouldn't be as provocative.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Jayman

I stated that the owners would not embrace the implications of their own principles.

I also stated that those principles were contradictory. An objection that text says "A" and "Not-A" is not disproved by examples of text that says "A". In fact, the presence of such text is essential to support the claim that it contains a contradiction.

This also applies to the claim that "they believe that anything goes if it is done in the name of religion." In fact, I sincerely doubt that they believe this. However, this does not change the fact that if we adopt their principles and apply them consistently, they give us no principled objections to anything done in the name of religion.

They have stated that they are going to work through the democratic process. And they may say that this is grounded on their religion. However, what can they say against the person who chooses to use violence instead, and does so according to a sincere deep-felt religious belief that God demands that they use violence in such circumstances?

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Cal

Most sane people would read this as a basic affirmation of the right to free exercise of religion. But, in your zeal to manufacture a controversy, you've apparently seized upon the statement's lack of a clause explicitly stating where legitimate religious rights end and religiously-motivated infringement on others' rights begins.

I'm sure there's a formal, highfalutin definition for such logical fallacies about assuming facts not in evidence. Maybe you could look it up.

Fortunately, however, we need not go to such effort, since the statement itself explicitly condemns the destruction of human life and violation of the rule of law:


Yes. These are limitations that they place on themselves.

However, what can they say against the person whose sincere religious beliefs are different from theirs? What objections can they raise against the person who holds that the use of violence in the name of God is a virtue?

Remember, they have said it is wrong for anybody to interfere with a person's sincere expression of their religious beliefs.

Also, I repeat that my objection is that their claims are incoherent and self-contradictory. This gives them the advantage of being able to grasp whichever half of the contradiction is convenient at the moment.

That is exactly what you are doing here - grasping the half of the contradiction you find useful at the moment while ignoring the other half of the contradiction - until it becomes convenient to embrace the other half and ignore this half.

Jayman said...

Alonzo, as with any text, we need to read the declaration and ask ourselves what the intended meaning of the text is. You could can take paragraphs out of their context and try to pit one sentence against another but you aren't interacting with the views of those who signed this declaration.

If, at first, one sentence appears to contradict another sentence we should try to harmonize them since the author clearly thought they were compatible statements. Statements affirming a culture of life and religious liberty are quite compatible with statements condemning a culture of death. The only way they contradict each other is if you insist on a very particular definition of religious liberty that they do not embrace.

They probably believe religious liberty entails something like: you can practice your religion freely as long as you do not violate the rights of others. They believe in things like a right to life so a call to murder would not be compatible with their beliefs. Therefore, I think they would be consistent in telling your hypothetical Muslim that he can pray five times a day and he can abstain from pork and alcohol but he can't murder people because that would violate the victims' right to life.

anton said...

Jayman et al

"we need to read the declaration and ask ourselves what the intended meaning of the text is.

So lets go back 2,000 years or more and ask the same questions of the myths, memes and writings of the Bible. Somehow a myth created in the first place to teach a lesson has become an historical "truth" over the intervening years.

I believe that what Alonzo is attempting to do is to protect our descendants from the same kind of ignorance that plagues us today.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Jayman

If, at first, one sentence appears to contradict another sentence we should try to harmonize them since the author clearly thought they were compatible statements.

Actually, I think that it is first the job of the author to try to harmonize them.

Our attempt is to try to find the best theory to explain the various parts.

The theory that works here is that the authors have conflicting ends. When others seek to impose burdens on them, they want a principle that states that they have a right to refuse according to the dictates of their conscience.

However, when they seek to promote policies that place burdens on others, they want a set of principles that say that they are at liberty to do this, and others must accept the burdens they would place on them.

The best way to justify conflicting ends is with a pair of conficting principles - to attach the word "liberty" both to "our liberty to refuse the burdens that others place on us" and "our liberty to impose burdens on others".

They probably believe religious liberty entails something like: you can practice your religion freely as long as you do not violate the rights of others.

The next step is to claim that, "You violate our rights when you impose any burdens on us that are incompatible with our conscience, which includes the right to place any burdens on you without respect to what is compatible with your conscience."

Therefore, I think they would be consistent in telling your hypothetical Muslim that he can pray five times a day and he can abstain from pork and alcohol but he can't murder people because that would violate the victims' right to life.

And it is consistent with this to tell the Catholic that he can have mass on Sunday and hang a cross on the wall of his living room but he cannot tell others who they can and cannot marry. Nor can the force days to years of suffering on people while destroying what they lived for by denying them the death they would choose for themselves.

However, the authors of this declaration want to be able to claim the right to tell others who they can and cannot marry, so they must introduce a contradiction into their principles of religious liberty. They want to say both, at the same time, "It violates our liberty for you to put any burdens on us, but it also violates our liberty for you to stand in the way of us putting burdens on you."

It is when they introduce this contradiction - allowing themselves permission to impose burdens on others, that they run into the problem with the Muslim shooter mentioned above.

Remember, all law is ultimately backed by people with guns who are willing to use them.

Laura said...

Hey guys!
Great conversation topic and some good points. I just wanted to take a minute to respond to your original post. First of all, I don't know that your first scenario is the best example for the point you are trying to make. I believe you are using a Muslim in your example; however, the overwhelming majority of Muslims would not condone this behavior. In fact, that type of misrepresentation and stereotyping can be very dangerous, don't you think?

In any case, I think that the Manhattan Declaration goes to great lengths to show that the signers value civil law. Christians are called to obey the law. If the law instructs us to wear blue on Wednesdays, do five jumping jacks on Saturday mornings, and eat broccoli at midnight, we are called to do that; however, if the law instructs us to do something that God has prohibited, we are called to disobey the law. In the Manhattan Declaration Christian leader are explaining that to government leaders. They would rather go to jail for not supporting abortion (via taxes) and spend eternity in Heaven than disobey God.

The individual in your example made a choice. There will be civil consequences for disobeying civil law, but the (eternal) consequences for (in his mind) disobeying Allah would have been worse that any civil punishment.

I think religion is defined as more than "to do whatever pleases us." I suppose that could be one religion. You could define religion as "a set of beliefs," in which case atheism would be categorized as a religion. Our founding fathers believed that freedom of religion was important, so you are able to religiously believe that there is no god. Being a citizen of this country, you are entitled to faith in your belief that there is no God, a civil right of which you seem to be taking full advantage.

If we live in a country governed for the people and by the people, and a large group of citizens have a concern about the direction it's taking, isn't it their responsibility to express that? If over 150 non-government leaders have a common opinion, wouldn't it be foolish to keep that a secret from those representing them (and thousands of their followers)? That's how our country was founded.

One more clarification concerning imposing beliefs upon others. Christians believe that they are saved by grace, not works. This means that I can not earn my way into Heaven. I have to accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior, otherwise my inevitable sin will drag me to Hell. When true Christians impose their beliefs on others, its actually a loving attempt to keep the other person out of Hell. Whether you put your faith in Christ or not, I hope you can someday view the motive as a helping hand rather than condemnation. God bless you!

Eneasz said...

Laura -

The individual in your example made a choice. There will be civil consequences for disobeying civil law, but the (eternal) consequences for (in his mind) disobeying Allah would have been worse that any civil punishment.

WOW. I honestly did not expect any christian to come to the defense of the Fort Hood shooter. To praise murder because it was religiously inspired is a truly twisted position. I hope nobody I care about lives anywhere near you, and that you regain your sanity quickly.

Your comment is a perfect example of why people who put evil religious laws above good civil laws must be condemned in the harshest possible ways.

Laura said...

I'm not coming to his defense. I believe that murder is wrong. The overwhelming majority of Muslims would agree that murder is wrong. (That's why I think that was a bad example. It reinforces existing stereotypes. Islam does not encourage violence; it is opposed to it. That's like using a neo-nazi to represent all Christians.) What I am saying is that Christians believe that God is above the law. That man had the freedom to shoot those people, but that doesn't mean he had the right to do it. The law has been established to define what freedoms it allows us to exercise. Shooting people is not one of them. In the Old Testament of the Bible, Daniel, a Jew, is forbidden to pray to anyone but the king. Anyone who does not submit to this new law will be thrown into the lions' den. God wants Daniel to continue to worship Him. Should Daniel submit to the law of the current king or continue to obey the God who decides Daniel's eternal future?

Eneasz said...

Laura -

Should Daniel submit to the law of the current king or continue to obey the God who decides Daniel's eternal future?

This is a very poor analogy, because the law is unjust. Anyone/everyone has the right (duty?) to oppose unjust laws, regardless of how they think their god feels about them. This is not the case in question.

The case in question is that of just laws. A just law says "You cannot impose harms on your gay neighbor simply because he is gay, you must have good reason".

A more apt example would be to ask what one should do when God commands you to break a just law. A law such as "Don't murder your children."

It may seem shocking, but I'm taking this as my example because
A) this is undoubtedly a just law, and
B) there have been times both in biblical history and in the modern day (Andrea Yates) where god has commanded the breaking of this law.

In these cases, what is the correct course of action? Submit to the law that prohibits one from killing one's children, or obey God who decides the parent's and child's eternal future?

Personal Injury Attorney Houston said...

Everyone should be given religious liberty. They should be given complete freedom to believe.