Recently in Afghanistan we had the sight of two sets of protesters opposing each other but both chanting “God is great.” (See Women protesting at ‘pro-rape’ law attacked by Afghan men and video: Afghan women protest against marriage law). Obviously both the women who were opposing new legislation limiting their sexual and human rights, and the men who were supporting the legislation (and opposing the sexual and human rights of women), thought they had their “God on their side.”
This seems crazy to most people but is not at all unusual. Consider the civil rights struggles in the USA. Christian beliefs were used to justify both segregation and the opposition to it. The same in South Africa. Most members of the Dutch reform Church thought apartheid was sanctified by God, whereas many anti-apartheid activists opposed apartheid on religious grounds. Consider slavery. Consider just about any struggle over human rights in human history and we can see examples of a god being used to justify both opposition to, and support of, human rights.
This suggest to me that religion does allow for an extreme form of moral relativism. Truly anything can be justified by claiming support from your god. To paraphrase Dostoevsky’s famous statement – “With God anything can be permitted.”
UN resolution on “defamation of religion”
I thought of this when reading a blog post at Christian News NZ (see I WANT my religious beliefs criticized!). Strange irony in the title there as the anonymous writer (admin) was attacking a Dominion Post article defending the human right to freedom of expression. This article described how the recent UN Human Rights Council resolution on “defamation of religion” was actually attacking freedom of expression. Admin also appeared to believe his rights to “criticise homosexuality as depraved and sinful” have somehow been removed by recognition of the rights of minority groups in our country.
Admin complains his ideas are not allowed “into the marketplace of ideas” because there were too few “Christian/Jesus movies shown on TV this Easter” and “intelligent design has not been given a fair hearing.” (On the latter, if intelligent design got the publicity it deserved from supporting scientific evidence we would never hear about it, would we).
I think admin is being disingenuous with his title – he is really arguing for a special place for religion and for its freedom from criticism. I am left with the impression that admin supports the UN Human Rights Council “relgious defamation” resolution. Admin even suggests that “Islam … is likely to be God’s sword of judgement against Europe in coming days.” Let that be a warning to you infidels and heathens! And admin doesn’t think we should be able to criticise such stupidity.
No doubt the men demonstrating in Afghanistan believed that the women were defaming religion. Similarly supporters of apartheid, segregation and slavery would have considered the anti-slavery, anti-apartheid and anti-segregation movements to be defaming religion.
And now for the mental gymnastics. Admin justifies his attacks by claiming that “We can only criticise if moral absolutes exist, and they only exist if God exists.” We have heard this before with the claim that atheists shouldn’t criticise Hitler (see Atheists not allowed to criticise Hitler!). The claim that only believers in a god have a basis for their morality!! Without a god you have no right to criticise religion. No right to freedom of expression!
This is a pathetic argument. They are declaring that because they don’t understand the sources of human morality and moral logic therefore “god did it.” The old “explanation” which explains nothing.
Today there is a scientific understanding of moral intuition and moral logic. This provides a basis for objective morality and “moral absolutes.” It seems to me we all rely on these intuitions and logic whether we believe in a god or not. A religious claim that it is the source of morality is really an acknowledgement that religious “morality” is parasitic upon secular morality.
But when secular morality is abandoned, and religious appeals to what God wants, or what God ordains, this opens the gates wide to the worst sort of moral relativism. It enables any despot to sanction any form of inhumanity by claiming that their god supports it.
When this happens we are justified in saying “With a God, anything can be permitted.”
I know, religion doesn’t have a monopoly on evil activity. It also comes from political and ideological extremism. But lets be fair about this. We have rights to criticise evil perpetrated in the name of politics and ideology. We should not have the freedom of expression, the ability to defend basic human rights, removed in the case of religion.