Saturday, May 20, 2017
Wednesday, April 13, 2016
Why Secular societies need Religion
In one way or another all Western countries are secular, with differing degrees of enforcement of this division between religion and the State. This means that the laws put in place are all positive laws based on reason and formulated by people for the benifits of the people who live in a given country. Positive laws are not only preferable but essential if we are to legislate on the complexities of modern life; we can't very well go back to the Old Testament if we wish to revamp the Highway Code. Yet, as any decison is inevitably value based we should may be assess the appropriateness of the values we base such laws on.
At present we live in a time with few all - pervasive belief systems. One that has however become onipotent in the field of modern ethics is Natural Law. This has become, as a theory, so powerful that it is now operating in the state of an unquestionable truth. However, as I have argued previously, natural law in fact encourages an egocentric attitude to the world as it enshrines our rights to look after ourselves. Even if this were not an issue let us may be question the 'natural' nature of these laws. Few people would question the bond of a mother and her newly born child. Most would indeed see it as natural. Yet applying natural law we could argue that this is far from natural as the dependency of the child on their mother in fact imprisons both of them and therefore limits the 'freedom' of both. This is of course an absurdity as there is nothing more natural than birth and family thus a different motivation must be working, one that is stronger than the so called natural rights.
It could be therefore that there is nothing natural about Natural Rights. Although the concept has been around in various forms for over two thousand years it is to the Seventeenth and Eighteenth centuries that we must look to understand the modern version of Natural Rights. In this time we see the slow and painful transition from monarchy to democracy. It took different paths in different countries but this process gave us the freedoms we have today. Alas as part of this we threw of the precepts of religion in favour of positivism and secularism. This in many ways was natural as the Church stood for tradition and monarchy. However, in escaping these shackles we undermined our belief system.
With no higher authority we are our own judges relying on the Natural Laws we in fact created. These laws in turn tell us to do no more than look after ourselves. Human Rights law, based on Natural Law, has tried to deal with this problem but only really creates an equality thus falling far short of true justice. Treating people equally can have very unjust results as they may theoretical have equal chances that don't take into account the very real material and structural differences. For true justice we must look for something more, a higher goal to aim for.
Whatever great religion you look at they all have a concept of perfection, of goodness. You can call it God or just truth, it doesn't really matter. But simply put it puts an ideal above our basic desires. Sure we fail most of the time to achieve this ideal but we can nevertheless strive for it knowing that the alternative would most certainly be worse.
Returning to positive laws then, we must indeed base them on something. Some concept must underpin our deliberations when we legislate. A Religious State would be truly unjust as it would limit the interpretations of this concept if a higher truth and invariably become dogmatic and judgemental, yet a Secular System underpinned with a highly religious culture would indeed encourage the searching for truth in any descion. This needs to be at all levels however as otherwise it would become hollow: well meaning laws sabotaged or corrupted by the citizenry. Such a system requires therefore a reengagement with religion. All religions, it really doesn't matter which as there inner truths are the same.
Of course this system should be, ironically enough, backed up by strong secular laws and anti-descrimination legislation in order to ensure a truly healthy debate where no one feels victimised. This revolution would indeed require the rewriting of laws and constitutions so as to ensure that the concept of a greater truth becomes instrumental at every level and we do away with the promotion of the ego.
Monday, April 11, 2016
For proof of this we need look no further than the fact that the written constitution has become the undisputed cornerstone of state creation. No sooner has a desire for independence or 'regime change' been aired then a call is made for, and subsequent work is carried out on, a written constitution. In fact few countries, with the United Kingdom being a notable exception, do without having a codified constitution. Yet, the prevalence of the written constitution today does not necessarily mean that they exist in order to proclaim and embody a higher truth. Whilst Plato extrapolated the details of his 'Republic' in order to deal with often practical concerns, he never the less was attempting to discover a route to justice as Benjamin Jowett explained in his introduction to his translation:
(...) for justice is the order of the State, and the State is the visible embodiment of justice under the conditions of human society. The one is the soul and the other is the body, and the Greek ideal of the State, as of the individual, is a fair mind in a fair body. In Hegelian phraseology the state is the reality of which justice is the idea. (Jowett. 2014)
However, whilst some prominent economists have over the centuries explored the benefits and drawbacks of a capitalist economy their ideas do not seem to have been fundamental to contemporary constitutions; moreover, that little thought has been done on what the best basis of any give constitution should be seems evident from the essential preamble to the constitutions; where little emphasis is placed on defining and justifying the economic system preferred and in fact these seem to paraphrase each other.
Having regard for the existence and future of our Homeland,Which recovered, in 1989, the possibility of a sovereign and democratic determination of its fate,We, the Polish Nation - all citizens of the Republic, Both those who believe in God as the source of truth, justice, good and beauty,As well as those not sharing such faith but respecting those universal values as arising from other sources,Equal in rights and obligations towards the common good - Poland (…)
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
However, we see that the framers believed that certain rights were self-evident. This, is from a philosophical point of view somewhat of an empty statement. That said, if we take that they are indeed self-evident then we must question what actual rights have been put forward. Life, Liberty and Happiness are enshrined in the US Constitution yet are we to believe that these represent justice? Is having the liberty to live in poverty just? The writers of the constitution were in fact heavily influenced by John Locke and his ideas of 'Natural Law'. The phrase 'self evident' thus concerns the natural 'god given' nature of such rights.
The French people solemnly proclaim their attachment to the Rights of Man and the principles of national sovereignty as defined by the Declaration of 1789, confirmed and complemented by the Preamble to the Constitution of 1946.
By virtue of these principles and that of the self-determination of peoples, the Republic offers to the overseas territories that express the will to adhere to them new institutions founded on the common ideal of liberty, equality and fraternity and conceived with a view to their democratic development.
France shall be an indivisible, secular, democratic and social Republic. It shall ensure the equality of all citizens before the law, without distinction of origin, race or religion. It shall respect all beliefs.