As the traditional framework underpinning Western Civilization unravels, new systems are being negotiated to take the place of the (white) Christian paradigm which previously dominated.
How faiths relate to each other and to broader society is one such conversation. When conducted properly, interfaith dialogue attempts to mediate compromises between groups which have fundamentally different values. At its core, it’s a question of moral philosophy, and which set of values you use to make a decision when two competing values sets conflict.
On a level of personal morality, this normally doesn’t matter too much. But when the principles underpinning the laws of the state clash with religious values, you have potentially seriously destabilizing situation on your hands, especially if the religion in question is powerful and followed by millions.
Human rights values are constructed by a consensus of philosophers and intellectuals, rubber stamped by politicians into legal frameworks. The most notable document of international human rights is the UN Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948 following the devastation of the Second World War. It was intended to formalize an international consensus which would prevent the atrocities of the 20th century from happening again.
Needless to say, such lofty visions have not been realized.
Yet in theory the narrative of human rights provides an over-arching metamorality that underpins the laws of Western democratic states. Activist groups and media outlets call on human rights, rather than communion with Christ, or submission to Allah when seeking to praise or condemn the actions of politicians.
Despite (or perhaps because) human rights are entirely socially constructed, appealing to principles of reason and compassion rather than any metaphysical entity as their basis, the theory of human rights is tremendously popular.
Yet when human rights as an ideology comes into contact with other moral narratives it runs up against stiff resistance. This is especially true with religion.
Firstly it is extremely new. When going up against an ideology that has over a thousand years of continued existence under its belt, it’s difficult to convince skeptics that human rights has staying power.
Secondly it’s socially constructed, as opposed to religious commandments which derive their legitimacy from God. Whether or not you personally believe in God, it’s undeniable that someone who is convinced their morality is divinely sanctioned will be a lot more committed to it than someone who knows their morality is open to question and improvement by a process of intellectual rigor and doubt.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, religious traditions have built up a lifestyle over the past few thousand years which blends community and personal development. In comparison, societies based on human rights values still haven’t settled onto clear modes of behavior. On the one hand many have found this extremely liberating. On the other hand, alienation, depression and other problems associated with a lack of meaning are on the rise.
Yet some of the attitudes upheld by religious conservatives are antithetical to those supported by human rights. This is most notable in the areas of gay rights, women’s rights and freedom of speech.
How to reconcile religious conservatism with human rights values is a key challenge of building a stable polity in a 21st century post-Christian West.
Negotiating a win-win arrangement about how to balance the imperatives of scripture and human rights which can work for both religious conservatives and secular humanists is the goal of Toke for Tolerance, the world’s premier cannabis-based interfaith festival.
Get on the waitlist now to avoid missing out.