A Soviet propaganda poster. Its message was obvious to the most illiterate Russian peasant: religious people stand in the way of progress and the development of a better world. Bulldozing them out of the way is therefore a logical and necessary step to betterment.
Anyone who has studied dictatorial regimes will recognise that classic, orthodox tyrannies always recognise the Christian Church to be an impediment, if not an outright obstacle that must be destroyed. For all of Richard Dawkins’ nonsense about Hitler being a Roman Catholic, his administration was deeply anti-church and anti-Christian and produced some of the most bizarre replacement theologies in the modern world (like Himmler’s occultic blend of mysticism and German mythology). German fascists took this view partly because Christianity was based on “Jew texts” and partly because biblical Christianity elevates virtues that the fascists regarded as weakening vices – things like compassion, care for the weak, the primacy of the reward in the world to come, and the universality of the human condition unrestricted by “blood, race and soil”. Such beliefs are incompatible with any human-centred, utopian ideology.
Likewise, communist regimes around the world – with almost no exceptions – have been equally as systematic (and in fact, usually more transparently hostile and radical than the fascists) in their opposition to confessing Christians. Russian communists were unabashed in listing the eradication of religion as one of the major objectives of their administration and ideology. Tens of thousands of churches were demolished; the overwhelming majority of Russian Orthodox clergy were shot (about 100,000) or otherwise imprisoned. In fact, the Russian Orthodox Church was very nearly extinct when the Germans launched Operation Barbarossa. It is almost unbelievable, but in all of Russia there were only about 500 functional churches left and a very small handful of clergy.
(The Second World War is a tragic episode in human history, but is rich in examples of the Sovereignty of God. It is surely no coincidence that a residue of Christianity – albeit in the form of Russian Orthodoxy – was preserved under Stalin in the Soviet Union itself by an invasion orchestrated by an equally anti-Christian ideology.)
Whatever one may think of the orthodoxy of the Russian Orthodox Church (and as Protestants we cannot accept the bulk of its teaching as biblical), their faithful adherents nonetheless present an illustration of amazing resistance and fidelity in the face of what is probably the most intense and widespread persecution of Christian people in the modern era. The persecution lessened only after the German invasion, when Stalin gave concessions to the Russian Orthodox Church and actively sought to revive so that it might to imprint some sense of supernatural mission upon the minds of the Russian people, who could hardly be expected to fight in the name of communism alone having, by that stage, experienced it for about 23 years.
The question to consider here is why is the church such a target? The answer is straightforward, at least when considered in raw political and social terms: in revolutionary times all radicals who are intent on cultural transformation recognise the Church as an autonomous centre of opposition with its own authoritative message that demands unquestioning obedience. This cannot coexist with modern total states, although the Church can coexist with monarchical states where the king cannot rule or legislate by fiat alone.
From the perspective of radicals, the Church’s teachings always trumps those of the state, and therefore constitutes a serious threat to the state. The Church has a message from heaven; the state can only claim that its ideology is from men. The Church has its mandate from God; the state can only claim a mandate from “the people”. The Church has texts that are infallible, inerrant and ancient; the state can only appeal to texts that are fallible, errant, and recent. The Church is founded on God in human form – the Person of Jesus Christ; the best the state can manage is to attempt to deify a leader, president, or generalissimo. The Christian people who constitute the Church will lay down their lives for the Faith in the sure knowledge of everlasting life; the state can only command men to lay down their lives for a paradise on Earth.
In Western countries we have become accustomed to the Church being legally inviolable. Its finances are untaxed; various constitutions declare it immune from government interference; and it is usually exempted from laws that run counter to its teachings and mission. Indeed, this is a peculiar feature of Western constitutional government, which is so much a product of the Protestant Reformation.
But, times are a’changin’. We are living in the midst of a cultural revolution, primarily driven by sexual inclinations and the legitimisation of novel relationship types. And the Church is increasingly existing on an island of shrinking support in the wider culture which is growing restless at the Church’s historic immunity to state interference. And the means by which the state is being harnessed to attack this only remaining bastion of serious counter-cultural opposition is the tension between “human rights”.
Human rights are universal. They apply to all people. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was a covenant devised in the ashes of the scarred, near-apocalyptic, post-Second World War era with all its traumas, and was designed to be applicable to the entire human race. It is a wonderful document, full of righteous sentiment, affirming the freedom and dignity of the individual and granting to him or her the right to be unencumbered by the unreasonable control and mastery of another. Great faith was invested in this document. It was assumed that signatory nations with their recent experience of war would remember the depths of human horror forevermore, and thereby not depart from this straight way.
Yet these rights have now come into tension – a tension that was never imagined in 1948 when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was developed. The great tension of our times is the freedom of conscience and religion as opposed to the new rights of non-discrimination, non-offence-giving, non-hate speech, and radical equality of access to individual’s service. The cultural revolutionaries adopt the attitude that, “Very well, you may have your freedom of conscience and religion, but you must never act upon it within the shared public domain“, which of course is no freedom at all.
In like manner, to say, “Yes, we uphold freedom of speech, but if you say X or Y, which was once acceptable but is acceptable no longer, then you are engaging in hate speech, calculated to offend people, and therefore is illegal and unacceptable“. Under such a view, freedom of speech is no longer freedom at all. As the Internationale put it (heaven forfend! I quote from it only this once!), freedom is transformed into mere extended privilege. It is transformed into the right to only say what is popular; what is convenient; what is supported by the majority. To be able to say only what everybody else is saying requires, surely, no legal protection at all. You do not need a human right for that. You do, however, need the right of free speech to protect the act of saying something that is unpopular.
As soon as one is told that they may not act according to their conscience in refusing to do something – like bake a cake, or open their bathrooms to people of a certain gender, or openly declare their ancient beliefs – then the rights that were brought into focus by a devastating and tragic episode in human history have been eroded.
This is because “rights” increasingly are not thought of as universal standards that apply to all people equally and thus are meant to protect the unpopular as much as the popular. Rather they are seen as primarily about protecting the interests of select minorities from the unintended, uncontrolled, and indirect results of other people’s freedoms, and moreover doing so with a hyper-sensitivity and a higher-priority toward some groups rather than others.
For instance, in Australia there is mounting pressure for a parliamentary decision on something that is commonly called “same-sex marriage”. The conservative government has purposed to use a process similar to that of the Irish referendum, and to ask the Australian people to vote on the issue through a plebiscite. The constellation of left-wing parties are deeply opposed to any kind of popular vote. Why? Because “human rights are not determined by popular vote“. Ironically, these parties argue that the correct approach is to have politicians vote on the issue in the parliamentary chambers and be done with it. In other words, if it were carried by a majority vote by professional politicians then this “human right” would presumably enter existence as a human right within Australia.
Of course, in objective terms, it is true that human rights are not decided by a majority. That is the philosophic framework behind human rights. But this is not the case in terms of political process. After all, each signatory state to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights had to ratify the covenant through their parliamentary systems. Even the United Nations itself is an organisation that functions on the basis of voting, and this has never been seen as inimical to human rights. To want human rights to enter existence without any process at all is to advocate tyranny and a fear of democracy. Yet the left-wing parties do not really believe their own rhetoric. They merely count on people not thinking it through very deeply. The reality is that they prefer a method that avoids any popular vote because it is much easier to work over a small group in the nation’s capital who will have a “conscience vote” (in other words, a vote reflecting the politician’s own conscience rather than the will of their electors). Moreover, they prefer this method because they calculate that they have the numbers to enact the legislation.
In other words, it is precisely because they think they have enough numbers in parliament to win on the issue that they have chosen to belittle a more democratic approach. And in so doing, they are essentially claiming that these human rights exist in some ethereal place and that they can be determined by a select group (i.e. themselves) who need not apply a democratic procedure to their recognition, or even acknowledge and seek out the true will of the people they represent. After all, they have the numbers.
They are therefore practising the very thing they claim to oppose: the use of numbers to birth a human right in Australia.
Another, and more instructive argument that they have made, however, is that debating same-sex marriage and voting on it would be cruel, divisive, and raise uncomfortable arguments and issues that could lead to great harm among people who practice homosexuality. In essence, (and it has been seriously put this way) the exercise of popular democracy could lead to deaths among practising homosexuals who might be tempted to commit suicide due to exposure to people and ideas that oppose their particular lifestyle. This, of course, raises a great many questions about how far democracy should be curtailed in order to prevent bad things from happening to people who might have mental vulnerabilities. For instance, is it the case that parliament should not debate same-sex marriage in case it is so hurtful and divisive that it causes people who practice homosexuality to commit suicide? If a public debate is harmful and would unleash dark forces, so might a parliamentary debate. After all, both would hit the television screens.
Moreover, is it the case that parliament should not discuss taxation in case it drives the poor to despair and leads to suicide? Should there be no freedom of speech on certain issues like war, in case soldiers’ widows become traumatised and commit suicide? If, as these left-wing group argue, the precautionary principle must be applied to protect people from unknown future harms, then just how far are we to take the precautionary principle? Indeed, arguments are beginning to surface to the effect that religious freedom itself should be curtailed precisely on the basis of the precautionary principle. To allow religious people to speak their message could result in harm to people whose lifestyle they disapprove of. Therefore, in the interests of human rights, the human right to the free exercise of religion must die. It seems, in the new economy, not all human rights are equal.