Freedom and Human Rights Should be Religion-Free
Photo (c) Samuel Lee
In the Netherlands, every year on 4th and 5th of May, we are reminded that freedom comes at a cost, that millions of people have died in battle, resistance fighters have been imprisoned, and heroes have been killed so that we can enjoy it today. Every year, though, we must commemorate this priceless liberty with mingled emotions of anguish and regret. Wars in the Middle East, Afghanistan, Syria, ISIS atrocities, the Corona crisis, the resurgent Taliban, and now the conflict in Ukraine and its horrors are on our minds as we celebrate freedom in the Netherlands. Every year, it appears that the battles get closer to home. We recognize that wars, whether near or far, have effects for all of us, whether in Syria or Ukraine. I also hope that we realize that we cannot make concessions to despotic governments for the sake of our own comfort and finances, but I believe we will practically never learn these historical lessons.
Human rights are no longer universal when they wear the name of a faith or religion and for they are linked to scriptures, holy texts
When I think of Freedom, I also consider the role of religion in this context. Unfortunately, there are religious institutions and churches who collaborate with the wicked one during times of conflict. Whether these are churches who backed apartheid, churches that collaborated with Hitler, or during genocides in Rwanda or Bosnia – and now the Russian Orthodox Church in Russia will get engaged in war and choose to side with the aggressor. This is what I refer to as the prostitution of religion for power. Religious leaders and organizations that sell themselves to political power are examples of this. I am reminded of Jesus' trial in the wilderness, when the evil one asked Jesus to worship him in exchange for all kingdoms and authority. And we all know what happened next, how Jesus reacted. The prostitution of religion with power has disastrous effects, although it is tragic that an excuse typically arrives only years afterwards.It's heartbreaking, for example, that in 2022, when knowledge and science have taught us so much about the human body, there are patriarchs, evangelists, and churches that use LGBT people as scapegoats for the conflict in Ukraine and the cause of the corona issue, and so on. Religions exist to serve people by bringing them closer to God and hence closer together, not the other way around.
God created man in the beginning, underlining the importance of "being human," humanity, and hence human rights. Regardless of our beliefs or ideas, humanity is paramount. Religious human rights, Christian human rights, Islamic human rights, and so on are frequently discussed in religious communities. While I agree with the aims, I believe that adding a religion's name before the phrase "human rights" (e.g., Christian human rights) is unnecessary. Human rights are human rights! There are no compromises here; faith can drive people to safeguard human rights, but it can also blind them to the fact that they are capable of doing anything terrible they can conceive of. Human rights are no longer universal when they wear the name of a faith or religion and for they are linked to scriptures, holy texts, and church/mosque/temple politics. As a preacher and public theologian, I believe it is my responsibility to criticize my own faith communities when they refuse to recognize and safeguard the rights of every human beings. It is also my responsibility to not keep silent, to not gaze on evil and remain mute. The fact that my ministry is little, or that I have little influence, has nothing to do with my decision to remain silent.
As a public theologian, I believe it is my responsibility to criticize my own faith communities when they refuse to recognize and safeguard the rights of every human beings.
For me, celebrating freedom in 2022 implies a number of concerns: concern for our planet's future, concern about potential wars that harm humanity, and concern about the rapidly widening gap between rich and poor. Nonetheless, I am optimistic that in times of crisis, my fellow believers will continue to fight for justice and challenge churches that are involved in tyranny and injustice. Let us pray for freedom and for those who do not have it for whatever reason.