Ruth Lewis a member of our Emerging Fellows program examines personal liberty in the light of religious freedom through her fifth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
In today’s world, people of faith are seeking to preserve their practices of religion. These practices are generally based on conservative traditions and observances developed over hundreds, even thousands of years throughout various geo-political settings. They are often based on the belief in a higher purpose, being, god or gods and the commandments to behave in a certain way, and to educate their children within the religion. They seek to protect their own against a confusing and threatening multiplicity of opinions and lifestyles. This is against typographic negative portrayals of the ‘other’, clinging to the mythical stories that they were raised with to cope with societal change.
Enshrined Human Rights practices allow freedom of religious thought and practice at the individual and collective level, as long as that practice does not interfere with the individual’s other human rights which may be encoded in law. This sets boundaries for religious freedom, with many modern examples highlighting conflicts such as religious recognition of contraception, honor killing and non-heterosexual marriage. In the eyes of the law, freedom to hold a view is absolute, but freedom to act on that view is constrained by other Human Rights. A ‘free society’ is one that allows freedom to think, debate and challenge the dominant beliefs system without fear of reprisal, as long as individuals and collective groups are not harmed as a result.
In today’s society, the more conservative religious viewpoints argue that past traditions provided guidance and wisdom for current practice and lifestyle, carried through generations. These practices of faith are derived from divine providence or right. These beliefs may provide protection against the uncertainties of change, as they have ‘stood the test of time’. Where this leads to crisis is where the conservative religious belief specifically rejects change and this may put it into conflict with changed societal views of morality and human rights. A resilient society will allow adaptation, integration and growth of belief and practice where these make sense, to support future generations’ health and well-being. A healthy society is one that looks to the future for sustainability. It derives wisdom from the past on what worked or didn’t, and is guided from a mature integration of cultural, social, intentional and behavioral practices and beliefs, rather than setting absolute rules on that basis.
In the post-scarcity future, it is postulated that the current resource crises may be overcome, and people’s basic needs will be met. Such a society may support the freedom of association of individuals with collective beliefs without the necessity to band together over scarce living supplies. This society may move beyond the need for the human rights recognition that the historical Enlightenment gave rise to. Evolved from the separation of Church and State, the common law provided protection of individual rights and promotion of individual liberty of belief.
Such an evolutionary society will promote wisdom beyond the traditional tribal and magical worldview of religious belief and practice. It will evolve into
a society that promotes a common recognition that the core of all religions and beliefs contain a series of trans-personal, trans-rational practices that seek a higher level of wisdom and being. With this evolution, true freedom will be found through individual and collectivist transformation to a holistic worldview of human flourishing. This will promote liberty of the mind, soul and spirit in the pursuit of higher purpose for being. But in this scenario, will we still need to define and enforce Human Rights?
© Ruth Lewis 2019