Religious Hegemony And Human Rights
While Amnesty International advocates that abortion should be a choice available to women who are victims of rape and incest, the church is concerned about the rights of the unborn and is totally insensitive to the rights of the ones who are living. By Shantanu Dutta
What would Jesus do is a popular wristband that many Christian youth wear. It is supposed to remind Christians about how they should behave and act in life's situations in the light of the example set by Jesus. So it is interesting to read about the face off between the Roman Catholic Church and the human rights organisation Amnesty International where the Catholic Church has advised Catholics not to fund Amnesty. AI currently does not receive any funding from church bodies but individual Catholics do give a fairly large sum to AI and if they were to heed the Vatican's advice, the institution would be affected. As is often the case in the West, the issue concerned that of abortion. The Roman Catholic Church is "pro-life," which is to say, vehemently anti-abortion as we all know, but no matter what, is it such a great idea - given a) its own long history on the wrong side of human rights, and b) its more recent concern with human rights, including opposition to the death penalty - to go after Amnesty International for promoting abortion choice is a matter of debate.
It is not as if Amnesty International was setting up abortion clinics all over the place. They are advocating that abortion as an option or a choice be made available to women who are victims of rape and incest and other such traumatizing experiences. The church says that its stance is absolute on the matter - that the taking of human life, no matter how urgent the situation is always wrong.
It is nobody's case that murder is right, that even the murder of an unborn child is right. But however it is a bit painful to see that the church is so concerned about the rights of the unborn that it is so totally insensitive to the rights of the ones who are living and breathing and will live with the scars of the trauma inflicted on them all their lives.
If the question "what would Jesus do" were to be answered here, Amnesty International, which claims no familiarity or allegiance to Jesus Christ comes through as a more humane, compassionate and caring organisation than the church whose head the Pope is presented as the vicar of Christ on earth. The church comes through as cerebral, ideologically correct but aloof and unconcerned about the pain and concerns of those living in the here and now.
After reading about the spat, I could not help wondering about the whole rainbow of human rights and religious rights and the whole gamut of where they converge and where they diverge. This is particularly relevant because most human rights though secular in ethos have their roots in religion but whereas secular human rights seems to have progressed and evolved religious thinks on rights seems to have frozen up in a medieval theologian's library.
Where human rights bodies with their passion and religious bodies with their reach join forces, they can be a strong agent of change. The Catholic Church and Amnesty International which take such widely divergent views on abortion now are fighting shoulder on issues like the abolition of the death penalty, the elimination of child soldiers with considerable synergy and success. But the divide on the abortion issue seems unbridgeable.
Speaking on the issue in unusually candies terms, Amnesty International's Deputy general-secretary, Kate Gilmore said: "The Catholic Church, through a misrepresented account of our position on selective aspects of abortion, is placing in peril work on human rights." She said Amnesty was not promoting abortion as a universal right but stressing that women have a right to choose abortion when their human rights have been violated, particularly in cases of rape and incest. "We are saying broadly that to criminalize women's management of their sexual reproductive rights is the wrong answer," she added. "We live alongside people's life experiences. We don't run a theocracy. We have to deal with the rape survivor in Darfur who, because she is left with a pregnancy as a result of the enemy, is further ostracized by her community." How true and how sad that the Cardinals of the Catholic Church aren't showing this kind of empathy that Jesus would have shown.