Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Erosion Of Liberty In The West: Sharia Law & The Principles Of The Canadian Polity

SoCon Or Bust poses this question to the blogosphere:

If Sharia law was made the law of the land in Canada - and it was arrived at by democractic means - would you accept the “will of the people” and that “democracy has spoken”?

SoCon's answer is a thoughtful one and is likely representative of many Conservatives in Canada. He begins by suggesting that there is a fundamental tension between democracy and freedom and that "the further we remove ourselves from Western principles - especially the Judeo-Christian ones - the more we will see a divergence between democracy and freedom." His reasoning follows:

[The decline of Europe] demonstrates that freedom itself - cut off from the search and acknowledgement of the objective truth - will kill us.

“Freedom” is a brittle and empty shell if it is devoid of any moral fibre or an acknowledgement [sic] of our Judeo-Christian heritage. With the decline of Christianity, there has been a marked decline in all spheres of western life including family, freedom, and social cohesion. Or, are we to say that it is just one big coincidence?

He concludes with this whopper:

Secularism mandates that we consider all religions equal. Yet, while we are prepared to say that perhaps(!) Sharia is not such a great thing, we are not prepared to admit that indeed not all religions are created equal. Because if we were to do that, then that would necessarily mean giving one religion preference over another - at least in some capacity ... In other words, where a “religion” starts to subvert the public order and encroach on inalienable human rights - like free speech - it must be confronted and suppressed by the State in some form.

SoCon's suggestion that there is a tension between democracy and liberty is right on. In the sense that he employs the word "democracy" - i.e. rule by the majority - there is an assumption that the will of the people is the route to reaching proper policy decisions. It assumes that collective reasoning is privy to a wisdom that individual reasoning cannot access.

This Rousseaunian conception of democracy is rejected by Canada, the United States, and most other free countries in the world in favour of a different one; the liberal democracy. At its core, classical liberalism is an elegant and simple idea. Every human being is born with the right to their own life. This is the only fundamental human right and all others that we can be said to have are either logical consequences or corollaries of that basic right. Freedom of speech, of the press, of association, of property. All of these freedoms must be acknowledged as well if we accept that there exists this fundamental right to our own lives.

The proper role of the state is the protection of these liberal rights. And so we adopt laws against murder and enforce them with the brute force of the state because how can we be secure in our own life if others would go unpunished for taking it? And we adopt laws against stealing to protect our property because life is a process of self-sustaining action and we must be free to pursue our own chosen goals in whatever way we deem appropriate, provided, of course, that we don't impede others from doing the same thing. SoCon believes that the further we move away from Judeo-Christian principles of morality, the less conducive to freedom our democracy will become. But the assumption behind Western efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan is that all human beings, regardless of their religious leanings, are capable of respecting the right to life of every individual human being.

SoCon's contention that freedom is "a brittle and empty shell" absent from Judeo-Christian values is off-base. Freedom is never empty or absent of moral fiber if the people who live freely defend their way of life. Liberty has no intrinsic connection to Christianity, anymore than it does to Judaism or Islam. The principles of life, liberty, and the freedom to choose our own good are philosophical, not religious. I'm not going to delve into the many, many statements in the Bible that are incompatible with a liberal right to life but I can't imagine anyone of the Judeo-Christian tradition denying that such statements exist. The conventional Judeo-Christian response is a good one; the Old and New Testaments' teachings are profound and couched in ambigous language and so it requires thoughtful analysis and logic to arrive at the appropriate conclusions regarding their moral teachings. Interpreting the Bible's edicts literally is not necessarily the road to leading a good Christian life, and so a good Christian does not necessarily have to murder homosexuals to be virtuous ("If a man lies with a male as with a women, both of them shall be put to death for their abominable deed; they have forfeited their lives" - Leviticus 20:13). And this is the crux of the matter, isn't it? In large part, Judeo-Christian morality has morphed to conform with the principles of freedom found in classical liberalism. This transformation was, historically, a Christian one. It was embarked upon by Christians and realized by Christians, but this does not give Christians a monopoly over liberty and individual rights.

It is not the principles of the Judeo-Christian religious tradition per se that must be preserved for our freedom to remain healthy, but a commitment to the protection of our society's most sacred of assumptions; that no man or woman has a right to force another to live based on one particular conception of the good.

SoCon asks if it is a mere coincidence that the decline of Christianity in the Western World has been met with a decline in personal freedom. No, it's no coincidence. But the problem is not that individuals have abandoned Christianity, but that it has been replaced by moral relativism and nihilism. This is what has truly consumed Europe and allowed the slow and steady erosion of personal liberties to take place. A country could remain free regardless of whether its people were avid Christians, Jews, Muslims, or Atheists provided that they recognize that what is morally crucial is, not that they have found a vision of the good that they would like to live by, but that they were given the opportunity to reach their conclusions freely.

Secularism does not mandate that we treat all religions equally; it mandates that we treat all individuals equally. And that involves protecting their right to be free of oppression in the choosing of their own conception of the good.

Sharia law is fundamentally incompatible with individual human rights. If Sharia law is made law in Canada by democratic means it means the death of our liberal democracy. It means a return to a barbaric moral code that requires the systematic subversion of human rights and the blanket oppression of an individual's opportunities to seek the good in their own way and according to their own vision of it (especially for women). So, would I accept the will of the people if they concluded that Sharia law was in our best interest? Absolutely not. I would rather die than live without liberty. But remaining free does not mean remaining Christian. That decision is to be left up to the individuals of a free society.

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