Mr. Hilaire Sobers is a lawyer . He has worked at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) since 2004. Below (A) is his commentary on religion and human rights in response to another commentary by sociologist and Roman Catholic deacon Peter Espeut (B).
Dr. Wayne West ,a christian , comments on Mr. Peter Espeut’s response to Mr. Sobers (C)
The last two communiques, one by Daniel Thwaites (D) and the other by Rev Earl Thames (E) are in response to comments made by Mr Sobers at a forum at the Norman Manley Law School in 2012.
Reason And Faith Are Like Oil And Water
Published: Tuesday | February 5, 2013Comments 0
Hilaire Sobers, Guest Columnist
In his column ‘An unexamined life is not worth living’ (Gleaner, February 1, 2013), Peter Espeut contends, “The greatest enemies of true religion are apathy, sloppy reasoning, and dishonesty.” I wouldn’t accuse Peter of being apathetic to religion. However, his column was a model of the sort of sloppy reasoning that I’ve come to expect from Christian apologists. So perhaps in that regard, “sloppy reasoning and dishonesty” are actually the allies of religion.
Peter claims that it is “all the fashion to attack religion, and Christianity in particular”. Apart from citing positions supposedly adopted by natural and social scientists, he claims that others attack Christianity out of discomfort with its “ethical demands”. This discomfort, he asserts, leads such persons “to discredit Christianity in order to legitimise their lifestyles”.
First, Christianity doesn’t need anybody to discredit it – it does a superior job all on its own. Second, the “ethical demands” go beyond simply proselytising; they seek and find political expression in laws that have the effect of imposing Christian beliefs on all individuals, whether they subscribe to Christianity or not.
This is demonstrated by the following: 1) Jamaican law continues to criminalise blasphemy and obeah, even though we claim to uphold the principle of freedom of religion; 2) Jamaican law criminalises certain private sexual acts done by consenting adults, even as we claim to uphold a right to privacy and equality under the law; 3) Jamaican law imposes a Christian notion of marriage, even in a country with several groups of non-Christians.
Christianity, given its totalitarian outlook, is the antithesis of human rights and liberal democracy. This is the principal basis upon which many secularists, including me, attack religion, and more particularly, Christianity. Objection to Christian tyranny is not about legitimising lifestyles; it’s about combating an institution (religion) that is more interested in imposing its own brand of morality than in protecting the inherent dignity and rights of all.
Contrary to Peter’s claim, it’s not true religion that leads to liberation of people; it’s respect for their human rights that does. That’s what the Enlightenment project was, and continues to be all about – ensuring that we do not return to that period when religion was in the ascendancy – the Dark Ages.
I’m rather amused by Peter’s tortured treatment of science and religion. For him, science is incapable of refuting the existence of God, contending that “positivist or empirical sciences accept as data only those phenomena which can be observed and measured”.
He goes on to say, “By definition, God is a spirit, not detectable by the human senses or scientific instruments.” This, of course, raises the obvious question: If God is not detectable by the human senses or scientific instruments, on what basis can Peter (a human, I presume) claim any knowledge of God’s existence?
According to Peter, belief in the existence of God is a matter of faith, not science. If God exists as a matter of faith, and not science, does that not mean that Santa Claus, Thor, Zeus, and Mithra also exist as a matter of “faith”?
What Peter seems not to appreciate is that faith and knowledge are not one and the same – this is demonstrated most egregiously in his claim that theology is “queen of the sciences”. Theology, given its faith foundation, is more a branch of mythology than science. Atheism is simply lack of belief in a deity. To say that atheism has the characteristics of a religion is as fatuous as claiming that not collecting stamps has the characteristic of a hobby.
Peter complains that many people who enter this debate ” are not rigorous enough in their arguments”, and “have only a passing acquaintance with religion, or a shallow understanding of science”. Given Peter’s command of religion, my parting shot would be “two out of three ain’t bad “.
Hilaire Sobers is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
Gay Rights Aren’t Human Rights
Published: Friday | February 15, 201323 Comments
By Peter Espeut
I appreciate the rebuttal of my column ‘An unexamined life is not worth living’ (Gleaner, February 1, 2013) by self-proclaimed secularist Hilaire Sobers. Those of us who, every week, hang out our thoughts for all to see and criticise, appreciate when we get a chance to know what our critics are thinking. Hopefully, we will really listen and learn from each other.
I suggest to Hilaire that LGBT apologists (including himself) project their faults on others. Psychological projection was first conceptualised by Sigmund Freud as a defence mechanism, where a person subconsciously denies his or her own negative attributes by ascribing them to the outside world instead. Thus, projection involves imagining or PROJECTING one’s own undesirable thoughts, motivations, desires, and feelings on to others.
In his rebuttal ‘Reason and faith are like oil and water’ (Gleaner, February 5, 2013), Hilaire writes: “Christianity, given its totalitarian outlook, is the antithesis of human rights and liberal democracy” because it seeks to “find political expression in laws that have the effect of imposing Christian beliefs on all individuals, whether they subscribe to Christianity or not”.
He goes on: “Objection to Christian tyranny is not about legitimising lifestyles; it’s about combating an institution (religion) that is more interested in imposing its own brand of morality.”
I invite Hilaire to self-examination: Is it not the LGBT lobby that is being totalitarian here? By trying to get laws passed which impose LGBT beliefs on us all, whether we subscribe to them or not? Isn’t LGBT tyranny about seeking to legitimise their lifestyles by imposing their own brand of morality?
One of the examples Hilaire gives of “Christian tyranny” is that “Jamaican law imposes a Christian notion of marriage, even in a country with several groups of non-Christians”. Hilaire, are you not being disingenuous? The notion that marriage is between one man and one woman is not uniquely Christian. All religions, including major ones like Judaism and Islam, and those with smaller followings like the Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Taos, Shintos, Sufis, and Rastas, define marriage in this way. Never before in human civilisation has any group sought to redefine marriage the way the LGBT lobby is trying to do.
I challenge you, Hilaire, to give me one example of a religion (or a society) anywhere in the world at any time in history (prior to our New Age cults) that supports gay marriage.
Marriage is not just a Christian ordinance: it is a human institution, performing functions for the common good of humanity. From the dawn of the human race, the family has been the context of production and reproduction – of goods and services, yes, but also of new human beings. The heterosexual family produces children and socialises them, reproducing society itself. The homosexual ‘family’ is unsustainable, requiring heterosexuals to provide the children for homosexuals to adopt.
Those who believe that the only composition of marriage is between one man and one woman are supporting a sustainable human institution.
Human rights have to do with promoting that which is human, and have their root in the human condition. That is why marriage (between one man and one woman), for those who wish to enter into it, is a human right. ‘Gay rights’ are not human rights, but are a public-relations ploy. ‘Gay marriage’ cannot be a human right, for it is not a human institution.
WHY NOT MARRY ALL?
The LGBT totalitarians want to redefine marriage to mean a union of any two humans. But why stop there, Hilaire? Why not redefine marriage to include a union of any three humans? Or four? If it takes a village to raise a child, why should a family contain only two parents?
And what about those who love their donkeys? Why not include them in the marriage? There are enough jackasses around.
In my column that Hilaire rebuts, I lamented that those who criticise religion “have only a passing acquaintance with religion, or a shallow understanding of science”. After reading Hilaire’s rebuttal, I have to add “or are unfamiliar with philosophical reasoning”.
Reason is the method of moving from premises to conclusions by a process of logic. Philosophers begin with ideas as their premises, and reason them to their logical conclusion. Scientists begin with observable data as their premises, and develop hypotheses or theories based on reason. Theologians begin with articles of faith as their premises, and reason them to their logical conclusion. Theology is “reason informed by faith”.
Hilaire, you need to get out a little more. Reason and faith are not like oil and water.
Peter Espeut is a chemist, sociologist and Roman Catholic deacon. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
Good Response, Peter Espeut
Published: Tuesday | February 19, 2013Comments 0
THE EDITOR, Sir:
I wish to commend Peter Espeut on a well-reasoned response to Hilaire Sobers’ comments on faith and reason.
Faith is an axiomatic position, that is, it accepts a statement as true although the statement cannot be proven using the senses to measure natural phenomena.
Because no human being has complete knowledge of the universe, all human beings must make axiomatic assumptions. Although axioms cannot be proven, they are necessary for coherent analysis of real phenomena. For example, that a point has no dimension is a fundamental axiom in mathematics.
The validity of an axiom can be tested by the intellectual consistency of the truths derived from it. “In the beginning, God … ” is a philosophical axiom. This axiomatic claim states that matter was derived from mind and personality – it is the theistic world view.
The theistic world view embraces free will, objective morality (derived from God) and, therefore, a basis for law, social order and rights. All theistic axioms are clearly not equal, but from these assumptions one is able to derive coherent moral, legal, social and scientific constructs.
If the nature of the theistic axiom (e.g., Zeus) is flawed, the constructs which are derived from it will also be flawed. On the other hand, the axiomatic statement ‘The cosmos is all there is and ever was’ claims that mind and personality arose from matter. Logical consequences of this atheistic axiomatic position are that human beings cannot have free will. There can be no objective morality (every man does what is right in his eyes) and no philosophical basis for law or social institutions.
It is in the incoherence of the atheistic axiom and its constructs within which persons such as Hilaire Sobers live, leading them to claim “rights in the absence of free will and a basis for law”.
The Christian Root Of Human Rights
Published: Tuesday | March 13, 201247 Comments
by Daniel Thwaites
THE PUBLIC Law Forum at the Norman Manley Law School last Wednesday got quite charged when Hilaire Sobers, now of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, explained his view that Jamaica’s constitutional arrangements and interpretations are too “theocratic”.
Mr Sobers argued that Jamaica has an unofficial national religion that retards the development and respect for human rights. Religion, he said, is inherently antagonist to human rights and totalitarian in character. Each religion is intolerant of its rivals and wants to dictate behaviour through state law even to non-adherents. Naturally, with these claims on the floor, the place was ablaze.
I am anxious to not misrepresent Mr Sobers, particularly because of sympathy for his overall aim, which is to champion tolerance and respect for human rights. Plus, I am hardly an appropriate defender of the faith, for although it was the one part of my education that received careful continuous instruction, the ground was hardly fertile. But it seems to me that he went too far with the sweeping charges against Christianity.
There is a chauvinistic Christianity that can be repulsive, and I suspect that it is Mr Sobers’ true target. It’s the religiosity of Rick Santorum, the Rev Clive Mullings and hundreds of angry sermonisers across Jamaica too. Ever since Constantine nestled the ecclesiastical and secular powers together, the Church has been tempted to order people around with laws rather than to convince them with example and argument. But this is not a necessary part of the more humble Christianity of the elderly women in the back pews. That other Christianity quietly exists alongside its louder, cruel half-brother that froths from the pulpit while eyeing the choirgirls (or boys).
In fact, historically, humanism is a fruit of the Christian tree or – depending on how you see it – the tail-end of the Christian comet. Christianity developed the idea that all souls are worthy of salvation, and all men equal before the Lord regardless of social station. Concern for the marginalised and social outcasts feature heavily in the New Testament and there is a pretty direct line between it and modern social justice concerns. It’s a short step from ‘equality before the Lord’ to ‘equality before the Law’. So when Christians say that their religion is the source of the West’s conception of human rights, I believe they are correct. The irony, of course, is that many chauvinistic Christians point this out precisely because they want to now limit the scope of human rights and personal freedoms.
Too much work
When asked about the fundamental source of rights in a godless world, Mr Sobers pointed to “humanity”. His point was that one needn’t apply to any transcendent Being for the rights he thinks we should all enjoy. I would love to agree, but I fear that he is asking the concept of ‘common humanity’ to do too much work.
The empirical fact that ‘we are all human’ proves nothing. The issue is whether the mere fact of being human has any inherent and unique value. Why should we concern ourselves with minority groups? Why should we who are vigorous and intelligent care about those with severely low IQs or massive developmental retardation? Why should we concern ourselves with brain-dead babies, the wretched, the poor, or the incurably sick? If we abandon the sense of the sacred, why treat a man’s corpse any differently than an animal’s carcass? I have yet to see a convincing explanation in purely secular terms and suspect that there is none to be had.
Humanism and the idea that ‘man is the measure’ is not the same as atheism and the idea that there is no transcendent reality. It is unnecessary to conflate the ideas and, in practice, it won’t advance the causes of the Inter-American Commission. It’s better not to enrage believers, but enlist their help and support by pointing to the parts of the Christian message and tradition that is of solid service to the ‘rights agenda’. Plus, ticking off 95 per cent of the population is generally a bad strategy. The better approach is to plumb Christians for more sympathy, empathy, and human solidarity.
Mr Sobers’ overall approach of subjecting religious practices and beliefs to rational inquiry strikes me as healthy. But reason has its limits when approaching the great rivers of belief, including that it is the passions (and religious passions) that have a way of firing the engines of action. On any given day, the helpless on the streets of Kingston stand a better chance of getting a hot cup of tea from Fr Holung or Ramkisoon than from cloistered academics or any high-minded human rights organisation.
Daniel Thwaites is a partner of Thwaites, Lungren and D’Arcy in New York and currently qualifying for the Jamaican Bar. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Human Rights Born Of Christianity
Published: Saturday | March 17, 20128 Comments
THE EDITOR, Sir:
I wish to congratulate Daniel Thwaites for his excellent article, ‘The Christian root of human rights’ published on Tuesday, March 13, 2012, which showed up the folly of Hilaire Sobers, who had the privilege of addressing the Public Law Forum at the Norman Manley Law School recently.
In direct opposition to Mr Sobers attempt to break the link between human rights and religion, Mr Thwaites showed that human rights assume the moral imperatives of religion, especially those of the Christian faith. However, I believe that Mr Thwaites could have gone further, as what is now being extolled as natural human rights owe their historical origin directly to Christianity.
taught by christ
The modern concept of human rights is the product of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the United Nations on December 10, 1948. But the United Nations is the product of the League of Nations, which was formed after the First World War. The main person who was responsible for the formation of the League of Nations was President Woodrow Wilson of the United States.
What was the motive for his advocacy for this body? He wanted to put the Sermon on the Mount taught by Jesus Christ into international relations. In other words, the root of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was the teaching of Jesus Christ.
It is sad to see intelligent persons trying to establish a philosophy not only on sand, but on quicksand.
The truth is that the theory of human rights has never rested on man’s humanity, but on man’s divinity. The basic premise of the original theories of human rights was that human beings were created “in the image and likeness of God”, and so had certain inalienable rights.
As merely advanced animals, human beings have no more rights than a cow, or a chimpanzee. God is essential for human rights. For them to be valid, therefore, human rights have to be thoroughly theocentric. One hopes that Mr Sobers’ philosophy will have no influence in Jamaica.
EARL THAMES (Rev)
Spaldings PO, Clarendon