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Polygamy, circumcision, atheist journalists and religious diversity
by Graeme J. Davidson
9 Sept 2006

It’s definitely a good idea to have a statement of faith for our country, which sets out our religious rights and ways of coping with differences so we can avoid harassment, bigotry, unfair discrimination and violence.

....During the height of the conflict in Northern Ireland, I hitched a ride with a man who was going to spend the rest of the day throwing rocks and petrol bombs at Protestants and British troops. “I’m not religious,” he insisted, “but we Catholics have had a gutsful of Protestant domination.”
....Bleeding heart liberal idealism is how he would have viewed Victoria University religious studies Professor Paul Morris’ 10 Commandments on embracing religious diversity that appeared in The Dominion Post a fortnight ago.
....Nevertheless, it’s definitely a good idea to have a statement of faith for our country, which sets out our religious rights and ways of coping with differences so we can avoid harassment, bigotry, unfair discrimination and violence. And Professor Morris has set the debate rolling.
....Kiwis in general are quick to challenge sexual and racial harassment but in our so-called secular society, people with faith have tended to remain silent even when ridiculed. I saw the tide begin to turn when several devout people of different faiths walked out of a state school fundraiser in Wellington after a guest speaker told numerous anti-religion jokes.
....During the twentieth century, more people were persecuted and killed for their religious beliefs than all other centuries combined. That includes those of all faiths who suffered under Nazi, Communist and other totalitarian regimes, as well as in countries that promote one religion to the detriment of others.
....According to the US State Department’s latest International Religious Freedom Report, in China, North Korea, Burma, Uzbekistan and Cuba the state restricts, monitors and harasses religious groups. Islam is the only faith allowed in Saudi Arabia, which the religion police enforce rigorously. Discrimination against non-Islamic faiths occurs in Pakistan, Iran, Egypt, Sudan, and Malaysia.
....In India, several states have tried to adopt the Hindutva principle that the Hindu religion should dominate politically. Israel’s security measures often restrict access to non-Jewish holy places. In some countries, there are bans on proselytising and converting from one faith to another. There is also tension and violence between local religious groups in some parts of the world.
....But how far should we go in protecting religious rights? Professor Morris’ seventh commandment states, “That Government and faith groups need to build and sustain relationships within a democratic process, the rule of law and human rights legislation.” But what if the law and our humanitarian ethics are contrary to dearly held religious beliefs?
....Do we welcome immigrants with multiple wives whose religious beliefs embrace polygamy? Or do we discriminate by recognising only one of these wives because we forbid bigamy in this country?
....Should our courts be able to override strongly held beliefs of Jehovah’s Witness parents and force their sick child to have a life-saving blood transfusion? Sects generally have fewer rights in Western society than mainstream religions.
....Male circumcision, usually performed on eight day old babies, is a religious rite for Jews and Muslims. Yet many of us see this as violation of a child’s human rights and maintain that only adults should make this kind of decision and only about their own genitals.
....Early this year a survey found that 40 percent of Muslims in the UK wanted to introduce Islamic Sharia Law into those parts of Britain where there are high concentrations of Muslims. What if 99 percept of a local community wants Islamic Law? Should the central government override local democratic wishes?
....In the Christian gospels, Jesus condemns religious leaders for their hypocrisy, likening them to a brood of vipers and to whitewashed tombs that look good on the outside but are full of death and decay. If Christians imitated Jesus’ brazen lack of respect, they would be in breach of Professor Morris’ fourth commandment “to acknowledge and respect religious dissention, safeguarding religious expression and the right to not be discriminated against.”
....Professor Morris’ commandments ask for religious awareness and sensitivity in central, regional and local government, education and the workplace. Short of taking comparative religion courses, what does this mean in practice?
....Perhaps the area where religion is least understood is in our newsrooms. A recent national survey by the New Zealand Journalists Training Organisation found that many media employers considered their reporters weak on religious knowledge and, in sharp contrast to the community at large, most journalists said they had no religious belief. This doesn’t inspire confidence in their ability to report faithfully on matters of faith.




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