September 22, 2014

Religion & Human Rights: Don't entangle the two.

I've been a bit inconsistent with my blogging recently. I was looking through my bookmarks folder and found several "seeds" that I had saved but hadn't used yet.

One of these is a piece by Achieng Maureen Akena for the National Secular Society in the UK. The piece is enlightening, and I am going to quote lightly, in hopes that you will follow the link above and read it in its entirety.

Here's one quote that was particularly meaningful to me:

In Africa, religion - like democracy – is an externally imposed instrument of poverty and power. Decades ago, religion was a mechanism for the foreign colonization and conquest of Africa. Today, religion remains a powerful tool for perpetuating the poverty and oppression that rights movements seek to abolish.

When I was attending a small Christian school, using the A-beka curriculum, I was taught that Africa was a dark land full of savages that needed the Gospel. It's a topic I addressed back in June.

I never understood the connection between colonialism and evangelism, or how religion was used as a tool to control masses of people.

I think the lesson here is even wider though. We tend to look at things and apply our own cultural biases, instead of filtering through the lens of that country's needs and culture and background and history.

No two nations are alike.

Another quote:

American human rights activist Larry Cox tells open Global Rights readers that human rights must "get religion" as a corrective to contemporary human rights activists, who portray their work as "something secular, legalistic, and owned by professionals." This portrayal, Cox says, distances human rights "from the multitudes whose action is needed to move governments." 
Cox may be right, but the solution - in Africa at least - does not lie in reverting wholesale to a religious discourse. Here, our religious discourse is mostly exclusionary, and all too often perpetuates the oppression of minorities. We can, and should, collaborate with religion only when appropriate.

I think Cox is functioning under a misconception regarding the nature of secular humanitarian work. It doesn't have to be cold or legalistic. There are many humanist organizations that exist, that do good, and that get little credit for it because they are doing it solely for their fellow man and not for a deity. It's a sad situation.

Akena makes so many good points, and I don't often venture outside of the US on this blog, but I do feel like this is incredibly relevant, not only in looking at our own politics, but also in looking at how our politics color the world around us.

Go take a look.

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