DOES Christianity oppose personal autonomy and human rights? Columnist and lawyer Greg Barns thinks so.
He wrote a recent article “Powerful religious groups oppose personal freedoms” (Mercury, April 4), suggesting church opposition to euthanasia laws and same-sex marriage were examples of this anti-freedom bent.
The sacredness of life and marriage are core beliefs of Christianity. However, upholding these does not make the church anti-freedom. On the contrary, upholding them protects freedom.
One only has to look at countries that have redefined marriage and homicide (euthanasia) to find clear evidence of a squashing of fundamental freedoms.
Canada redefined marriage in 2005. Ten years on, the impact on so-called “personal freedom” is immense.
The fundamental right of free speech has been severely restricted. To publicly object to same-sex marriage or to suggest that a child is best raised by its father and mother is considered offensive. Anti-discrimination laws are regularly used to silence such “offenders”.
Freedom of conscience: Hundreds of people in wedding-related businesses have had to front Canadian courts and human rights commissions due to their conscientious objections to being compelled to provide services for same-sex weddings.
Freedom to parent: Parents who object to same-sex marriage or to their children’s involvement in radical queer sex education (of the Safe Schools Coalition ilk) have fallen foul of the law – some to the point of having their children removed by the state. If that is not an invasion of freedom I don’t know what is.
Freedom to know mum and dad’s love: Because the right to marriage includes the right to found a family, legalising same-sex marriage means more donor-conceived children. Such children miss out on the knowledge, relationship and often medical or genetic history of one of their parents. Where is the freedom in that?
It is not only Christians who are concerned about this clear suppression of foundational freedoms.
Atheist columnist Brendan O’Neill affirms, “everywhere gay marriage has been introduced it has battered freedom, not boosted it”.
Regarding euthanasia: Christians believe humans are made in God’s image and therefore have inherent value and dignity. Euthanasia challenges this.
Legalising killing people, in the name of medicine, is seen by most religious groups as a dangerous and radical idea – but they are not alone. Opposition across the globe is, more often than not, led by organisations with no religious affiliations.
In Australia, parliamentary inquiry after inquiry has rejected redefining homicide concluding that safeguards in law can never be sufficient to ensure vulnerable people are not put at risk.
These findings were not due to religious groups “sowing seeds of fear” as Barns suggests.
Intelligent individuals of all political and ideological persuasions made informed conclusions based on evidence – even in the face of opinion polls suggesting strong public support for euthanasia.
Belgium redefined homicide in 2002. They included safeguards to protect the vulnerable.
Today, however, people with dementia, grief, depression and disabilities, children and those “tired of living” are legally able to end their lives.
Is this really the sort of freedom we want?
This “choice” may be compassionately motivated but it puts enormous pressure on patients and doctors (around half of whom, in one Dutch survey, felt pressured by their patients or relatives to endorse euthanasia).
Under-reporting of euthanasia deaths is a real problem. A 2015 report showed nearly half of Belgium’s euthanasia deaths in the Flanders region were not reported even though the law requires it.
In the same region in 2013 it is estimated that more than 1000 people had their deaths hastened without their request. Freedom?
The freedom of family members is also challenged.
Tom Mortier was informed of his depressed mother’s euthanasia without warning or consultation.
Likewise the case of Simona de Moor, as documented by the SBS TV program Dateline. Simona was euthanised without anybody notifying her daughter.
Such incidents are not isolated.
Human autonomy can be a dangerous thing when left unfettered – even having a destructive impact on fundamental freedoms.
This is why a fine balance of freedom, law and virtue is essential to any civil society.
Christians understand this tension through their view of humanity.
People, made in the image of God, are capable of great things. At the same time they are fundamentally fallen: given to selfishness, excesses, and sin in general.
Followers of Christ see in Jesus a model of renewed humanness – which some have described as “other-person-centeredness”. Each one should not only look to his own interests but also to the interests of others.
This key Christian virtue assesses personal freedoms in light of wider community interests (including fundamental freedoms). It is one of the important reasons why orthodox Christianity opposes both redefining marriage and redefining homicide: to protect fundamental freedoms.
If we Australians truly value these freedoms we must look carefully at the impact such monumental social changes have had on other countries – often in the name of supposed “freedom”.
Opinion article published in the Hobart Mercury on April 22, 2016.