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Monday, 11 January 2016

"Culture of Death"? Of Authentic Liberality and Conscienscious Objection

The promoters of the Culture of Life are often mocked for over-reaching when they expound on its opposite number, a purported "culture of death."
Don't be silly, there's no such thing, no right-minded person is pro-death, we just differ on our approach to....
You know the drill.
You've heard the drill.
You've been drilled.
So how is it that "respectable" people are insisting, not just on a right to die, on "euthanasia," and yes, occasionally, hard though some try to disguise the activity, on a right to seek the death and actually compass the death of ones child or parent or patient with or without the victim's consent or even knowledge...
How is it that these fine folks support not just the right to die but the right to force others to be complicit in these murders in violation of consciences?
Oh, those annoying Catholics!
A Belgian death advocate Dr Wim Distelmans bemoans the sad truth that
 “a majority of hospitals and nursing homes in Flanders are still Catholic today. If the right to euthanasia is refused there, that will be a problem.”
Strange, is it not, that conscientious objection has long been a hallmark of what pleases to call itself, "liberal" thinking?
Let's look at a hard case:
Following the fall of France in 1940 Britain remained the only European power at war with the Axis of Germany and Italy. Given that its foes had formidable military might and effective control of almost all of Western Europe the UK faced an existential crisis. Only a narrow channel and a few aeroplanes stood between Britain and invasion.  Faced with this situation the country was militarised and organised to an hitherto unprecedented level. Yet in the midst of all this it remained possible for individual British citizens to register as conscientious objectors and opt out of involvement in the defence of the nation. Thousands indeed did so, most notably perhaps Quakers and Jehovah’s Witnesses.
No tyranny, of course, would tolerate such a category under any circumstances let alone in time of war. In that era however making such provisions was considered to be a key defining category for a liberal democracy. It was one of the things that made them morally superior to dictatorships. Majority rule on its own was insufficient, fascist and communist countries after all claimed that mandate for themselves. Freedom of speech, of the press and of assembly on their own were not enough either. It was necessary also to guarantee that no person would be compelled to act against their own deeply held and well formed conscientious principles except in circumstances more urgent and extreme than an attack by Nazi Germany.
In the light of subsequent events it is noteworthy that it was the Left that spoke out most strongly in support of the rights of CO’s. Dealing with questions about CO’s in broadcasting the Prime Minister Winston Churchill said “the rights which have been granted in this war and the last to conscientious objectors are well-known, and are a definite part of British policy. Anything in the nature of persecution, victimisation, or man-hunting is odious to the British people.”...
Nor was this liberal [note!] opinion confined to the United Kingdom. In 1944 another world leader enunciated the same principle “State absolutism….consists in fact in the false principle that the authority of the state is unlimited and that in face of it… to appeal to a higher law obliging in conscience is not admitted.”...
These liberal principles articulated by Pope Pius XII were applauded by the New York Times “Pope Pius expresses as passionately as any leader on our side the war aims of the struggle for freedom when he says that those who aim at building a new world must fight for free choice of government and religious order. They must refuse that the state should make of individuals a herd of whom the state disposes as if they were a lifeless thing.”
 In the West today, some 70 years later, however liberal voices often demand ‘one law for all.’...The contemporary idea that religion is a purely private matter appears to lead on to the further notion that religious or conscientious beliefs are exactly the same in type or intensity as any other belief about, say, the right colour of socks or whether the Oxford comma should be used.
To me, though, it seems that the opposition to providing opt-outs on the grounds of conscience is based more on a desire to hammer opponents over the head than on any thought through philosophical basis. ... They might argue that expressing sexuality or having an abortion [or committing suicide?] are necessities but having a conscience is a luxury. 
Is it?
Is having a conscience a luxury, Belgium? (Brave Little Belgium, I always say in my head. Should I amend that to Brutal Little Belgium?)

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