Manhattan Declaration

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The religious right's latest manifesto, the Manhattan Declaration (website, Wikipedia), is online here. Full of both Catholic persecution complex and evangelical Protestant fervor, the MD focuses mostly on the authors' opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage:

...we are especially troubled that in our nation today the lives of the unborn, the disabled, and the elderly are severely threatened; that the institution of marriage, already buffeted by promiscuity, infidelity and divorce, is in jeopardy of being redefined to accommodate fashionable ideologies; that freedom of religion and the rights of conscience are gravely jeopardized by those who would use the instruments of coercion to compel persons of faith to compromise their deepest convictions.

To bolster their case, the MD strives mightily to take credit for every good work done by a Christian while simultaneously ignoring the evil done by Christians:

It was Christians who combated the evil of slavery... [...] The great civil rights crusades of the 1950s and 60s were led by Christians claiming the Scriptures and asserting the glory of the image of God in every human being regardless of race, religion, age or class.

Of course, racial equality was also opposed by many Christians--who used scripture (such as the Curse of Ham) to support prejudice just as their forebears used it to justify slavery. Peter Montgomery's piece at AlterNet about the MD notes the authors' inability to discuss abortion without comparing proponents of choice to Nazis:

Eugenic notions such as the doctrine of lebensunwertes Leben ("life unworthy of life") were first advanced in the 1920s by intellectuals in the elite salons of America and Europe. Long buried in ignominy after the horrors of the mid-20th century, they have returned from the grave. The only difference is that now the doctrines of the eugenicists are dressed up in the language of "liberty," "autonomy," and "choice."

Montgomery summarizes: "In other words, the declaration suggests the only difference between Nazi master-race theorists and today's pro-choice and death-with-dignity advocates is rhetorical." Also interesting--at least from a psychological standpoint--is the fact that the MD authors can't see the difference between a woman making a decision about her own body and a woman having a decision forced upon her. That the locus of control is completely different somehow goes unnoticed.

When it comes to discussing marriage, the MD authors couldn't resist taking shots at "those who are disposed towards homosexual and polyamorous conduct and relationships" as being guilty of "immoral conduct:"

We have compassion for those so disposed; we respect them as human beings possessing profound, inherent, and equal dignity...

...just not equal rights. (They bring up incest, too, despite its complete lack of relation--no pun intended--to same-sex marriage and polygamy.) Their pronouncement that "No one has a civil right to have a non-marital relationship treated as a marriage" is also misguided. I would instead suggest, as did the Founders, that no one has the right to have their religious beliefs treated as law. When the MD authors turn their attention to religious liberty, this bit of idiocy stood out:

The nature of religious liberty is grounded in the character of God Himself.

Check out Deuteronomy 13:1-13 for a look at what the Bible teaches about religious tolerance. Demanding that believers in other gods be stoned to death is no better as the Koran's bloodthirsty injunction in Sura 9:5 to "slay the idolaters wherever ye find them," which says a great deal about the character of their god. The authors go on to make this claim:

It is ironic that those who today assert a right to kill the unborn, aged and disabled and also a right to engage in immoral sexual practices, and even a right to have relationships integrated around these practices be recognized and blessed by law--such persons claiming these "rights" are very often in the vanguard of those who would trample upon the freedom of others to express their religious and moral commitments...

Even more so than other claims in this declaration, this statement is pure unadulterated bullshit.

We liberals hold individual freedom as a primary principle: we want to let women make their own reproductive decisions, the aged and disabled to make their own end-of-life decisions, other adults to make their own decisions about choosing marriage partners, and we also want to keep impediment and coercion (not to mention government funding) out of religion. That's why efforts by the ACLU and People for the American Way to protect freedom of belief are so important, because in every instance they oppose conservatives' attempts to enforce their reactionary religious agenda both in private and in the public square by misusing government power.

The MD positions are described as "inviolable and non-negotiable" and thus the authors have no interest in compromise as part of the political process--only our obedience to their demands. The MD authors tout their determination to participate in civil disobedience as an illustration of their fervor, but it smacks of persecution complex when one considers their prominent social and political power in our culture. Montgomery also noticed this incongruity:

Given that in many parts of the world, Christians and people of other faiths are actively persecuted and killed for their religious beliefs, it's nothing short of shameful that these privileged and powerful public figures are pretending they run the same risk for their anti-gay and anti-abortion advocacy in America. After all, it isn't anti-choice activists in America who have been paying the "ultimate price," but doctors and other workers at clinics providing women in America with medical care who have been killed by advocates for "life."

Robert George, the first name on the MD drafting committee, was profiled as "The Conservative-Christian Big Thinker" in the New York Times, but that assessment is only half correct: he's definitely a conservative Christian, but the appellation "big thinker" should mean more than what has here been demonstrated by Mr George. While it's refreshing to see a conservative who can discuss Aristotle, Hume, and Gaius Musonius Rufus as well as Aquinas, George's statements exhibit more rationalization than reason--using every source as a means to his faith's pre-determined ends.

The NYT highlights George's anti-gay animus, noting that "[m]ore than any other scholar, George has staked his reputation on the claim that same-sex marriage violates not only tradition but also human reason." Such a misguided stance may temporarily ally him with contemporary religious power, but it will sully his reputation over time, as the arc of the moral universe continues to bend in the direction of justice [* see note below]--for women, for same-sex and polygamous spouses, and for anyone who want to make a decision not pre-approved by today's Pharisees.

As an aside, the image used by Montgomery to illustrate his article


goes a long way toward showing the ultimate power behind the reactionary religious agenda: the threat of fiery eternal torture if we don't live our lives according to their demands. They can issue all the reasonable-sounding declarations they want, but their hatred remains just beneath the fa├žade, barely concealed by the glossy sheen of faux tolerance and erudition.

The "arc of the moral universe" quote from King is actually a paraphrase of these words from Theodore Parker in 1853:

"I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one. . . . But from what I see I am sure it bends toward justice."

See here for more details.

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the institution of marriage, already buffeted by promiscuity, infidelity and divorce, is in jeopardy of being redefined to accommodate fashionable ideologies

In much the same way, the priesthood is being redefined to accommodate fashionable notions about how bad child-rape is. BOO HOO.

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This page contains a single entry by cognitivedissident published on February 11, 2010 10:27 PM.

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