RSN Fundraising Banner
FB Share
Email This Page
add comment

writing for godot

We have the right t reject and criticize what contradicts our individual conscience

Written by   
Saturday, 10 April 2021 19:32

Human rights: Food for a Wilde and Brown thought  ‘HR and subjective freedoms’


Human Rights Reader 572


[TLDR (too long didn’t read): This Reader quoting Oscar Wilde and Dan Brown is about how, class, cast, tradition and religion affect our subjective freedom and how human rights can be a liberating factor. For a quick overview, just read the bolded text].

1. People are born into specific families or classes, and this largely determines how/what they will do in life. This is dominated by customs and traditional practices that dictate every aspect of their behavior. These customs are intertwined with law, education, religion and other aspects of culture that serve to validate them. One’s opportunities are defined and limited according to one’s class, caste and religion. Likewise, the roles of the sexes are firmly fixed. But in the modern world, we have the right to reject and criticize what contradicts our individual conscience.


2. The development of the idea of a subjective freedom (Hegel) is thus, in many ways, the story of human liberation from the domination of customs and tradition. It is only with the development of this idea that the principles of, for example, individual human rights (HR), freedom of speech and of conscience came about. These are things that we treasure in the modern world, and so it is easy to read the historical narrative as a one-sided glorious tale of the victory of the individual over tradition and religion. (John Stewart)


3. But already Socrates’ radical message was that people should be critical about everything and accept only what could be demonstrated to the satisfaction of one’s reason. In short, it was the individual who had the right to give his or her consent to what was thought to be true instead of it simply being dictated from above. (This was a provocative and radical idea that Athens was not yet ready for, and it cost Socrates his life).


4. Then, the Romans said that the Gods punished and made men mad. [If true, would the virus and the climate emergency have been sent by the Gods…?]. (Roberto Savio) So, what if there are many Gods? What if your God did not exist? Whom would you worship? Someone bigger and higher than your God? (Alicia Cabello) Or is religion a substitute for unrestricted belief? (Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray) Last but not least, what about religion and HR? Disconcerting questions…


Morals and religion


5. As we know, HR are supposed to be linked to both morals and religion. So here is Lord Henry’s take on the issue in Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (adapted). [Publishing it at the end of the 19th century, we understand him not specifically elaborating on HR].


6. Yes, religion consoles some. It is said its mysteries have all the charm of a flirtation. (…and nothing makes people so vain as being told that they are sinners). But if the aim of life is self-development, beware that it is the-terror-of-society (that is the basis of morals) and the-terror-of-God (that is the secret of religion) that are the two thing that ultimately govern us and our self-development (…and HR?). Even the bravest are faced with this ordeal (as said, according to their class, caste and religion). So much so, that the things one feels absolutely certain about are so often not true; that is the fatality of the dichotomy between science and faith. In religion, some seek purification by asking “forgive us our sins” or more directly by seeking punishment which translates into “smite us for our iniquities”. Should the latter not be the prayer of man to a most just God? In confession, people blame themselves, no one else; so it is the confession itself, not the priest, that ultimately gives absolution.


[The closest Wilde gets to HR is when he tells us: “In the common world of fact, the wicked are not punished, nor the good rewarded. Success is given to the strong, failure and misery thrust upon the weak”. (ibid)]


Religions have had their run at defining our truth(s)

7. In his latest novel ‘Origin’, Dan Brown (the author of ‘The Davinci Code’ and an unashamed atheist), Edmond Kirsch, the cynic IT genius character in it, elaborates on an array of views that impinge on individual conscience, religion and subjective freedoms. While not explicitly, they do obliquely relate to HR --but I do not take a personal stake in them. Here they are in bullet form.


-I am not a religious person and yet, my faith, like my science has always been work in progress. I am simply trying to describe the way things are in the universe and in society. I leave the spiritual implications to the clerics and philosophers.

-Science and religion are not really in competence; they are two different languages trying to tell the same story; there is room in this world for both.


8. But:


  • To solve the mysteries of the universe, men created a vast pantheon of gods and goddesses to explain anything they could not understand, i.e., when the ancients experienced gaps in their understanding, they filled those gaps with God. Countless gods filled countless gaps, and yet, over the centuries, scientific knowledge increased. As the gaps gradually disappeared, our pantheon of gods began to shrink as they outlived their relevance to our evolving intellects. But some of these gods did not go gentle into that good night. It is a messy process for a culture to abandon its deities. (How many of you believe in any of the following ancient gods? Apollo, Zeus, Vulcan? So, it appears we are atheists with respect to those gods, no?. We can simply go one god further and further…).
  • With the benefit of modern thinking, religious tales have all been classified as mythology that give us a glimpse at our past superstition. We consider ourselves modern, rational individuals and yet our species’ most widespread religions include a whole host of magical claims.
  • Fear of being judged by an omniscient deity does help inspire benevolent behavior. Even if we assume for a moment that religious cultures are better behaved and more likely to thrive, that does not prove that their imaginary gods are real!
  • Since the beginning of time, world religions have been humanity’s most important organizing principle, a road map for civilized society, and our original source of ethics and morality. By undermining religion, are we undermining human goodness? No. Religion cannot claim morality as its own… I am a good person because I am a good person! God has nothing to do with it.
  • Historically, many of the dangerous men on earth were men of God, especially when their gods became threatened.
  • The devout can always benefit from listening to non-believers.
  • A search for random points of correspondence among a hodgepodge of ancient fictions, fables and myths in different religions is meaningless.
  • Spiritual beliefs are etched deeply on our psyches at a young age by those we love and trust. Therefore, any religious shifts occur over generations and not without great angst, and often bloodshed.
  • Future generations will ask themselves how a technology-advanced species like ours could possibly believe most of what our modern religions teach us.
  • How can it be that the modern human mind is capable of precise logical analysis and yet simultaneously permits us to accept religious beliefs that should crumble beneath even the slightest rational scrutiny?
  • Spiritual inquiry has always been the realm of religion which encourages its followers to have blind faith in its teachings, even when they make little logical sense.
  • Conflicts in which religious superstition has trampled reason are merely skirmishes in an ongoing war. This is why, in this, we need nuance and finesse, not dogma and fireworks.
  • The Institute for Creation views the bible as an infallible literal account of historical and scientific fact. (…They believe that burning bushes can speak and that Noah fit every species onto a single boat…).
  • To permit ignorance is to empower it. To do nothing as our leaders proclaim absurdities is a crime of complacency --as is letting our schools and churches teach outright untruths to our children.
  • Syncretism is the process by which two different religions blended to form an entirely new faith. So, new religions keep providing fresh answers to life’s big questions.
  • The human mind has the ability to elevate an obvious fiction to the status of a divine fact and then feel emboldened to kill in its name.
  • For some, the miracles of science are not enough to shake their beliefs --although, in all fairness, that is the same as scientists who refuse to believe the truth of religious scripture… (Actually, it is not the same; while it may be politically correct to give the views of science and religion equal respect, this strategy is dangerously misguided).
  • In Darwinian terms, a religion that ignores scientific facts and refuses to change its beliefs is like a fish stranded in a slowly drying pond and refusing to flip to deeper water.
  • I am not saying I know for sure there is no God. All I am saying is that if there is a divine force behind the universe, it is laughing at the religions we have.
  • Many of us are afraid calling ourselves atheists and yet atheism is not a philosophy, nor is atheism a view of the world; atheism is simply an admission of the obvious. Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make in the presence of unjustified religious beliefs. (Brown quoting Sam Harris)
  • What happens next will depend on people’s ability to shed old beliefs and accept new paradigms. (Dan Brown, Origin)


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City

Your comments are welcome at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

All Readers are available at



-Jesus clearly criticizes those who make a great outward show of worship and encourages his followers to pray quietly on their own.

-There is no freedom of religion without a government that is free of religion; this is why we invented state/church separation. (Andrew Seidel)

-I saw a couple of T shirts that called my attention. One read: ‘Religion: Because thinking is hard’, the other: ‘In the beginning, man created God’. I pass no judgment. your social media marketing partner
Email This Page


THE NEW STREAMLINED RSN LOGIN PROCESS: Register once, then login and you are ready to comment. All you need is a Username and a Password of your choosing and you are free to comment whenever you like! Welcome to the Reader Supported News community.