ROME, JUNE 11, 2005 (Zenit.org).- The Christian conception of human rights is increasingly under attack by international organizations such as the United Nations and the European Union. This is the argument of a new book entitled “Contro il Cristianesimo: L’ONU e l’Unione Europea come nuova ideologia” (Against Christianity: The U.N. and the European Union as a New Ideology), published this week in Italy by Piemme.
The authors, Eugenia Roccella and Lucetta Scaraffia, contend that the changes described in the human rights field are notable. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaimed by the United Nations in 1948 made no mention of “reproductive rights.” A key reason why this changed, argues the book, lies in the cultural upheaval of the 1960s. Those years witnessed a sort of “cultural revolution” not only in the area of sexuality, but also in the very concept of rights.
In the wake of the upheaval, the book states, sexual activity became divorced from its link with procreation, the idea of individual autonomy was exalted, human life was reduced to mere biological material to be manipulated in the laboratory, and humanity tried to construct a new utopia based on the satisfaction of sexual desires. In turn, this utopian vision was increasingly imposed on Third World countries by international organizations, often forcibly, by linking the reproductive rights program to financial aid.
International institutions see the Catholic Church, along with some other religious groups, as a threat to this way of conceiving rights. As well, the Church’s position on some women’s issues, such as the refusal to admit them to the priesthood, has made it a target of strong criticism. This culminated, the book observes, in the European Union’s refusal to even acknowledge the Christian heritage in Europe in the preface of the new Constitution.
The book also explains that the Catholic vision of human rights differs markedly in the way rights are founded. Governments and international organizations such as the United Nations base their concept of rights on ideas from the 18th-century Enlightenment thinkers, and the American and French revolutions.
The Church, however, links rights to the concept of human dignity, founded in turn on our being created in God’s image. Also important in Church thought is the concept of natural rights that are linked to human nature and are, therefore, not capable of being redefined at whim by governments and international declarations.
Even though the 1948 U.N. Declaration opted for the secular interpretation of human rights, the Church looked favorably on the document. In the years that followed, the Church has actively promoted human rights and has supported many U.N. activities in this field.
A secular religion
In addition to divergences over sexual morality and the underlying concepts behind human rights, the book’s authors identify another source of Church-U.N. conflict. In recent years groups within the United Nations, together with outside organizations, have tried to establish a sort of alternative religion or ethical code.
The United Nations has been involved with a number of initiatives involving dialogue between religions, and codes of ethical conduct. These efforts hinge on a vision that puts all religions and beliefs on the same level. Attempts have even been made to formulate a universal moral code to replace the Ten Commandments, along with the proposal of an Earth Charter, which mixes religion, ecology and paganism.
The mix of New Age ideas, ecological aspirations and the idealization of tolerance as the guiding principle of religious activity has met strong criticism from the Church. The authors cite words by then Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran in 2003. At the time he was in charge of the Holy See’s foreign relations within the Secretariat of State. He condemned how Christian values are sometimes rejected because they are seen as being contrary to the principle of tolerance. He also pointed out that the groups who are behind this criticism are, in many cases, guided by ideological and economic interests that seek to impose themselves on the weaker nations.
By contrast, the European Union is not so involved in promoting some kind of world religion or universal ethical code. It is, however, the book explains, influenced by a strongly secularist orientation that is hostile to the established churches, especially the Catholic Church.
Roccella and Scaraffia note how the report by the European Parliament’s commission on human rights for 2003 condemns China’s repression of groups such as Falun Gong and Buddhists, without mentioning the country’s severe persecution of Christians. Likewise, Islamic countries are criticized by the European Union for their treatment of women, but no space in the report is given to the severe restrictions placed on Christian activities in many of those same nations.
On the other hand, Italy comes in for severe criticism because its Constitution refers to the importance of the Catholic Church, even though there are ample guarantees of complete religious liberty.
The authors also point out that the 2003 report portrayed religion in general as being the worst enemy of human rights and a threat to world peace. Over the last few years EU documents have painted religious belief as being negative. The documents often tend to lump together all forms of religion as being influenced by fundamentalism and tending toward intolerance — and thus incompatible with a modern pluralist society.
The same human rights commission has expressly criticized the Catholic Church for its refusal to accept same-sex marriage and its opposition to the adoption of children by homosexual couples.
As well, the European Union has been very active in supporting family planning and has provided generous funding not only for U.N. efforts in this area, but also for the activities of private organizations such as the International Planned Parenthood Foundation (IPPF), a leading abortion provider.
The book explains how the European Union’s enthusiasm for “reproductive rights” leads it to portray the Catholic Church as a foe of women. And while EU documents are often circumspect in their criticism of Islam’s treatment of women, the Church and the Pope come in for frequent censure.
The book finishes with a series of appendices, prepared by Assuntina Morresi. Along with a chronology of U.N. conferences and documents, the appendices also outline the activities of Planned Parenthood and its founder, Margaret Sanger.
One appendix describes the operations of IPPF, the international body formed by Planned Parenthood. Comprising 148 national groups, IPPF is active in 180 countries and in 2003 had an income of $87 million. IPPF has close relations with both national governments and the United Nations and the European Union. In fact, 73% of its funds in 2003 came from government sources.
The national groups are even more powerful. The 2003-04 income of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the book notes, amounted to $810 million, of which $265.2 million came from government funds and contracts. The money trail seems to indicate that Planned Parenthood’s brand of rights is more appealing to many governments than the Church’s.