Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, made a silly and subversive pronouncement, but then the chap has to justify his existence somehow.
In the statist gospel according to Trevor, the state shall ride roughshod over religion whenever there is a divergence of opinion between the two. Thus the state is within its right, say, to browbeat a Catholic adoption agency into giving up its opposition to homosexual couples adopting little boys. St Trevor thus believes — nay, dictates — that any state law, no matter how perverse or recent — should take precedence over a position laid down in Leviticus and Romans thousands of years ago. Only in today’s virtual world can such an issue arise, and commenting upon it seriously would be dignifying it with a consideration it doesn’t deserve.
So rather than questioning the validity of Trevor Phillips’s beliefs I’d like to question the validity of Trevor Phillips. Not as a person, you understand, and nor as an erstwhile defender of free speech, but as someone who is the official embodiment of his outfit.
It’s questionable whether the term ‘human rights’ has any value in serious discourse on political matters. Today we are served up any number of rights: to marriage, education, health, development of personality, leisure time, orgasms, warm and loving family or – barring that – warm and loving social services, employment, paternity leave and so forth. These ‘rights’ are manifestly bogus as they fail the test of not presupposing a concomitant obligation on somebody else’s part. When a ‘right’ presupposes such an obligation, it’s not a right but a matter of consensus.
Thus one’s right to employment would mean something tangible only if there were someone out there who consents or is obligated by law to give one a job. One’s right to a developed personality (guaranteed by the 1948 UN Declaration of Human Rights, signed by such authorities on human rights as Stalin’s Russia) presupposes an obligation on somebody else’s part to assist such development. One’s right to a fulfilling sex life… this can get too silly for words. All these rights become tangible only if they are granted by others; and anything given can be taken away, so there go all those pseudo-rights alienated right out of the window.
On the other hand, the right, say, to property is real: my desire to acquire it doesn’t depend on your consent. Typically, it’s precisely this right that the modern state has well-nigh invalidated by assuming, about a century ago, the prerogative to inflate currency and impose extortionist taxes as it sees fit. The state, so worshipped by Phillips, thus became what H.L. Mencken called ‘the common enemy of all well-disposed, industrious and decent men.’
Phillips would do well to remember that, without the religion he wants the state to squash under its thumb, the very idea of human rights would be as unthinkable to us today as it would have been to Plato. A slave having the same rights as a full-fledged Athenian citizen? Preposterous.
That every person has an intrinsic value regardless of his wealth, race or status is a notion inseparable from every person having been created in the image of God. And it’s at that, and only at that, level that true equality exists. (Equality before law is merely an extension of the same principle into justice.) When appearing in the context of Trevor’s outfit, equality means something else of course: levelling, imposed and enforced by the state as a way of keeping people under control.
This is what I call the great larceny of modernity: shifting Christian ideas into the secular domain, where they are perverted and bent to serve the cause of burgeoning statism. Thus the injunction to give one’s possessions to the poor is warped into the ungainly shape of the welfare state; the sacrament of marriage as a union between a man and a woman essential to the survival of man is perverted into a union between either a man or a woman and any mammal of their choice; equality of all before God is taken to mean no pride of place for Christianity.
Phillips actually had the gall to equate a Catholic charity’s attempt to cling on to Christian values with the Muslims insisting on obeying only the Sharia law. Does he know anything at all about England’s history? Her constitution? The makeup of her realm? Does the term ‘established religion’ mean anything to him? Has he heard our head of state described as ‘defender of the faith’? Has he read the text of the oath Her Majesty took 60 years ago? Or heard her last Christmas speech?
In 2004 Phillips himself called upon various ethnic and religious groups to ‘assert a core of Britishness’ in the face of creeping multiculturalism. He must realise that Christianity is an essential part of this core, and therefore Christian and Muslim laws can’t enjoy equal status in Britain — or, for that matter, in the Islamic world, where, given a conflict, Muslim laws must take precedence.
An unfortunate turn of phrase, Mr Phillips. That’s what happens when a good man associates himself with a bad cause.