Searching for our dignity

the Norwegian founding fathers

Painting by Oscar Wergeland showing the men who signed the Norwegian constitution. It was strongly inspired by the French and American constitutions, all documents expressed the best possible intentions, but it turned out we weren’t created quite equal after all.
Wikimedia Commons

After I asked the question What’s our worth the topic has been lingering in my mind, much the way some people are very irritating because they never stop talking. So what is it about people that gives them a special worth?

Organizations like the UN and Red Cross like referring to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights from 1949. This is sort of a religious definition without the religion. The declaration opens with a list of justifications for the document. This is the first one:

“Wheras recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”

This is very confusing. I am trying to figure out what this inherent dignity is. As a man trying to be a christian, and occasionally succeeding, I can get what we mean to God, but how does this work in the secular world? I suppose there is something in us, which of course has nothing to do with God or a soul, that gives us a higher value than any other being. If that is true it doesn’t matter who we are or what we do. Our worth wouldn’t go up if we had success or down if we didn’t. It would be constant from birth to death. This is a very vague definition, and I don’t see how it will resolve the obvious problems.

It seems to me that if you leave God out of the equation, it makes it impossible to define a human being because we inevitably value people differently. To some people an African couldn’t possibly be worth the same as a European, and some Muslims see everyone else as infidels. The political correct answer when we face evil would be forgiveness. I recently read in the Guardian that the daughter of a woman that was killed in the Charleston church shooting told the alleged killer that she forgave him. That’s the christian thing to do, but perhaps that’s why I am just trying to be a follower of Christ, because I am not sure I could forgive.

I started this line of thought when I wrote about how much we fight for animal rights, and used the outrage after the lion Cecil was killed as an example. I heard about some environmentalists many years ago that criticised the fishing industry. They didn’t like the stress fish were subjected to when they ended up in the net. Some say that we shouldn’t kill whales and dolphins because they have a certain intelligence, and I see that point, but some of the same people accept it among inuits because it’s a part of their traditional way of life. Does that mean it’s alright to kill intelligent life if you don’t do it for profit? I have also heard some anti-whaling protestors saying that killing any animals is a crime.

I have seen media go bananas when an animal is suffering or dying, and people have spent a lot of money on saving these animals. That happened to Keiko for example, the killer whale that was the star of the film Free Willy. After they released the former film star, they followed Keiko anywhere it went and it eventually died in Norway. For a few days this fjord was a huge media circus. At the same time we don’t have any problems seeing people suffer. Many feel that if whole families end up on the street, it’s because they deserve it, or at least that they caused their own downfall. The shocking thing is that many also feel that we shouldn’t have programs to help these people. Poverty is almost a crime in our society.

What about people? Are there any differences between us? When Norwegian news anchors report on a situation where people died, the emphasis is strongly on women. It’s almost like they are saying that it was a bit unfortunate when 100 people died, but the fact that 5 of them were women was really tragic. What about financial worth? We might think that an inventor is more important than his/her assistant. The financial elite has traditionally been regarded as better than the rest, but I have a feeling this idea has changed. Many are sceptical to the financial elite today, and some of the people running the world are clearly not nice people at all.

Many tend to think that some are more important than others. Do you remember the film Schindler’s List? Oskar Schindler was a German industrialist, spy and a member of the Nazi Party. Something changed when he worked closely with the Jews he hired for his ammunition factory, and he is credited with saving 1200 Jews during World War 2. What if Oskar Schindler hadn’t made the decision he did? Would that have reduced his worth?

We are expected to respect human life, but the secular society has really failed. We are put in two categories, either we create wealth (or at the very least least enough to support ourselves) or we are a burden to society. That might be why we as individuals and governments find it so hard to respect human life. Sometimes it seems to be easier to put all our effort into saving animals, and fighting for animals rights, than it is to do the same for people.

In today’s world you can’t even criticise ISIS without risking a racism-label, but I don’t think Islam is the religion of love and tolerance that many claim it is. Organizations like ISIS, Al Qaida and Taliban may have gone farther than many Muslims like, but when you look at countries like Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Libya and Saudi Arabia it doesn’t matter who is in charge. They are not the best possible societies for women, girls and people that disagree with the only accepted form of religion. There are more and more Muslims coming to Norway as refugees, and they are not staying here because they are getting less freedom in a christian country.

It worries me that Norwegian authorities are very naive. They seem to think that immigrants are going be so overwhelmed with gratitude that they will automatically choose to become Norwegian. In other words, integration is not a priority. This is a politics that Canada used with the French speaking population. As long as they payed taxes Canadian authorities didn’t care what they did. This clearly doesn’t work when different cultures and religions clash. The idea of equality has been very strong in Norway for a long time, but we are seeing the beginning of major changes.

I read about a young muslim woman in Oslo a few days ago. She works in a kindergarten and her facebook photo is the ISIS-flag. I find it disturbing that she promotes ISIS and the use of burqa, but as long as she respects Norwegian law there isn’t much we can do about it. I can see that it’s going to be more challenging to see us as equals, though.

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