The Chaplain supports sharia

Fr Chaplain, the Head of the Department for Church and Society in the Moscow Patriarchate, has made a statement suggesting that the Russian Orthodox Church does not have any objection to the Muslim community establishing sharia courts (within clear limits) in the Russian Federation.

I wish I could imagine that his motivation is purely directed at supporting the Islamic community establishing parameters for organizing family and community life in alignment with principles understood and agreed by that community for their betterment and wholeness. This would be in line with a similar (though more tentative) statement floated by Archbishop Rowan Williams in the United Kingdom that was genuinely aimed at measures that might reduce the felt alienation of recently arrived immigrant communities. It was genuine in its intention, if, I think, misguided in practice.

However, on past form (including actual encounters with the said Fr Chaplain), I fear his interest may be more self-interested - a desire to undermine the universality of rights across a state - and a suggestion that obligations to the community should trump individual rights. The primary shaping of community in the Russian context ought to be the Church, he has argued, as the public guarantor of morals, as it should be by sharia within the (smaller) Islamic community. It is a toxic analogy.

I recall a talk he gave that outlined the importance of community and the necessity of the individual to subordinate themselves to the needs of the community. This was the Russian way. The irony of the conversation was that it might have been offered word for word by any loyal Stalinist. A point, I am afraid, that I made to him!

My wider, and deeper, point was that human rights was not the invention of 'coffee swilling French atheists' in the eighteenth century but of Bartolome de la Casas, a Spanish sixteenth century Dominican bishop, as a direct extension of the recognition that we are all made in the image and likeness of God and that, however, deeply we are beholden to and responsible for the communities we inhabit, we are individuals gifted with conscience, shaping in freedom our own lives (and judged accordingly). We are our histories but always more than our histories - and indeed Christ came to liberate us from bondage to our stories.

Human rights are not a sufficient framework for guaranteeing human flourishing but they are a necessary condition. Different 'legal frameworks' for fungible communities (whose boundaries are fluid) is deeply undermining of one of the last centuries most significant (and very much unfinished) achievements. I fear in Fr Chaplain's intention it is meant to be.

One prominent cleric (also blessed with meetings with Fr Chaplain) noted, when I told him of this encounter, that they doubted whether Fr Chaplain made much distinction between coffee swilling atheists and Roman Catholic bishops!

It is hoped that it is a proposal that is resisted - the following of religious principle should always be voluntary  - and the state's legal system and constitution (concordant with fundamental rights) should be the final arbiter without exception.


Popular posts from this blog

The Buddha meets Christ in embrace

Mystics of the Imagination

The Whispering Poet