Thursday, 8 October 2020, 9:34 amArticle: New Zealand Christian Network
DR STUART LANGE
Arguably one of the most revealingpublic debates taking place in New Zealand over the lastweek was one on newshub nation, between Dr Sinead Donnelly(a medical specialist with extensive experience ofpalliative care and dying people in four countries, and aSenior Lecturer at Otago University Wellington) and DavidSeymour (a politician, and campaigner for the End of LifeChoice Act). You can watch it here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OJHdQM460wQ&feature=youtu.be&t=668
Withdeep feeling, Dr Donnelly stated her view and that of manyother medical professionals that the End of Life Choice Actis an unsafe and dangerous law, which could imperilthe lives of thousands of vulnerable people every year. Shereferred to how many doctors see the Act as entirelyineffective in safeguarding against coercion, which isimpossible to detect, as it is often an internalisation offelt external pressures and suggestions. Mr Seymourresponded asserted that the safeguards were rigorous,but unconvincingly.
What was especially shocking aboutthe interview was that Mr Seymour accused Dr Donnelly ofjust making up false objections in an attempt tomislead, and that she should just come out and honestlyadmit that her objections to euthanasia are all based on herreligious views. This accusation was obviously deeplyoffensive to Dr Donnelly. She replied that her objectionswere entirely based on her clinical experience and the viewsof many others doctors and lawyers that the Act was veryunsafe. She also said that Mr Seymours accusation wasdisgraceful sectarian comment and bigotry at itsutmost.
A week or so earlier, Mr Seymour had takena similar approach in his response to a statement of theCatholic Bishops. Instead of addressing their points aboutthe lack of strong safeguards in the Act, he said that thebishops may have a philosophical view that life belongsto God, but they don't have the right to force it onothers. He added that that if the bishops want theirfreedoms respected, they need to engage in honest debatethat respects others have difference choices from theirs.Again, the implication was that religious people are beingdishonest in the reasons they give for opposing the End ofLife Choice Act, and that their criticisms should bedisregarded.
So is it true that it is onlyreligious people who oppose the End of Life ChoiceAct? No, clearly not. Is it true that many religiouspeople do oppose it? Yes. Is their objection onreligious grounds? To a significant extent, yes:religious people have a very high regard for theGod-given value of human life, and many of them prioritisethe care of vulnerable people over their own individualfreedoms. Should religious people be free to hold andarticulate their views publically? Absolutely yes. Arereligious people somehow being deceitful orscaremongering in exposing the weaknesses and dangers inthis Act? No, these are entirely valid critiques. Arereligious people seeking to impose their own personalreligious morality on society? No, they are making alegitimate ethical case that this Act is not safe forsociety in the long run, especially for societys old,sick, frail, and disabled; the care of societysvulnerable is certainly a moral issue, and all members ofsociety depend on that for our own safety. Is a society thatdismisses religious viewpoints going to be safe foranyone? We think not.
There is a common beliefin New Zealand society at the moment, particularly aroundthe current referendum questions, that because New Zealandis a secular society any argument that is largely promotedby Christians is invalid, even if the argument only invokessecular reasons and not Christian ones. The assumption seemsto be that because Christians are motivated by theirChristian principles, their arguments should be consideredsuspect. Why? Because even when Christians are givingsecular reasons for arguing something they are approachingmatters with a Christian bias and their argument musttherefore be rejected as unsound and irrelevant. But is thisfair? Not at all!
What does it even mean to truly be asecular society? There is debate about that. But thebest definition of a secular society, and the most inclusiveone, is that the State should be neutral in all mattersconcerning religion. In such a society, people are free toworship or not worship as they please. Secularism means theState must not favour one faith over another. Just asimportantly (and this is the key point that manynon-religious secularists miss), a secular State should notfavour non-religion over religion (or vice-versa).Non-religious secularists make a mistake when they assumethat secularism means the State should value non-religionover religion. Favouring non-religion is not truesecularism, it is just being anti-religious. And beinganti-religious is in itself a religious view.
Mostnon-religious people tend to believe that all religions arerelative: that most religions contain some truths (e.g. loveyour neighbour), but the idea that one is ultimately anduniquely true seems definitely false. They may cite theclassic story of the elephant and the blind men, orsomething like it:
No religion has all the truth.Every religion is like six blind men grabbing an elephant.One blind man grabs the trunk and says, God is like ahose. Another blind man grabs the elephants leg andsays, No, God is more like a tree stump. Anotherperson grabs the elephants tail and says, No, God ismore like a string. So, you see, every religion has partof the truth, but nobody sees all the truth.
Thefatal flaw with this story is that the only waynon-religious persons could possibly know that everyreligion has part of the truth, but not most or all of it,is if non-religious persons themselves see the wholepicture. The only way they could know that that allreligions and their adherents are blind is if theythemselves were not blind. The only way a non-religiousperson can say, Nobody has superior religiousknowledge is if they themselves have the superiorreligious knowledge which they have just said nobody elsehas.
The whole point of a secular society is that theState cannot and should not make that kind of claim abouteither religion or non-religion. A secular State must remainneutral, and in the public square religious andnon-religious people should be allowed to promote theirworldviews and make their arguments as they see fit. Ofcourse, in a secular democracy, if a Christian hopes toconvince an Atheist, or Hindu convince a Christian, or anAtheist convince a Muslim, of a particular policy, argumentsbased on presuppositions that all parties agree with will bemore effective. But to write off arguments just because theycome from Christians, or Muslims, or Atheists, is a form ofthe genetic fallacy.
A genetic fallacy is a logicalfallacy where one judges something as either good or bad onthe basis of where it comes from, or from whom it came. Thisfallacy avoids the argument by shifting focus ontosomething's or someone's origins. It's similar to an adhominem fallacy in that it leverages existing negativeperceptions to make someone's argument look bad, withoutactually presenting a case for why the argument itselflacks merit. Any reasoning that uses a logical fallacyas its basis should be abandoned.
In conclusion then,the common belief that because New Zealand is a secularsociety any argument that is largely promoted by Christiansis invalid, even if the argument only invokes secularreasons and not Christian ones, is based on amisunderstanding of secularism and is a logical fallacy.Secularism does not mean the State should be anti-religionor that no religion should be allowed in the public square.Secularism, at its best and most inclusive, means the State,and thus the public square, should be neutral towardsreligious claims. It is this form of secularism that willallow all Kiwis a part to play in our democraticinstitutions, from Atheist, to Muslim, to Hindu, to theChristian, and everyone else aswell.
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