Religious pluralism and the sanctity of human life

(Report in response to the Parliament of World Religions)
Issue article

by Philip Rosenthal

3 December 1999

The Parliament of World Religions (PWR) meets in Cape Town this week from the 1st - 8th December 1999. It raises the question of the influence of religious pluralism (as opposed to tolerance) on the right to life. In 1893, the first Parliament of World Religions was held in Chicago, USA. At the Parliament, Western church leaders met with representatives of religious sects from around the world. The spirit of co-operation and tolerance was broken by the question of religious practices and tolerance of practices that violated the 'right to life'. A group of Presbyterian missionaries submitted the following report, based on what they had seen in nations they had worked in to the PWR: '. . .Poverty, barbarity, death and lasciviousness must be the lot of those men and nations that follow after them [dead founders of religions]. The horrors of children left to die, women sacrificed to dumb idols, and the sick given over to their own devices are the fruit of the flesh that no heathen ravings can be rid. Only the gospel of our Saviour Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth, the Life, can lend the bequest of Life. Only Christ has Himself escaped the shackles of death, and only faith in Him that comes through grace can free men from the oppressions of the spirit of murder, which we must sadly affirm, is the same as your precious spirit of co-operation, tolerance, and empathy'. Another dissenting voice came from a veteran missionary from China who asserted: 'When I reached Amoy thirty-two years ago, there was a pond in the centre of town known as the Babies Pond. This was the place where unwanted little ones were thrown by their mothers. There were always several bodies of innocents floating on it's green and slimy waters and passers-by looked on without surprise. This is what a world without a clear uncompromised Christian gospel leads irrevocably toward'. Still another delegate, a converted Mangaian islander, testified that he had been marked out for ritual sacrifice before the coming of the missionaries. By some stroke of Providence, he was temporarily spared. He continued: 'Still I believed that I must die, and in my turn be offered. But, blessed be Jehovah, not long after the cultus, the gospel was brought to Mangaia. I then learned with wonder that the true peace offering is Jesus, who died on Calvary, in order that all the wretched slaves of Satan might be freed. This was indeed good news to me. God forbid that we should return to the bondage of universal lawlessness.' Since the first Parliament of World religions in 1893, the Judeo-Christian consensus has weakened substantially in the Western World, resulting in the encroachment of anti-life practices, such as abortion, euthanasia and infanticide as predicted by the missionaries above. At the same time, many of these practices have been eliminated or substantially reduced in many developing nations as a result of the spread of Judeo-Christian ethics and law. William Carey, regarded by many as the 'father' of the modern missionary movement campaigned until 1829 against 'Sati', the Hindu practice of burning a widow on her dead husbands funeral pyre.

Religious pluralism and the Sanctity of Life


As with euthanasia today, 'Sati' advocates claimed that the widow's action was voluntary - whereas missionaries, like prolife activists today, argued that was motivated by family and community pressure. The British colonial government in India did not want to stop Sati as they viewed allowing it as a form of religious tolerance. Carey also opposed the Hindu practice of sacrificing babies by placing them near a river mouth to be washed away by the tide. Many Indians disapproved of these practices, in the same way that most South Africans today oppose abortion but as with abortion today, they were tolerated. PRE-CHRISTIAN RELIGIONS AND THE RIGHT TO LIFE The ancient pre-Christian European religions had similar practices. The Scandinavian Vikings sacrificed slaves on their burning funeral ships to go with their chieftains to the next world. Julius Caesar remarked with horror that the Celtic Druids living in France and Britain sacrificed human beings by strangling, drowning or burning them to death in wicker baskets. What he had forgotten was that his own Roman ancestors had only recently stopped human sacrifices themselves. When Hannibal threatened Rome, the city priests buried people alive in order in hope of gaining favour with their gods. Despite the fact that human sacrifice of adults was stopped, Rome continued to use abortion and infanticide as a means of birth control until the Roman emperors converted to Christianity. Hannibal himself came from the Phoenician city of Carthage in North Africa, itself a Canaanite colony founded by Tyre, which worshipped the god Baal. Baal required the sacrifice of every firstborn Phoenician child by burning in a pit in front of his statue. It was for this reason that the ancient Israelites entering the promised land of Israel were commanded to destroy both the worshippers and the altars of Baal (Deuteronomy 18:9-13). When the king of ancient Israel married a Phoenician wife, Jezebel, she introduced Baal worship (1 Kings 16:31) and the Israelites even erected an altar to Baal for the purpose of child sacrifice in a valley below the city of Jerusalem. The ashes and bones of these children were kept in special urns marked 'Dedicated to Baal' found by archaeologists in both Carthage and Israel. The Hebrew prophets Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel (Isaiah 57:5, Jeremiah 19:5, Ezekiel 20:31) spoke out against this practice and cited it as one of the reasons for the destruction and Babylonian exile of Israel. The ancient Greeks, while not practicing human sacrifice, did use both abortion and infanticide as a method of birth control and disposing of handicapped infants. One city-state required compulsory euthanasia by all citizens over the age of sixty. Many are unaware that the myth of Romulus and Remus, the founders of the city of Rome, is an example of the widespread practice of infanticide by abandonment. They were said to have been abandoned and brought up by a she-wolf. Romans used to watch gladiators fight to the death for entertainment until a Christian monk, Telemachus jumped into the arena to protest the killing. He was stoned to death by the crowd, but the emperor stopped the combats. When the Roman emperors converted to Christianity, they introduced legislation to protect the lives of infants and the unborn. This became the basis for the right to life in 'Roman law' adopted as part of our 'Common law' throughout the Western world until gradually abandoned during this century. Similar practices of human sacrifice by the Incas and Aztecs in Central and South America and various tribes in Africa were stopped as a result of the influence of Christian missions. Before the arrival of Christianity, Eskimos practiced euthanasia of the elderly by setting them on ice floes into the sea. THE DECLINE OF CHRISTIANITY AND THE RIGHT TO LIFE IN WESTERN SOCIETY
Religious pluralism and the Sanctity of Life.doc 24 September, 2002

Religious pluralism and the Sanctity of Life


As the influence of Christianity has declined in the Western World, so has respect for the value of human life. First in Europe to legalise abortion was the atheistic Soviet Union. Next were the Nazi's who advocated a return to the ancient Germanic religion and reintroduced abortion, infanticide and euthanasia, which had been practiced by their pagan ancestors. Most people would be shocked to discover that they are descended from nations, which at some time before the influence of Christianity practiced abortion, infanticide and human sacrifice. The fact that many religions practiced and tolerated violations of the right to life, particularly before exposure to Christianity, does not mean that all of their adherents supported these practices. Many did and still do oppose them. A notable example is the Greek philosopher Hippocrates, who wrote the Hippocratic oath forbidding abortion and euthanasia. Until recently, this oath was sworn by most medical doctors in the Western World. Credit must also be given to Islamic governments, which together with South American and African governments have opposed attempts by North American and the European governments in United Nations to impose abortion on the developing world. While orthodox Jews oppose abortion, the current Israeli government is dominated by secularists who permit it. South African polls show 89% opposed to abortion on demand (Reality check poll, 1999), while only 74% profess to be Christian (1996 census) and a much lower percentage attend church. Thus at least 15% of South Africans are against abortion on demand and do not profess Christianity. The fact that many religions have historically tolerated such violations of the right to life does not mean that the 'Parliament of World Religions' or all delegates currently attending it in Cape Town endorse these practices. At their previous conference (Chicago,1993), organisers produced a 'Global' ethic statement attempting to unite all religions that included a general statement against killing. The statement is, however vague and can be interpreted on disputed issues by anyone as they wish. It fails to deal specifically with the right to life conflicts over abortion, infanticide and euthanasia. The objection of the missionaries at the 1893 Parliament was that such vague pluralistic ethics, when translated into laws fail to protect the right to life of the weak. In 1893, a Christian dominated America displayed religious tolerance by allowing the first Parliament of World Religions to be held in Chicago, but did not tolerate practices violating the right to life. A hundred years later, that religious 'tolerance' of personal beliefs has changed to religious 'pluralism' with the loss of Christian ethics in law. As the missionaries predicted in 1893, with religious pluralism in law, respect for the value of human life has been lost. Christianity, Islam, Judaism and various other smaller groups share a respect for the Law of Moses and other Hebrew scriptures, which condemn the killing of innocent human beings (Exodus 20:13) and count the unborn amongst them (Psalm 139:13-18). It is not a coincidence that South Africa's adoption of a constitution which fails to recognise the authority of the God of the Bible (Interim, 1994; Final, 1996), was followed soon afterwards by the legalisation of abortion on demand (1997) and discussion of the legalisation of euthanasia (1999). The restoration of respect for the right to life in South Africa, will require a restoration of the fear of the God of the Bible. REFERENCES Bancroft, A. 1987: Origins of the sacred - The spiritual journey of Western tradition, Arkana Paperbacks, London. Grant, G. 1954: 'Third time around: A history of the Prolife movement from the first century to the present', Wolgemuth & Hyatt, Berntwood, Tennessee. Kennedy, D.J. and Newcombe, J. 1994: What if Jesus had never been born?, Thomas Nelson Publishers, London.
Religious pluralism and the Sanctity of Life.doc 24 September, 2002

Religious pluralism and the Sanctity of Life


Severy, M. & et al. 1977: Greece and Rome - Builders of our World, National Geographic Society. Wellman, S. 1997: William Carey - Father of Modern Missions, Barbour Publishing, Uhrichsville. Please do copy and distribute this article. Comments and questions welcome.
by Philip Rosenthal Contact at (021) 6854500 or Postnet 114, P/Bag X18, Rondebosch, 7701, South Africa Please send us a copy of any article quoting from this and acknowledge <>. More articles and pamphlets on issues can be found at

Religious pluralism and the Sanctity of Life.doc

24 September, 2002

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