By Fr. George Welzbacher
November 30, 2008
"What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action, how like an angel! In apprehension, how like a God! The beauty of the world, the Parragon of animals!"
Thus did Hamlet describe Man's dignity in an exchange with Guildenstern and Rosencrantz as the itinerant players were about to make their appearance at Elsinore (Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2). In so speaking, Hamlet gave expression to the traditional Judaeo-Christian concept of the dignity of Man, who in his intelligence, his free will and his immortality-in a word, in his soul-is truly an image of God. That was then; this is now. Today as the western world increasingly turns its back on God, Man's own special dignity is degraded. The more that, in the estimation of society, God comes to count as nothing, the more does Man himself come inevitably to be reckoned as the image of-nothing. In illustration of which, certain recent successes scored in the field of law by the atheistic- or, at the very least, the agnostic-Intemational Left come easily to mind as straws in the wind, as ominous foreshadowings of an emerging legal culture in which, even as animal "rights" are capriciously created, human rights are demoted. One need go no further in search of an example than Princeton University's Professor Peter Singer, a "big name" in the Animal Rights movement as one of the founders of PETA, who is also a notorious campaigner for abortion without restrictions. Going ftuther than that, he is an unabashed advocate of parents' (and society's) supposed "right" to kill a new-bom baby up to 30 days after birth. (And what, one might ask, is untouchably sacred about the limit of 30?).
In that excellent magazine the Weekly Standard-if you're trying to think of a Christmas gift for that uncle or cousin or even mother or dad whose preference runs to conservative causes, your problem is solved-a recent article cited a number.of developments in a trend towards reducing human dignity to a levels shared by the rest of the animal- or even the vegetable-kingdom! I reprint Wesley J. Smith's essay here.
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Why We Call Them Human Rights
By. Wesley J. Smith
From: The Weekly Standard November 24, 2008
Rights, properly understood, are moral entitlements embodied in law to protect all people. They are not earned: Rights come as part of the package of being a member of the human race. This principle was most eloquently enunciated in the Declaration of Independence's assertion that we are all created equal and are endowed [by our Creator] with inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
This doctrine of human exceptionalism has been under assault in recent decades from many quarters. For example, many bioethicists assert that being human alone does not convey moral value, rather an individual must exhibit "relevant" cognitive capacities to claim the rights to life and bodily integrity. [Cf. The Terri Schiavo murder]. Animal Rights ideology similarly denies the intrinsic value of being human, claiming that we and the animals are moral equals based on our common capacity to feel pain, a concept known as "painience" [a neologism that for those who revere the grandeur of the English tongue may be construed as cruel and unusual punishment].
These radical agendas have now been overtaken by an extreme environmentalism that seeks to-and this is not a parody--grant equal rights to nature. Yes, nature, literally and explicitly. "Nature rights" have just been embodied as the highest law of the land in Ecuador's newly ratified constitution pushed through by the country's hard-leftist president, Rafael Correa, an acolyte of Hugo Chavez.
The new Ecuadorian constitution reads: Persons and people have the fundamental rights guaranteed in this Constitution and in the international human rights instruments. Nature is subject to those rights given by this Constitution and Law.
What does this co-equal legal status between humans and nature mean? Article I states:
Nature or Pachamama [the Goddess Earth], where life is reproduced and exists, has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution.
This goes way beyond establishing strict environmental protections as a human duty. It is a self-demotion of humankind to merely, one among the billions of life forms on earth- no more worthy o fprotection than any, other aspect of the natural world.
Viruses are part of nature. So, too, are bacteria, insects, trees, weeds, and snails. These and the rest of Ecuador's flora and fauna all now have the constitutional and legally enforceable right to exist, persit, and regenerate their vital cycles.
The potential harm to welfare seems virtually unlimited. Take, for example, a farmer who wishes to drain a swamp to create more tillable land to better support his family. Now, the swamp has equal rights with the farmer, as do the mosquitoes, snakes, pond scum, rats, spiders, trees, and f ish that reside therein.
And since draining the swamp would unquestionably destroy "nature" and prevent it from "existing" and "persisting." one can conceive of the farmer--or miners, loggers, fishermen. and other users and developers of natural resources-being not only prevented from earning his livelihood, but perhaps even being charged with oppressing nature.
The inspiration for Ecuador's granting of rights to nature was an AMERICAN extremist environmental group called the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), which presses to "change the status of ecosystems from being regarded as property under the law to being recognized as right-bearing entities." The [Ecuadorian] constitution, moreover, explicitly empowers organizations like CELDF to enforce nature's fundamental rights. Article I states:
Every person, people, community, or nationality, will be able to demand the recognition of rights for nature before the public bodies [i.e., courts, governmental agencies, etc.].
If the Ecuadorian government fails to protect the rights of the swamp (or the trees, the animals on the mineable mountain, the schools of fish. etc.), any radical environmental organization can descend on Ecuador and sue to thwart the desires of the farmer and prevent him from deciding what to do with his own land. The mind simply boggles.
The mainstream media have ntade no attempt to sound the alarm about the dangers of this agenda. A New York Times environmental blogger was bemused by the Ecuadorian constitution, and an editorial in the Los Angeles Times found Ecuador's proposal to make nature the moral equal of people "intriguing.".
And it is not just in Ecuador that THE INTERNATIONAL LEFT has demonstrated its determination to devalue humankind in law and ethics. Just this year:
¶ The Socialists and Greens in Spain are on the verge of granting the rights to life, liberty, and freedom from torture to great apes and devolve humans into a "community of equals" with chimpanzees and gorillas.
¶ The European Court of Human Rights recently accepted a case out of Austria that appeals a ruling that refused to declare chimpanzees legal persons.
¶ Switzerland has constitutionally established the instrinsic dignity of individual plants, based on the many similarities they share with us at the molecular and cellular levels.
Some might say that Ecuador is a small country not worth much concern. But the concept of nature possessing rights seems to be spreading. The CELDF-which was only founded in 1995-brags that it is fielding calls from South Africa, Italy, Australia, and Nepal, that last of which is crafting its own leftist constitution.
Others might say that worrying about nature's rights should take a back seat to less abstract concerns such as the financial crisis and the war on terror. But consider this: The central importance of human life is the fundamental insight undergirding Western civilization. This tenet is now under energetic, and increasingly successful attack. If such anti-humanism prevails, we won't have to worry about nature having rights but about human beings losing them.