Monday, September 25, 2006

Religion, Morality, Humanity and Law

Today I went to a cinema hall to watch and enjoy the sequel of Munnabhai MBBS. The new film, named Lage raho Munnabhai, is a very good blend of humour, emotion and thought. But, in this blog, I am not going to discuss about the film, but about a slide of a public awareness campaign displayed at interval. The message was against child labour and it reads like : "Don't enslave children - they are God's gift to us". Given an Indian context, it's not so striking to see a reference to God in a public awareness program, where the author of the message has chosen the religious ground against child labour ahead of moral, humanitarian or legal provisions. But, does it really matter? Are these grounds really different? All of these suggests or orders you a few do's and dont's - still they have differences.

Let me discuss them one by one. I accept that religion was one of the sources of the rest three though those terms were distinctively identified only after a lot of progress made by humankind in modern era. All of these are actually the result of unending feedback mechanism running in human society - the experience gathered out of an event, it's repercussions and the outcome. This feedback mechanism makes the latter three more powerful than religion, which is static by definition. Hence, the rest three, being not cluttered by divinity, are very different entity from religion. For example, one can see the basis of Hindu laws and the current Indian laws and notice the transformation.

Next it comes to the morality and humanity. Morality refers to the concept of human ethics which pertains to matters of good and evil and it is closely attached to culture. Humanity is the most popular term among these in modern era - which is defined through commitment towards a set of Human Rights. At a first glance it might ask that at what respect we are considering good and evil. If the scale is Humanity, then these terms become synonymous. But the matter of fact is that, we are run not only by our personal ethics and morality, but we also have to share the moral values of the society - known as public morality. But, humanity is to ensure rights for every human being. So, violation of human rights of a single individual is still considered 'moral' in a typical human society, if the action conforms to public morality. A good example of this can be censorship or dress-codes.

The interesting fact is that the definition of morality and humanity differs in different societies. There are a few different terms on this - one is moral relativism and the other is moral pluralism. Relativistic positions often see moral values as applicable only within certain cultural boundaries or in the context of individual preferences. The value pluralism acknowledges the co-existence of opposing ideas and practices, but does not require granting them equal validity. There is a third opinion by Friedrich Nietzsche that identifies morality as an error introduced in human beings through the concept of dualism (every action can be categorized as good or bad) and nurtured by the religion. He believed that mankind would progress and fulfill this potential only by starting to act naturally and instinctively according to each individual's desires and drives. Coming back to difference of views, it was obvious that if human beings cannot agree on morality, they can't define the basic human rights to be acknowledged globally. The outcome was the lack of universal appeal in The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that was later openly opposed by CDHRI(Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam).

The Law, is the set of rules or norms of conduct which forbid, permit or mandate specified actions and relationships among people and organizations. As per Aristotle's natural-law theory, the law is driven by morality. In that sense, it is nothing but an encoded form of public morality implemented and made by representatives of a typical democratic society. So the law and the entire legal system depend on who exactly makes the law and who interprets and implements it. The fact of dependence on a few people to serve the society makes law fallible, as per modern legal philosophers like Ronald Dworkin.

Coming back to the point where I began my journey, the slides of the public awareness program, I must say that a social human being generally responds to either of religious, moral, humanitarian or legal obligations. It depends on the maturity and character of the human being and the respective society how they prioritize them. So, if a set of slides to be made for public awareness programs, it should try to focus on all four aspects. A typical set of slide will look like (I'm not an expert, so don't mind the gender-bias):
1. "Don't enslave children - they are God's gift to us." (belief on God)
2. "Today's children are future's leaders, let's not enslave them." (feedback mechanism of the society on good and bad)
3. "Every child has his right to enjoy his childhood." (Human Rights awareness)
4. "Employing a child under the age of 18 is a punishable offence." (under legal obligations)
I hope the authors of any awareness program will survey the targetted society and decide on a ideal blend of all four of this perspectives to make the campaign successful, something that was done in Lage Raho Munnabhai to make it a hit in Indian market.

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