There is post going around on twitter this weekend, inspired by it being St Patrick’s day tomorrow. On one side it has a couple of pictures of St Patrick pointing at snakes, which according to myth he banished from Ireland, but on the other some photographs of people indicating the position of potholes.
A great way to bring ancient traditions and today’s civic challenges together.
Although like all medieval saints St Patrick had all sorts of legends attached to him, the banishment of snakes and illustrating the doctrine of the Trinity using a shamrock leaf, being just two of them, we do actually have contemporary evidence about his life and even some of his own writings.
One thing that is certain is that he was a victim of human trafficking and another is that he was not Irish. He was a teenager when he was kidnapped by Irish pirates, from his home near modern day Bristol. And we know his faith and his self- respect sustained him during his period of captivity.
Later escaping and returning to Britain, he did return as a missionary to Ireland , where he was moderately successful at spreading Christianity but undoubtedly contributed to the remoter parts of Ireland becoming places of Christian spirituality and learning- redoubts of faith , education and learning during the so called Dark Ages in Western Europe.
Quite an impact for a victim of child exploitation.
I invited the children of Riversdale school to do a short presentation on how they understand being a Rights Respecting school because I was so impressed at a meeting with assessors to judge the progress being made. How creative and practical the staff and children were at integrating the values at the heart of children’s rights into the fabric of school life- not only about how they behave, but how they learn, and how they think about each other; other local schools, such as, Burntwood follow the same programme.
Of course, the United Nations declaration of children’s rights echoes the declaration of human rights from which it derives, which is revealed by the principles the declaration on children outlines at the very beginning .
Recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of the all members of the human family in the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.
There is a long and complex argument about how the idea of human rights came to be. Some have sought precedents in Hammurabi’s famous Babylonian Law code or in the Vedas, or the analects of Confucius, or in the Jewish Scriptures, such as in that passage from Isaiah that Ravi read earlier.
Others have seen it as a unique project from within Western Liberalism and ,depending on which side of the religious/secular divide they sit, an achievement of Christianity or a triumph despite Christianity.
The discussion of origins will, no doubt, continue.
But I think there is a case for the role of disgust and horror at making people declare enough is enough- It was the horrors of war, genocide and the plight of refugees that compelled people to set up the convention for human rights in the 1940’s.
The American social psychologist Jonathan Haidt has argued that our guts and emotions play, and rightly play ,a vital role in all our ethical and political convictions.
There is no doubt that empathy played a huge role in the abolition of slavery.
For Christians the state sanctioned murder of Jesus for crimes of which he was innocent is seen as a pathway to greater compassion.
So, I would urge us all to, literally, take heart. There are unfortunately horrific things all around us- my own church has been shockingly culpable for not protecting those who are most vulnerable- in which people’s sanctity/ dignity/ inalienable rights, call them what you will, are not being cherished.
And there are lesser evils, such irritants as potholes for example. In the face of them all it is right to be frustrated, horrified and angry, but that should only be the starting point. We can all make a difference.
As Eleanor Roosevelt, the driving force behind the movement which led to the Convention of Human Rights in 1948 famously put it
Do what you feel in your heart to be right—for you’ll be criticized anyway. You’ll be damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.