Four of the world's greatest religions – Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, and Judaism – open their stories of man and the world by acknowledging that humanity is flawed. That each of us is flawed, in our own person, is indeed an uncomfortable bit of self-knowledge. Yet, sages and prophets, in every era and place, challenge us to acknowledge this fact, so that we may hold our flaws in check.
Scientific psychology corroborates these truths and lays bare the inescapable responsibility to know and manage the self (C.G. Jung, 1957). Knowing and accepting realities about ourselves positively offers a platform for personal growth and development, and further permits cathartic motivations for transcending flaws. While religions approach the path to transcendence differently (e.g. based on organic time and place), each testifies to human dignity that is capable of finding safe passage through the contradictions of life without compromising the safety of others.
Religious and secular histories reveal tragic outcomes for humanity when these responsibilities are ignored. The current neoliberal, capitalist ideology, which was systemized by economic theorist Milton Friedman, externalizes, or factors out, human and environmental damage, for these interfere with the profit principle. His open defiance of social responsibility not only shows a separation between the rational mind and rational heart, but clears the way for nullification of the universal human rights principle and bows to nefarious economic warfare waged between groups.
Within earlier historical memory, power's unwillingness to analyze the subjective and blame the objective played-out on the global stage with catastrophic consequences. Between 1914 and 1945, the world was at war with itself. Yet, national leaders and their people denied their own failed-policies, and chose to violently project responsibility onto others (Fromm's, 1973). Analyses of Europe's part in the atrocities of WWII illuminate a reoccurring historical fact: non-defensive wars are often complicated and motivated by un-dealt with personal projections of a nation's leaders and its peoples. At the heart of humanity's violent history lie legions of self-denials and self-failures, too colossal to list. Perhaps more ironic than the irresponsible projections themselves is the denial of responsibility, as expressed in the question: where was God?
With the beginning of the West's wars in the Middle East, in 2003, human rights experts recognized that the topic of human rights was off the table, a frightening but conscious decision that reconfirms the warnings of sages and prophets: human history is a history of choice.
A catharsis for the events of 1914 – 1945 was the establishment of the Bretton Accords, which established international institutions aiming to prevent future crimes against humanity. The sets of principles laid out in the accords sought to mandate individual rights of vital protections, by humanizing finances, employment, and governance. Rights of human security were embedded within a constellation of personal, social, economic, and political rights. The United Nations, which signed the 1948 Convention on The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, agreed to this universal principle, and applied it clearly to the subjugated children and women of the global patriarchy by creating the special conventions: Rights of the Child and The Elimination of Discrimination against Women.
While many nation-states embrace moral responsibility to ratify conventions for universal human rights, many UN representatives continue to face non-ratification resistance at home. While the new, global power-brokers of trade and finance systemically and tactically block universal human rights, the global under-privileged are taking their arguments to the streets. Taking responsibility to occupy their own policies is a response validated by scholar Noam Chomsky (Occupy, 2012, p.89) and reflects the Jeffersonian idea of democratic action. Taking possession of rights far exceeds passive verbalization.
A watershed of responsible self-action is being witnessed around the globe: workers are organizing to buy-back their closed factories; students organize to undermine dictatorships and corrupt governments; sexually exploited children are naming criminal-priests; women are fighting the slave-trade; independent journalists air photos of government backed genocides and externally organized coups; neighbors take video of real-time police brutality; independent filmmakers document corporate damages; veterans bow to their own shame and expose military atrocities; whistle-blowers expose mass government fraud; and high-ranking bank officials make tragic, but telling testimonies against system-exploitation by committing suicide. While these examples reflect an existing depth of global darkness, self-responsible action affirms our awareness of our right to live change and change living.
Considering our ever changing universe and the human capacity to re-imagine new life, it is possible to more clearly understand the discreteness of the great religions which direct responsibility to each individual. By means of self-awareness, self-responsibility and self-regulation, we each hold the best possibilities for peaceful co-existence and the preservation of human rights.
June Dayle Jelm, PhD in International Relations, is a Professional Mediator specializing in Domestic Violence in Salt Lake City, Utah.