First Principles of Religion: Human Dignity, Freedom of Expression, and Freedom of Religion

Reaffirming Basic Religious Principles

In light of ongoing conflicts across the world, many of them in the name of religion, we are continuing the series we began in the first week of Ramadan on the “First Principles of Religion.” In today’s note we highlight the following First Principles of Religion: Respect for Human Dignity, Respect for Freedom of Thought and Expression, and Respect for Freedom of Religion. You can find the launch of the series here, and links to the other principles at the bottom of this page. 

– ING Team

Second Principle: Respect
for Human Dignity

togetherdignityAt a time when human dignity is being violated in countless forms in countries and societies throughout the world – often in the name of religion – it is imperative that we re-emphasize this important value and, more importantly, apply it in our daily lives. All religions recognize human beings as fundamentally equal, whether this is understood as a consequence of their status as children of God (Judaism, Christianity, Islam), of their manifestation of the Divine (Hinduism), or of their common original nature and desire for happiness (Buddhism). Respect for human dignity is, therefore, another fundamental principle of all religions. With that equality comes a belief that all humans deserve a basic level of respect and dignity, regardless of their background.

This principle rules out discrimination against people on the basis of race, ethnicity, ancestry, socio-economic status, gender, or disability; an increasing number of people believe it also rules out discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Seen positively, the principle of equal dignity calls for respect for all human beings, even those with whom we most profoundly disagree or whose cultures or lifestyles seem most alien to us. Recognition of the equal worth of all is, therefore, essential to building a world community of wholeness and peace in this age of globalization.

A few of the verses in religious texts that speak to the Principle of Respect for Human Dignity include the following: 

Islam: “We have indeed honored the descendants of Adam (ie. human beings).” (Qur’an 17:70)

Christianity: “Do you not know that you are the Temple of God?” (1 Corinthians 3:16)

Judaism: “So God created humanity in God’s image, in the image of God God created them.” (Genesis 1:27)

Buddhism: “All sentient beings without exception have the Buddha-nature.” (Nirvana Sutra)

Hinduism: “The human body is the temple of God.” (Rig Veda)

Third Principle: Respect for Freedom of Thought and Expression

Since respect for human life and dignity is fundamental to all religious traditions, it follows that respect for the freedom of thought and expression must likewise be recognized as a fundamental principle of religion. The defining characteristic of a human being is precisely the ability to think and to express one’s thoughts and feelings in words or by other means. To fetter the freedom to do this is to cut off the root of a person’s humanity; it is to truncate the essence of being human.

As has been the case with the freedom of religion and conscience, historically some religious leaders and institutions have, for reasons of culture or politics, failed to recognize this. Today, however, all major religious traditions affirm this freedom also as an inalienable human right. The defense of civil liberties is a religious as well as a civic obligation.

A few of the verses in religious texts that speak to the Principle of Freedom of Thought and Expression include the following: 

Islam: “O people! I have been entrusted with authority over you but I am not the best of you. Help me if I am right, and correct me when I am wrong.” (Abu Bakr, the first caliph)

Christianity: “It is in accordance with their dignity as persons-that is, beings endowed with reason and free will and therefore privileged to bear personal responsibility-that all men should be at once impelled by nature and also bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth. However, men cannot discharge these obligations in a manner in keeping with their own nature unless they enjoy immunity from external coercion as well as psychological freedom.” (Second Vatican Council, Declaration on Religious Freedom, 2)

Judaism: “Just as people’s faces are not the same, so their opinions are not the same; everyone has their own opinion … At the hour of his death, Moses asked the Holy One Blessed Be He: Sovereign of the Universe, each person’s opinion is open and known to you, and everyone has different opinions. When I leave them, please appoint them a leader who will accept each person’s opinion.” (Numbers Rabbah, Pinhas, 21.2)

Buddhism: “The ultimate authority must always rest with the individual’s own reason and critical analysis.” (Dalai Lama)

Hinduism: “Let noble thoughts come to us from all sides.” (Rig Veda)

Fourth Principle: Respect for Freedom of Religion and Conscience

All religions assert that a person’s relationship with God or the sacred must be freely chosen; it is the result of a personal decision that cannot be forced from without. While some religious leaders and institutions have not lived up to this principle, it is, nonetheless, implicit in the very foundations of religion. Authentic religious commitment can grow only out of a personal commitment that is freely made.

Today, even in those traditions that historically have had hesitations about this principle, the overwhelming majority of leaders and adherents of all major religions firmly support the freedom to make an un-coerced choice of whether and how to develop a personal relationship with any religious tradition or with none, recognizing suc
h freedom as an inalienable right and an essential foundation for genuine religious commitment.

A few of the verses in religious texts that speak to the Principle of Freedom of Religion and Conscience include the following: 

Islam: “O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another.” (Qur’an, 49:13)

Christianity: “It is a fundamental human right, a privilege of nature that every man should worship according to his own convictions: one man’s religion neither harms nor helps another man. It is assuredly no part of religion to compel religion—to which free-will and not force should lead us.” (Tertullian, To Scapula, 2.1-2)

Judaism: “Since the manner that human thought and feeling connects with the infinite supernal Divine light needs to be in a multiplicity of colors, therefore every nation and society must have a different spiritual way of life.” (Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook)

Buddhism: “Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumor; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor upon surmise; nor upon an axiom; nor upon specious reasoning; nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over; nor upon another’s seeming ability; nor upon the consideration, ‘The monk is our teacher.’ When you yourselves know: ‘These things are bad; these things are blamable; these things are censured by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to harm and ill,’ abandon them.” (Kalama Sutra 4)

Hinduism: “Truth is one. The wise call it by many names.” (Rig Veda)

You can get caught up on the First Principles series below:

Respect for Life
Respect for Human Dignity
Respect for Freedom of Thought and Expression
Respect for Freedom of Religion and Conscience
Respect for Others: The Golden Rule