Goffs School Religious Studies

Topic 1 – Rights and Responsibilities

What are ‘rights’ and ‘responsibilities’?

Rights are certain entitlements (such as education) or freedoms (such as religious expression) that you are given legally.

Responsibilities are certain things you should do to be a good person or citizen. These responsibilities can be legal, such as following the law, or moral, such as helping a neighbour in need.

Making moral decisions:

The Conscience

People could use their conscience to make moral decisions. The conscience is an inner feeling of rightness or wrongness. People have different views on what the conscience is. It could be simply the guilt you feel when tempted to do wrong. It could also be the result of your upbringing, which has given you a clear view of right and wrong. However, some religious believers see it as the ‘voice’ of God (or even the part of your soul that closet to God). In Judaism, it is often referred to as ‘the fear of God’.

The Bible as a moral guide

Religious believers may use their holy books for moral guidance. In Christianity, the Bible will give guidance on many issues. Whether it is the stories of Adam and Eve, Noah and Moses in the Old Testament or the teachings of Jesus or St. Paul in the New Testament, it is a point of moral reference for all Christians.

Some see the Bible as the word of God or direct revelation whereas others see as metaphorical or inspired by God.

One important part of the Bible is the Ten Commandments. These include ‘Do not take the Lord’s name in vain’, ‘Respect your mother and father’, ‘Thou shall not kill’ and ‘Thou shall not commit adultery’. Christians may live by these rules.

Christians also follow the actual teachings of Jesus Christ, such as “Your body is a temple of the holy spirit” or “The love of money is the root of all evil”.

Some Christian find that following rules, such as the 10 Commandments can conflict with their conscience in some situations, such as stealing to feed a hungry family. Therefore, some Christians advocate ‘situation ethics’.

Situation Ethics

Joseph Fletcher was a Christian philosopher who said individuals should make moral decisions based on the situation they find themselves in. This may mean breaking some moral rules. He said the guide to moral decisions should be ‘agape love’, which means you should do the most loving thing.

Love should be the only “norm” or rule when making moral decisions. Fletcher also said one should think about the individual situation, the consequences of any actions and the actual people involved. Sometimes the rules and laws of the Bible might not be the most loving thing to do. For example, the Bible says “Thou shall not kill”, but Fletcher would argue that it would be loving to steal if you wanted to feed your starving family and you had no money.

Fletcher said that Jesus broke rules. He healed a paralysed man on the Sabbath, for example. As Jesus broke rules out of love, then we can follow His example.

Authority of the Church

Christians may also seek moral guidance from the Church. The ‘Church’ is a capital ‘C’ means all the things associated with the Church, such as the clergy (vicars and priests), the congregation (people who go to church) and its teachings. It is more than physical buildings.

Priests, vicars and ministers are often asked about moral decisions. They are often very well-educated having been through higher education (often studying theology or moral philosophy). They will also pastoral experience, which means they have normally dealt with people’s moral dilemmas in the past.

The higher up the Church you go, especially in the main Protestant churches and the Roman Catholic Church, there are Bishops. They are senior clergy and considered very moral and educated.

The Roman Catholic Church has the Pope as its head. He is considered ‘ex-cathedra’, which means Catholics see him as God’s representative on earth. He is selected by other senior bishops and lives in the Vatican City in Rome. His teachings and rules are followed by Catholics. Some a controversial, such as his teachings on contraception (not allowed)!

The Protestant Church of England has the Queen as its head, but moral decisions and authority mostly come from the Archbishop of Canterbury. He also takes advice from the General Synod, which is an assembly of senior clergy. His authority is not as strong as the Pope and some Anglican churches go against his wishes, such as the ordination of Gene Robinson, a gay bishop in America.

Of course, the real authority in the Church rests with God. All Christians follow the Bible, which is either the word of God or inspired by Him.

Human Rights

Human Rights are entitlements and freedoms given to humans because they have life. They nor religious, but most religious believers support them.

Human rights include entitlements, such as education, and freedoms, such as religious or political opinions.

There are 30 rights given in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, which was signed by the UK in 1948.

The UK also has its own Human Rights Act. This makes human rights the law in the UK. The Human Rights Act is based upon the European Convention on Human Rights, which the UK helped draft.

Human Rights are controversial. Some, such as Freedom from torture, are not liked by British politicians and newspapers like the Daily Mail and Sun. They think we should send people back to countries that torture if they have committed crimes.

Pressure Groups like Amnesty International and Liberty campaign for Human Rights. They put pressure on the government to do more about human rights.

In the UK the we have a democracy. We all have a responsibility to take part in the democratic process by voting for political parties we like or even by giving our opinions in public. In some countries there are few or no democratic processes. China only has limited local democracy and places like North Korea have none.

Most Christians believe human rights are important. They suggest Jesus taught that we ‘should love our neighbours as ourselves’, which suggests sticking up for other humans.

Jesus also taught the Golden Rule. This means we should ‘treat others as you would like to treated’. Thus, we should not harm others if we wouldn’t want that harm done to ourselves.

Jesus also gave the Beatitudes in His ‘Sermon on the Mount’. In this he said ‘Blessed are the poor, Blessed are the meek (weak), Blessed are the persecuted… for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven’. This means those that often have not had their human rights respective should be considered equal and respected.

Jesus also said that He had come to help the ‘outcasts’. These included prostitutes, lepers and others people disliked. Jesus respected them and helped them despite others dislike. A modern reading could be Jesus defending immigrants, minorities and others who have their rights abused.

Of course, we are all mage equal in God’s Image. The first human right in the UN Declaration is that we ‘are all born equal’.

Desmond Tutu is an example of a Christian Human Rights campaigner.

Genetic Engineering and Cloning

Genetic engineering is when human, animal or plant genes (DNA) are altered in order create a different outcome from reproduction. An example would be the altering of DNA in plants to make them more resistant to certain diseases.

There are different types of genetic engineering. For the exam you need to familiar with designer babies, saviour siblings and therapeutic and reproductive cloning.

Designer babies are babies where a babies genes can be altered to give babies certain characteristics, such as blue eyes or higher IQs. The technology exists and involves changing certain genes before an embryo is conceived or develops.It is illegal to ‘design’ babies in the UK unless for medical reasons. Even medical reasons are strictly controlled.

Saviour Siblings are babies genetically altered to provide bone marrow or other tissues/organs for a sich sibling. This issue was the theme of the film My Sisters Keeper – the title is a play on the Bible’s ‘my brother’s keeper’. Some say this is good as it saves lives, others are concerned the sibling will feel used. It is legal in the UK, but there are limits on what can be done.

Cloning is an identical copy of another organism. Science Fiction likes to use cloning, for example, Star Wars and ‘The Island’. However, scientists have cloned plants and animals. It is illegal to clone a human, but the potential technology exists.

Therapeutic cloning is legal, but strictly controlled. This means scientists can use stem cells etc to create brain cells or skin, for example. It is considered medicine. Reproductive cloning would result in creating a whole new human. This remains completely illegal.

Many Christians disagree with genetic engineering as it is playing God. Only God can create, give and take away life, which is sacred (Sanctity if Life). Other Christians may be uneasy with what we use genetic engineering for – are we not happy with God’s creation, could therapeutic cloning lead to reproductive cloning and evil armies!

Roman Catholic would be uneasy with the use of spare embryos in embryology. Embryos that are destroyed or wasted already have a soul (ensoulment at conception). This goes against ‘Thou shall not kill’.

Christians may agree with medical therapeutic cloning as Jesus healed the sick and cured the blind. It is also loving and kind. They may also accept saviour siblings as saving lives, which are sacred.

Do we have a ‘right’ to mess with nature, or is it our responsibility to improve the quality of life for others?