Many professions have codes of ethics – so why not politics?



File 20190401 177190 9hb294.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
original.

Sidney Bloch, University of Melbourne

Al Jazeera’s explosive investigation, “How to Sell a Massacre”, exposed the One Nation party’s attempts to weaken Australia’s gun laws with pro-gun PR training and donations from the National Rifle Association.

The party joins a growing group of our politicians who have recently behaved unethically.

Already in the first weeks of 2019, a senator attended a rally of far-right extremists using A$3,000 of tax payer money; another accepted the gift of a family holiday from a travel agent with political connections; and the prime minister flew to Christmas Island at a cost of A$60,000 for a PR-laced 20 minute press conference.




Read more:
Can a senator be expelled from the federal parliament for offensive statements?


Given this dismal record, unethical conduct will likely feature again in the months ahead, and in myriad forms. It’s no wonder Australians are disillusioned with the standard of politics.

It’s time all nine of Australia’s parliaments join thousands of professional organisations and devise a common code of ethics for their members.

Past attempts to ‘clean house’ have sadly failed

Initiatives over more than half a century to manage unethical conduct in the political realm have proved ineffectual. John Howard, Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull made paltry efforts – knee jerk reactions essentially – to rein in the shabby behaviour of their own ministers, asserting only a prime minister could determine the offender’s fate. Such judgements would surely lead to arbitrary rulings and bias.

Where independent commissions against corruption have been established, defining their goals and procedures has proved problematic. With corruption and conflict of interest as their principal points of focus, a plethora of other forms of misconduct have been given short shrift.

One would imagine the threat of an enforced, humiliating resignation; the possible end of a parliamentary career; and heartbreaking effects on the offender’s family would deter politicians from behaving improperly.

Yet unethical conduct continues.

A model for a code of ethics

There is nothing new in what I am proposing. Indeed, it is rare today to encounter a professional body that has not established a set of ethical principles to guide their members.

So why should politicians, who have the most pivotal jobs in the nation, not follow suit?

One model they can draw from is the code of ethics of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP), with which I have been involved for 30 years.




Read more:
Trust in politicians and government is at an all-time low. The next government must work to fix that


In 1990, our members determined a code of ethics could help instil in us a commitment to “cultivate and maintain the highest ethical standards” in our care of patients.

The resulting set of morally informed principles was devised in collaboration with college members, key stakeholders in the mental health field (advocacy organisations like SANE and MIND) and, most relevantly, people with experience of mental illness.

The 11 principles of the current code cover readily recognisable aspects of psychiatric practice, among them respecting patients’ dignity, maintaining confidentiality, providing the best attainable care, obtaining informed consent and never denigrating colleagues.

Most of the ethical challenges politicians face are also readily identifiable, falling under the rubric of always respecting their constituents and never forgetting to place the national interest ahead of their own.

And given politicians across the country grapple with similar ethical dilemmas, we can envisage a single code to serve them all.

How would a code for Australia’s politicians be devised?

Many options present themselves. One possibility that echoes the procedure followed by RANZCP would see the country’s parliamentarians setting up an independent working group charged with the task of devising an ethical code aimed at promoting their moral integrity.

The group could be chaired by an esteemed judge and comprise retired politicians, one from each state and territory and one federal. They would be highly respected for the moral integrity they exhibited during their parliamentary career. A moral philosopher and a legal scholar, both experts in the domain of professional ethics, would consult to the group.

Their initial step would be to invite submissions from all parliamentarians, past and present, relevant stakeholders and the community at large.




Read more:
Alternative facts do exist: beliefs, lies and politics


Copies of an advanced draft would be distributed to all current parliamentarians, requesting feedback, substantive and stylistic.

Taking the feedback into account, representatives of each parliament would unite to review the penultimate version and submit any final suggestions.

And like RANZCP and may other organisations, it would be revised every five years. It would bear in mind new developments in ethics, relevant societal changes and how the code improved politicians’ conduct during the preceding five years.

A common criticism of codes of ethics is their lack of teeth. While the RANZCP much prefers to use its code to promote ethical behaviour and moral integrity, serious consequences for any transgressions prevail, including the radical step of expulsion from the college.

Steps would be taken to remind politicians, the very people who have had a hand in devising the code, that its principles apply directly to them and warrant their continued attention. Any ethical misconduct would be dealt with by the offender’s parliament following an agreed procedure.

On a positive note, ethical conduct would be highlighted at every opportunity.

This would include ethics workshops for newly elected MPs; an annual ethics conference for all MPs with participation from moral philosophers and international parliamentarians; and ensuring the national code is readily available online and in all nine parliaments.

Nothing to lose

I may be regarded as naive in proposing a code of ethics for all the nation’s parliamentarians.




Read more:
Malcolm Fraser’s political manifesto would make good reading for the Morrison government


However, given its widespread acceptance by thousands of professional organisations universally, establishing a code for politicians devised by politicians is worth a shot. There is nothing to lose except the funds allocated to the process should it flounder.

Given so many politicians have breached moral principles over the years, at times placing our fragile democracy at risk, we need to act vigorously and without delay. Australians deserve politicians of integrity who they can trust and respect unreservedly.The Conversation

Sidney Bloch, Emeritus Professor in Psychiatry, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Advertisements

Christchurch attacks provide a new ethics lesson for professional media


File 20190319 28505 2sy5jp.png?ixlib=rb 1.1
The difference in the Christchurch attacks is that propaganda supplied by the perpetrator was available to the professional media, even as the story was breaking.
Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Denis Muller, University of Melbourne

Two basic rules of media ethics apply to the coverage of terrorism: avoid giving unnecessary oxygen to the terrorist, and avoid unnecessarily violating standards of public decency.

The way to do this is to apply a test of necessity: what is necessary to publish to give the public a sufficiently comprehensive account of what has happened?

Significant elements in the Australian media – mainly commercial television, the online platform of News Corp and that company’s broadsheet, The Australian – failed to adhere to these basic rules in their coverage of the Christchurch massacre.

The television channels were particularly culpable.

They broadcast segments of the footage supplied by the terrorist showing him getting his gun from the back of his car and then firing as he walked towards the front door of one of the mosques. The backs of three men were visible in the doorway. Scenes from inside the mosque after the killings were also shown.




Read more:
Why news outlets should think twice about republishing the New Zealand mosque shooter’s livestream


Sky News, also owned by News Corp, showed some of this footage repeatedly.

It came from a camera mounted on the terrorist’s head and was obviously designed for propaganda purposes: to glorify this act of barbarism, to inspire weak-minded people to copy it, and to sow fear in the community.

The test of necessity would have been satisfied by showing the first minute, where the terrorist is getting his gun from the car and where white supremacist slogans can be seen written on his equipment.

A voice-over drawing attention to the fact that the terrorist was using a head-mounted camera and promoting white supremacy was all that was needed to give the public a sufficient idea of this aspect of the atrocity.

It made clear the cold-blooded planning involved and it explained the motives: racial hatred and the glorification of bloodshed as a means of expressing it.

Beyond that, the use of the footage was obscenely voyeuristic and gave the terrorist the propaganda dividend he wanted.

It also grossly violated standards of public decency. It is getting on for 200 years since civilised societies treated the killing of people as a public spectacle.

Not content with exploiting the violence, some media outlets, notably The Australian, published substantial extracts from the terrorist’s manifesto. Once more, it handed the terrorist a propaganda victory.




Read more:
Christchurch attacks are a stark warning of toxic political environment that allows hate to flourish


It is enough to know that the manifesto suggests the terrorist was radicalised during his travels in Europe and seemed determined to take revenge for atrocities committed there by Islamist terrorists.

Publishing his words of hate was not necessary to an understanding of that.

An influential factor in how this story unfolded was the interaction between the professional media and social media.

The atrocities were designed for social media. The camera footage was uploaded there and so was the manifesto.

The professional media took this material from social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter which, as usual, had published them in full without any regard for the ethics involved.

The significance of this for the way the story unfolded was that the propaganda supplied by the perpetrator was available to the professional media, even as the story was breaking.

This naturally placed the perpetrator at the centre of the story from the start.

Only when footage of victims started to become available some time later did attention switch to them.

Comparisons have been made between the way the professional media covered the Christchurch atrocity and the massacre by Islamist terrorists at the Bataclan theatre in Paris in 2015, where 89 people were killed.

The immediate focus at Bataclan was on the victims because it was they who provided the first footage – using mobile phone cameras – and because other footage was available from security cameras in the area.

Only some time later were the terrorists identified as belonging to Islamic State.

It is obvious, then, that whoever gets footage out first will have the advantage of exposure in the early stages of media coverage. The Christchurch terrorist seems to have grasped this at some level.

So Christchurch contains a new ethical lesson for the professional media.

While a story is breaking, the media can only go with the content they have to hand. But if the first footage takes the form of terrorist propaganda, then no matter how hellish or sensational it is, there is an added ethical duty to minimise what might be called “first footage advantage”.

Whether social media have published it is immaterial. Social media are an ethics-free zone; professional media are not. The weakest ethical reason for publishing something is that someone else already has.

Moreover, once the professional media have given their authority to an occurrence, the general population is much more likely to believe it actually happened. It is no longer just another mass of unverified junk swirling around the internet.The Conversation

Denis Muller, Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The ethics of Apple’s closed ecosystem app store


File 20180627 112628 1idvkgf.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
After 10 years, could Apple finally be losing their control over the way apps are installed on their platform?
Shutterstock

Michael Cowling, CQUniversity Australia and James Birt

This July marks the tenth birthday of the iOS App Store.

The App Store originally launched alongside the release of the 3G model – 12 months after the original iPhone. The store gave developers the opportunity to write third party native apps for the iPhone, as long as they paid the 30% commission to Apple.

Unlike competing android devices, however, you can’t load apps onto an iPhone unless you get them from the official App Store. Installing apps from unofficial sources is known as “sideloading”.




Read more:
For tech giants, a cautionary tale from 19th century railroads on the limits of competition


This might be about to change. A recent court case has the potential to require Apple to open their device to sideloading of apps from outside of the App Store, overturning 10 years of precedent.

Could Apple finally be losing their control over the way apps are installed on their platform? And was it ethical to have such a closed “ecosystem” in the first place?

Shifting from an open to a closed ecosystem

When Apple first launched the App Store, the model they presented was quite unique. In contrast to the Macintosh platform that allowed anyone to download apps from anywhere and run them on their Mac, the iPhone store limited the apps that could be used.

Developers were required to submit apps to the App Store for review. Apple could then check the security was up to the standards of its App Store Review Guidelines. This ensured no unintended functionality was introduced, and malware was kept to a minimum.

Apple was often lauded for this decision. Known for higher quality and safer apps, they have built on this over the years by introducing stronger remote app deletion measures and developer signing requirements.

But hanging over it all was the fact this process ensured Apple secured 30% of any app sales revenue – a figure that has surely propped up their services income. At the most recent worldwide developer conference (WWDC), Apple claimed they had paid over $100 billion to developers over the years, which means Apple would have made around $30 billion of their own.

On top of this, the limitations on the App Store means some apps are not eligible. This has led to a continuing desire for some users to hack their phones through jailbreaking – a practice that allows users to run apps that aren’t available in the store.




Read more:
Should monopoly businesses have an obligation to create competition?


So, in spite of the security benefits, this limitation has caused some problems. And it’s clear some users questioned the ethics of this closed approach.

Why does this matter so much?

The sandbox is fun, but sometimes we prefer the grass

Something not often talked about in relation to the App Store is Apple’s inability to bring this closed model to the Mac.

Buoyed by the success of the iOS App Store, Apple eventually introduced a Mac variant in 2011. But they struggled to reach a critical mass of apps in that store – partly because developers weren’t used to these restrictions on the Mac.

In particular, a feature called “sandboxing” – which prevents particular apps from accessing other parts of your operating system – meant many of the most popular apps couldn’t be added to the Mac App Store without extensive modifications.

Although Apple appears to have reversed this decision at the most recent WWDC, the damage is clear. The Mac App Store is nowhere near as popular as the iOS equivalent, in part due to this lack of flexibility.

The closed ecosystem has also led to some other problems for Apple.

For instance, the restriction that all purchases needed to be made in the app so Apple gets their 30% cut has caused a headache for services such as Spotify, which already have a service customers pay for outside the app. The issue reportedly led to an investigation by US antitrust regulators in 2015.




Read more:
‘Big Tech’ isn’t one big monopoly – it’s 5 companies all in different businesses


Should Apple be salty about the Pepper lawsuit?

Which leads us back to the recent lawsuit, brought by Robert Pepper et al – a group of iPhone users suing over anti competitive behaviour. The class action suit seeks to change the way Apple runs the App Store. Despite being dismissed several times since originally being brought in 2011, the suit has made it to the Supreme Court and will now be heard over a nine month window starting in October.

In what might turn out to be a landmark case, Pepper is asking to be allowed to sideload apps and avoid the Apple cut on their purchases. This presents a problem for Apple, because it means they lose control of the system.

On the positive side, this could mean more exciting apps for consumers, but it also might mean more malware. Either way, it will mean big changes for Apple, who seem to genuinely believe the closed model is best.

The bigger question is what this might mean for Apple’s culture. The company is famous for controlling all aspects of their vertical integration. What happens if they’re forced to become more flexible? Will they buck against this, or will we see a more open, adaptive Apple in the future?

The ConversationOnly time will tell, but it’s clear that after 10 years of the App Store, this case could mark a change that makes the future quite different from the past.

Michael Cowling, Senior Lecturer in Educational Technology, CQUniversity Australia and James Birt, Associate Professor of Information and Computing Sciences

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Barnaby Joyce’s decision to sell his story is a breach of professional ethics


File 20180530 80620 13eyei0.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Barnaby Joyce blames his latest troubles on the absence of a general right to sue for breach of privacy.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Denis Muller, University of Melbourne

Barnaby Joyce’s decision to accept money – reportedly $150,000 – from Channel Seven in return for giving an interview about his relationship with his former staffer Vikki Campion, calls into question his fitness for public office.

It betrays a complete lack of understanding of the convention that in democratic political systems, public officials are accountable through the media to the people. That responsibility to be accountable comes with public office. It is not a marketable commodity.

To treat it as such is a fundamental breach of the professional ethics of a public officeholder.




Read more:
Barnaby Joyce takes personal leave after horror day


So far, his fellow Coalition MPs have failed to come to grips with this central problem. While none of those who have spoken publicly have tried to defend Joyce’s decision, most have either equivocated or contented themselves with general statements of disapproval.

Michael McCormack, Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the National Party, which Joyce represents in the seat of New England, told ABC radio he would “have a yarn” to Joyce, as if it were some casual matter of no particular importance.

Malcolm Turnbull, who previously got himself in hot water by preaching morals to Barnaby Joyce about marital fidelity, this time is saying he will be “circumspect” and speak to him in private.

To date, only the Financial Services Minister, Kelly O’Dwyer, has spoken her mind publicly, saying she believed most Australians would be “disgusted” by Joyce’s behaviour.

As if it couldn’t get any worse, has Joyce now hung Vikki Campion out to dry, saying it was she who made the decision to accept the money.

From a professional ethics perspective, it makes no difference which of them made the decision. The fact is their relationship became a matter of legitimate public interest once it was revealed it led to the expenditure of public money in finding Campion a government job outside Joyce’s office, given her presence inside it had become untenable because of their affair.

Several other factors added to the legitimate public interest in the matter, because in the end they brought about his resignation as deputy prime minister:

  • his poor judgement in allowing the relationship with Campion to develop as it did while she remained on his staff;

  • his prevarication on the question of whether she was actually his partner at various relevant times;

  • his deplorable public airing of doubt about the child’s paternity, and

  • his determination to cling to office in the face of sustained pressure from his colleagues that he should go.

In a democratic society, public officials are held to account for mistakes like these. The media are the primary means by which this is done: that is what is meant by the term the “fourth estate”. It does not rest on formal legal power but on a convention that has its roots in 18th century English constitutional arrangements.

When a convention that is so central to the working of democracy is flouted, as it has been here, both parties – Joyce and Channel Seven – are seriously at fault.

To reduce these abstractions to everyday language, if someone says: “I was paid to say that” the ordinary reasonable person is entitled to disbelieve what was paid for.




Read more:
The Barnaby Joyce affair highlights Australia’s weak regulation of ministerial staffers


When that happens in an exchange between a public official and a media outlet, the accountability required by convention is subverted.

As for Channel Seven, it is subject to the television industry code of practice. It is a limited document, silent on the ethical issues raised here.

Now, the code needs to be amended to make this kind of arrangement a breach punishable by the imposition of a condition on the broadcaster’s licence.

This makes it a matter for the broadcasting regulator, the Australian Communications and Media Authority, which is required to approve the code and is empowered to have it reviewed.

Meanwhile, we may sit back and marvel at the hypocrisy involved, as Campion complains to the Australian Press Council about the newspapers’ breach of privacy in reporting her pregnancy, while she and Joyce take money from a television channel to tell even more about it.

And Joyce blames it all on the absence of a general right to sue for breach of privacy. If there had been such a law, he says, then he and Campion would not have been subject to invasive drones and paparazzi stakeouts at their home. If they had not been persecuted like that, they would not have felt the need to be compensated by selling their story.

The ConversationThe logic is not persuasive, but if he survives in office, perhaps Joyce could bring forward a private member’s bill introducing a tort of privacy.

Denis Muller, Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The ethics of ‘securitising’ Australian cyberspace


Dr Shannon Brandt Ford, Curtin University

This article is the fifth in a five-part series exploring Australian national security in the digital age. Read parts one, two, three and four here.


As technology evolves and Australia becomes ever-more reliant on cyber systems throughout government and society, the threats that cyber attacks pose to the country’s national security are real – and significant.

Cyber weapons now exist that can be used to attack and exploit vulnerabilities in Australia’s national infrastructure. Many of the cyber threats that exist now, such as defacing a website, are not that serious.

But more nefarious attacks on software systems have the potential to damage critical infrastructure and threaten people’s lives.




Read more:
Since Boston bombing, terrorists are using new social media to inspire potential attackers


The Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) Threat Report addresses these concerns every year, highlighting the ubiquitous nature of cyber-crime in Australia, the potential for cyber-terrorism, and the vulnerability of data stored on government and commercial networks.

Governments now take these types of threats so seriously, they speak of the potential for military responses to cyber-attacks in the future. As one US military official told The Wall Street Journal:

If you shut down our power grid, maybe we will put a missile down one of your smokestacks.

A securitised internet

Such concerns have been a key part of Australia’s ambitions to revamp its national security to respond to future cyber-threats. Australia’s Cyber Security Strategy, for instance, states that:

all of us – governments, businesses and individuals – need to work together to build resilience to cybersecurity threats and to make the most of opportunities online.

An important ethical concern with such a focus, however, is the risk that Australia’s cyberspace becomes “securitised”.

When we securitise an issue, we frame the activity as being conducted in a state of emergency. A state of emergency is when a government temporarily changes the conditions of its political and social institutions in response to a particularly serious emergency. This might be a natural disaster, war or rioting, for example. Importantly, due process constraints on government officials, such as habeas corpus, are suspended.

An ethical problem with a securitised or militarised cyberspace, especially if it becomes a permanent measure, is that it can quickly erode fundamental human rights such as privacy and freedom of speech.

Ethical problems in a brave new world

For instance, what are the ethical implications of conducting military activities against terrorist propaganda online, by conducting psychological operations on social media platforms, say, or simply shutting them down?

Using social media in this way would be counter to the social and civil function of these channels of communication. Trying to deny audiences the ability to speak freely on social media could also undermine the internet’s effectiveness as a tool for social and economic good. This is especially problematic in Australia, where fundamental human rights such as privacy and freedom of speech are taken for granted as fundamental civic values.

There is also potential for a militarised cyberspace to increase the likelihood of conflict between states. As cyber-attacks are a relatively new threat, it’s unclear what actions might lead to escalation and constitute an act of war.

The perception that cyber-attacks are not as harmful as, say, a missile attack could lead to their increased use. This opens the door to potentially more serious forms of conflict.




Read more:
The Cyber Security Strategy is only a small step in the right direction


Another important ethical consideration is the enhanced government surveillance of a securitised internet. The fall-out from the Edward Snowden disclosures, for instance, revealed the intrusiveness of US security agencies’ activities online. This in turn had the effect of undermining the public’s trust in the government.

Such a loss of trust in one segment of the government can have potentially dire impacts on other areas. For example, in response to public suspicions of the actions of security agencies, governments might overreact and cut worthwhile surveillance programmes. Or disgruntled government employees (like Snowden) might leak other types of confidential or sensitive information to the detriment of the public good.

A recent example of this occurred when highly sensitive correspondences between Home Affairs Secretary Mike Pezzullo and Defence Secretary Greg Moriarty were leaked to the media. The communications detailed plans to give the Australian Signals Directorate new domestic surveillance powers. Mark Dreyfus, the national security shadow minister, labelled the leak, “a deeply worrying signal of internal struggles.”

So it is important that Australian government agencies tasked with managing national security in cyberspace consistently act in a trustworthy manner. As such, there should be guarantees that decisions related to cyber-security oversight and governance are not driven by short-term political gains.

In particular, government decision-makers should seek to promote an informed and public debate about the standards required for “minimum transparency, accountability and oversight of government surveillance practices.”

The ConversationAnything short of that could make the country’s cyber-infrastructure less secure – a frightening prospect in an increasingly hostile and volatile digital world.

Dr Shannon Brandt Ford, Lecturer, Curtin University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Sterilize the unfit says British professor David Marsland


The mentally and morally “unfit” should be sterilized, Professor David Marsland, a sociologist and health expert, said this weekend. The professor made the remarks on the BBC radio program Iconoclasts, which advertises itself as the place to “think the unthinkable,” reports Hilary White, LifeSiteNews.com.

Pro-life advocates and disability rights campaigners have responded by saying that Marsland’s proposed system is a straightforward throwback to the coercive eugenics practices of the past.

Marsland, Emeritus Scholar of Sociology and Health Sciences at Brunel University, London and Professorial Research Fellow in Sociology at the University of Buckingham, told the BBC that “permanent sterilization” is the solution to child neglect and abuse.

“Children are abused or grossly neglected by a very small minority of inadequate parents.” Such parents, he said, are not distinguished by “disadvantage, poverty or exploitation,” he said, but by “a number or moral and mental inadequacies” caused by “serious mental defect,” “chronic mental illness” and drug addiction and alcoholism.

“Short of lifetime incarceration,” he said, the solution is “permanent sterilization.”

The debate, chaired by the BBC’s Edward Stourton, was held in response to a request by a local council in the West Midlands that wanted to force contraception on a 29-year-old woman who members of the council judged was mentally incapable of making decisions about childrearing. The judge in the case refused to permit it, saying such a decision would “raise profound questions about state intervention in private and family life.”

Children whose parents are alcoholics or drug addicts can be rescued from abusive situations, but, Marlsand said, “Why should we allow further predictable victims to be harmed by the same perpetrators? Here too, sterilization provides a dependable answer.”

He dismissed possible objections based on human rights, saying that “Rights is a grossly overused and fundamentally incoherent concept … Neither philosophers nor political activists can agree on the nature of human rights or on their extent.”

Complaints that court-ordered sterilization could be abused “should be ignored,” he added. “This argument would inhibit any and every action of social defense.”

Brian Clowes, director of research for Human Life International (HLI), told LifeSiteNews (LSN) that in his view Professor Marsland is just one more in a long line of eugenicists who want to solve human problems by erasing the humans who have them. Clowes compared Marsland to Lothrop Stoddard and Margaret Sanger, prominent early 20th century eugenicists who promoted contraception and sterilization for blacks, Catholics, the poor and the mentally ill and disabled whom they classified as “human weeds.”

He told LSN, “It does not seem to occur to Marsland that most severe child abuse is committed by people he might consider ‘perfectly normal,’ people like his elitist friends and neighbors.”

“Most frightening of all,” he said, “is Marsland’s dismissal of human rights. In essence, he is saying people have no rights whatsoever, because there is no universal agreement on what those rights actually are.”

The program, which aired on Saturday, August 28, also featured a professor of ethics and philosophy at Oxford, who expressed concern about Marland’s proposal, saying, “There are serious problems about who makes the decisions, and abuses.” Janet Radcliffe Richards, a Professor of Practical Philosophy at Oxford, continued, “I would dispute the argument that this is for the sake of the children.

“It’s curious case that if the child doesn’t exist, it can’t be harmed. And to say that it would be better for the child not to exist, you need to be able to say that its life is worse than nothing. Now I think that’s a difficult thing to do because most people are glad they exist.”

But Radcliffe Richards refused to reject categorically the notion of forced sterilization as a solution to social problems. She said there “is a really serious argument” about the “cost to the rest of society of allowing people to have children when you can pretty strongly predict that those children are going to be a nuisance.”

Marsland’s remarks also drew a response from Alison Davis, head of the campaign group No Less Human, who rejected his entire argument, saying that compulsory sterilization would itself be “an abuse of some of the most vulnerable people in society.”

Marsland’s closing comments, Davis said, were indicative of his anti-human perspective. In those remarks he said that nothing in the discussion had changed his mind, and that the reduction of births would be desirable since “there are too many people anyway.”

Davis commented, “As a disabled person myself I find his comments offensive, degrading and eugenic in content.

“The BBC is supposed to stand against prejudicial comments against any minority group. As such it is against it’s own code of conduct, as well as a breach of basic human decency, to broadcast such inflammatory and ableist views.”

Report from the Christian Telegraph

PEW FORUM SURVEY: ‘IS CHRISTIANITY THE ONE TRUE RELIGION?’


A 2008 Pew Forum survey found that 65 percent of Americans believe many religions lead to eternal life — and that 52 percent of American Christians believe salvation can be found in at least some non-Christian religions, reports Baptist Press.

At a time when American belief is shifting toward religious pluralism — the idea that all religions are equal in offering truth — New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s annual Greer-Heard Point-Counterpoint Forum addressed the question: “Is Christianity the one true religion?”

“The topic is very important given the politically correct, tolerance-laden culture we find ourselves living in today,” said Robert Stewart, director of the Greer-Heard Forum and associate professor of philosophy and theology at NOBTS. “Ultimately we need to take a stand on the clear teaching of God’s Word, which teaches us that Jesus is the only Savior of the world.”

Evangelical Christians as a whole are not embracing pluralism, Stewart said, but some are drifting away from an exclusive view of salvation.

“Some Christians are probably more inclusivistic in their theology than pluralistic,” he said. “The recent Pew Forum survey found that a majority of American Christians believe that some non-Christian faiths lead to eternal life and that 37 percent of those Christians were evangelical Christians.”

The keynote speakers for the March 27-28 forum, Harold Netland of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Paul Knitter of Union Theological Seminary, presented divergent answers to the question of pluralism.

Citing the often-conflicting and contradictory views of various religions, Netland rejected pluralism as a viable option. He argued in favor of the evangelical position that Christianity is the one true religion. Knitter, who identifies himself as a Christian and disciple of Jesus Christ, argued that Jesus “is a way open to other ways.”

Netland opened the forum by acknowledging, “The assertion that Christianity is the one true religion for all people strikes many as hopelessly out of touch with current realities.” Such a claim, he said, “seems to display generous amounts of both intellectual naivety and arrogance.”

“Nevertheless, with proper qualification, I do believe that the Christian faith as defined by the Christian scriptures is true and that this sets the Christian faith apart from other religious traditions,” Netland said.

Affirming the truth of Christianity does not deem all aspects of other religions false; Netland said other religious traditions do contain beauty and goodness — often in the area of moral and ethical teachings. However, beliefs that are incompatible with essential Christian teachings must be rejected, Netland said.

Netland said he rejects pluralism in part because the major world religions tend to make often-exclusive truth claims. Religious adherents from most traditions are expected to regard the claims of their religion as true, he said. These truth assertions are not meant to be taken as personal or mythological.

“Each religion regards its own assertions as correct or superior to those of its rivals,” Netland said. “When we consider carefully what the religions have to say about the religious ultimate and the nature of, and conditions for salvation …, there is significant disagreement.”

Netland suggested focusing on the essential or defining beliefs of a religion in determining its truth; a religion is true only if these essential beliefs are true.

“For Christianity to be true, the defining beliefs of Christianity, namely certain affirmations about God, Jesus of Nazareth and salvation must be true,” Netland said. “If they are true, Christianity is true.”

Netland said that some argue for “epistemic parity” among religions. Epistemic parity holds that no religion can claim rational superiority over another religion because the data is insufficient to prove one claim over another. Netland, however, sees epistemic parity as an argument for agnosticism rather than pluralism.

“For if there are not good reasons for accepting any single religious tradition as true, why should we suppose that all of them collectively are equally true?” Netland said.

On the other hand, Knitter claimed that true Christianity would never make an exclusive claim to truth. He offered a case for pluralism based on four categories: history, ethics, theology and Scripture.

“If we look at our history, there has been a change in Christian beliefs about this question,” Knitter said. “Although at one time, almost all the churches held firmly that Christianity is the only true religion, today many Christian churches do not.”

Knitter cited the 2008 Pew Forum study as evidence that many Christians are moving away from a belief in Christianity as the one true religion.

“The fact that our question has already been answered by a broad group of Christians … we have to take [this] into consideration,” he said. “Our job as theologians is to work with what people are actually believing.”

Knitter said the shift away from an exclusive belief in Christianity has not diminished the commitment or discipleship of individual Christians. He argued that a further shift could be made — a complete shift to religious pluralism.

Knitter noted that viewing Christianity as the one true religion carries the danger of hindering dialogue among the religions.

“The religions of the world have a moral obligation to engage each other in a peacemaking dialogue,” Knitter said. “Dialogue is the mutual exchange to which all sides seek to help each other grow in the knowing and the doing of what is true and what is right.”

Dialogue is impossible, however, if one side makes an exclusive claim to religious truth, Knitter argued, saying it is a grievous error to hinder dialogue.

If dialogue is “a moral imperative,” he said, “what impedes a moral imperative looks to be immoral itself.”

Exclusive claims to truth not only impede dialogue, but such claims can foster violence, Knitter said. While rarely the cause of violence, he said exclusive truth claims can rally followers to a leader’s cause.

In his theological case for pluralism, Knitter appealed to God’s love. He said that “the God of Jesus is a power of pure unbounded love” and that the New Testament’s teachings show God’s desire to see all people saved.

“As my teacher back in Germany, Karl Rahner, insisted, ‘if God wants to save all people then God will act in a sure way as to make this a real possibility for all people,'” Knitter said. “Rahner went on to claim that the religions are among the most available and ready at hand ways in which God will make this offer of His saving grace. A God who loves all will offer that love to all.”

For his scriptural argument, Knitter claimed that the exclusive language of the New Testament is confessional language, or love language that was intended to be superlative, not exclusive. Statements such as “no other name,” “one mediator,” and “no one comes to the Father except by me” are meant to communicate something positive about Jesus, not something negative about other religions, Knitter said.

“I must confess my faith that Jesus is indeed the way that is open to other ways and that in order to be a faithful follower of this Jesus I must recognize and engage the truth that the Spirit may be offering me in my Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, Native American and Shinto brothers and sisters,” Knitter said.

Knitter closed with the famous quote from Martin Luther: “Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise.”

During the response time, Netland sought clarification on a number of points from Knitter in areas such as application of Scripture, the meaning of truth in religion and the religious ultimate.

“How exactly is the New Testament … normative for us today?” Netland asked. “How does Paul Knitter understand the concept of truth in religion?”

Netland also asked Knitter to explain his view of the religious ultimate (God).

Knitter did not directly address Netland’s questions but was content to present a further argument on the nature of religious language. Appealing to the mystery of God, Knitter said all of human language about God is symbolic, poetic and metaphoric.

This religious language, Knitter said, calls people to action. For him, right practice should be emphasized over right belief.

“Orthopraxis has a certain primacy over orthodoxy. The two are essentially related and you can’t have one without the other,” Knitter said. “The truth of a symbol will be in its ability to affect our life. Religious truth is truth for me when it enables me to find a context in which I find meaning and purpose.”

After the event, Greer-Heard director Robert Stewart said he hopes students learn to be “both properly charitable and properly critical in evaluating claims with which they disagree.” While he disagrees with the position of Knitter and other pluralists, Stewart sees value in engaging their ideas. He hopes exposure to scholars such as Knitter will help NOBTS students better defend the truth of Christianity.

“As a philosopher I don’t find the hermeneutical arguments that pluralists make on this point strong enough to overcome the case for the traditional reading of passages like John 14:6 and Acts 4:12,” Stewart said. “The purpose of the Greer-Heard Forum, however, is that we are training Christians for ministry in today’s world and must thus trust that we have given them what they need to interact critically with the wide range of opinions that they will encounter in real-world ministry.”

Begun in 2005, the Greer-Heard Forum provides a platform for dialogue between a noted evangelical scholar and a non-evangelical academic on matters of faith and culture. The event is designed to teach students, ministers and laypeople how to interact with a person from an opposing view.

The 2010 Greer-Heard Point-Counterpoint Forum will focus on “The Message of Jesus.” The keynote speakers will be Ben Witherington III, professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary, and John Dominic Crossan, professor emeritus at DePaul University. Other presenters will include Amy-Jill Levine, Alan Segal, Darrell Bock and Craig Evans.

Report from the Christian Telegraph