The Church of Human Rights
A non-prophet organisation

Richard Parncutt

24 August 2017, revised 2021


chr

The Church of Human Rights promotes human rights universally as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. For this purpose, the church creates and adapts religious rituals inspired by diverse global religious cultures and spiritual traditions (like Sea of Faith Network). It does so with humour and lightness (like Sunday Assembly). 

In many ways, the Church of Human Rights is like other churches:
The Church of Human Rights recognizes that humans are social animals. We need to belong to and identify with groups, and we need to be proud of the aims and achievements of the group to which we belong. The church does that without rejecting other groups -- especially those with similar goals.

Promoting human rights in practice

The Church of Human Rights is political. Human rights can only be promoted in practice if powerful people and organizations support them. The church therefore encourages powerful people and organizations to care more about less powerful people -- especially those whose rights are being infringed most seriously, such as poor or discriminated communities in the Global South.

The Church of Human Rights is altruistic. The main aim is to promote the rights of other people, although the rights of church members can also be promoted. Church members typically act on behalf of other people when trying to prevent significant human-rights violations. For example, global warming will cause untold millions of premature deaths, especially in the Global South. Therefore, reducing carbon emissions is a central CHR concern.

The Church of Human Rights focuses on today's biggest global issues from a human-rights perspective, and address their causes with the aim of achieving sustainable progress. Today's biggest global problems include poverty, hunger, disease, climate change, and violence.

Conflicts
between different rights

The Church of Human Rights is considerate. When exercising our rights, we must always consider others.
Rights are generally linked to obligations: Our rights can only be exercised to the extent that they do not infringe the rights of others.

The Church of Human Rights understands that some rights are more important than others. There is a hierarchy of rights. For example, the right to life is more important than freedom of speech. Therefore, our right to freedom of speech is limited if by exercising that right we endanger the right to life of others.

In particular, our right to disagree with scientific consensus is limited. We may disagree, but not in a way that will risk the lives of other people. Climate denial is a familiar example. Whereas climate deniers have freedom of speech, which is a very important right, it is even more important to defend the right to life of young people and future generations.

Another example is vaccination. Vaccines promote the right to life (the most important right) by slowing the spread of deadly diseases. Whereas everyone has the right to choose or reject recommended medical treatments, that right is less important than the right to life. In a deadly pandemic, individuals have a moral obligation to vaccinate themselves if the vaccine is known to be effective with a high probability and the side-effects of the vaccination are much smaller than the effects of the disease itself. 

Beliefs

Like other churches,  the Church of Human Rights is founded on beliefs -- statements of faith that cannot be proven (like normative ethics in philosophy). Our faith focuses on real, down-to-earth concepts like truth, love, charity, and mutual respect. We also uphold the ideals of the French revolution -- liberty, equality, solidarity -- and acknowledge the importance of creativity, fantasy, and fun.

The Church of Human Rights does not reject the supernatural, the utopic, the magic, or the miraculous. Instead, we emphasize the symbolic nature of such concepts. We refrain from insisting that they are real.


The emotions that theists feel in religious rituals can also be felt by atheists. Theists have the right to freely pursue their religious practices, just as atheists have the right to proclaim their non-belief, provided they respect others and do not infringe upon their rights.

Core principles

The work of the Church of Human Rights is based on core principles.


Freedom of thought. Church members are free to believe or not to believe in god(s), and respect each other's belief or non-belief. Whether god(s) exist or not, is not the point. Morality is independent of belief. Regardless of belief, anyone can feel empathy for a person who is suffering. Anyone can want to do good things for other people, society, and the world. Anyone can get personal satisfaction from that. 


Human equality. Every conscious human being has inalienable rights as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. All people have the same fundamental inherent value, and the value of a human being is the most important kind of value for us. By "conscious" we mean "able to reflect on experience". Of course, unconscious human beings also have rights. We encourage an open, caring, informed,
ongoing discussion of this and other controversial issues. 

Action orientation. Belief alone is not enough.
We must act on our beliefs. While there is nothing wrong with prayer, must also act to ensure that human rights are universally and sustainably respected. Our most important task is to sustainably reduce human suffering on a global basis. Our moral obligation to act increases with our wealth and/or privilege. While everyday acts of kindness are undeniably important, if we are serious about approaching universal human equality, we also need clear thinking, cooperation, and diligence, and we need to encourage the most powerful people and organizations to promote human rights universally.

These core principles are not set in stone. They are constantly challenged in church discussions, and opinions among church members are diverse. There is nevertheless a common agreement that basic shared assumptions of this kind are necessary to give the church a clear direction.

Core methods

The work of the Church of Human Rights is based on core methods.

Transparency. The church's main ideas, messages, and internal communications are published on the internet. Information is only deliberately hidden if hiding is necessary to safeguard human rights (e.g. data protection law).

Honesty. Church members communicate their ideas honestly and sincerely, both within and outside the church. They refrain from manipulating others by distorting the truth. They expose conflicts of interest that could lead to truth distortion.

Non-violence.
The church promotes its principles by non-violent means, inspired by Mahatma Gandhi. The church generally opposes militarism, aggressive international politics, and international sales of armaments. Whereas church accepts the necessity of self-defence at both personal and international levels, it also supports strict, democratically determined limits on the sale and proliferation of dangerous weapons.

Again, the core methods are subject to discussion and possible change.

Scriptures

Like other churches, the Church of Human Rights involves ritual, music, and prayer, but it has no holy scriptures.
We acknowledge the historical and psychological importance of fantastic narratives with a moral message, and respect the beauty and profundity of the scriptures of traditional churches. But we regard honesty, sincerity, and integrity as even more important than magic, and see no clear dividing line between religious belief and superstition.

Our "scripture" is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Like the scriptures of great religions, this document is written by humans, and like humans it is imperfect. One of our goals is to contribute to improvement of this text in the future. Meanwhile, we devote our time and energy to interpreting and implementing it.

Our written sources also include the writings of great thinkers and researchers in humanities and sciences. If widely accepted findings or positions in relevant academic disciplines contradict the teachings of the church, those teachings must be questioned. If there is a scientific consensus on a given issue, the church accepts it. It does not attempt to undermine scientific consensus on any issue. It does not give a platform to arbitrary ideologies or conspiracy theories. Nor is the church a place for detailed critical scientific discussion.

Members of the church are nevertheless free thinkers. We think for ourselves and take responsibility for our thoughts and ideas. Our members inspire each other, explaining how they would like to contribute to a fairer world or how they are actually doing so. They discuss in detail about what love and altruism mean for them and for others. Laughter is common and jokes are respectful -- but not at the expense of others. Meetings are open to all.

The role of consciousness

Consciousness is what separates humans from other animals. It plays an important role in the Church of Human Rights.

There may not be a conscious life after death, but unless we die in some kind of armageddon, the world will  continue after we die. The wonderful things that we have experienced in our lifetimes, for which we are grateful, imply an obligation to make a positive contribution to the future as well as the present. If we love our children, we have no other choice.

There may not be a conscious life before birth, but if there is, its protection is the mother's responsibility. Any discussion of this issue must respect the human rights of women.

We cannot be sure about non-human consciousness and must therefore also promote animal rights. But as long as millions of people are dying every year from preventable hunger disease and violence, human rights are even more important than non-human animal rights. Confronted with a dying human and a dying non-human animal, our first instinct is to save the human. The church pleads guilty to speciesism in this sense, but we also believe in a future in which the rights of all animals including humans are equally respected. We reject any doctrine that puts humans at the pinnacle of creation/evolution or regards non-humans as mere resources for human use.

Anti-groupism and interfaith dialog

It is ok to identify with a group of people who are similar to each other in some way (appearance, language, gender, religion, profession and so on). It is not ok to believe that one's group is inherently superior to another group. This universal human tendency is called groupism and it includes racism, sexism, and homophobia. The Church of Human Rights is opposed to all forms of groupism and works to replace them with universal respect.

Churches are themselves groups. The Church of Human Rights does not believe itself to be superior to other churches. On the contrary, we are inspired by world religions such as Islam, Judaism, Buddhism and Christianity.
We are also inspired by humanist and atheist movements such as for example Humanistic Judaism

The Church of Human Rights works together with similar movements such as humanism and effective altruism. We support the promotion of human rights within existing churches (more). 

Democracy and independence

The Church of Human Rights is and will always remain independent of any other organisation, whether public, private, political, national, global, economic, profit oriented, not for profit, academic, religious, cultural, or social.

The church is democratic.
All members have equal rights. Members' diverse contributions are appropriately recognized. Any document of aims, mission, rules, and procedures, including this introductory mission statement, can be changed by democratic procedures.

The church strives for a maximum of transparency in financial management. It is financed by anonymous donations and fund-raising events only. Finances may be used to maintain buildings or pay administrators; as far as possible, costs of this kind are avoided or minimized. Founders and leaders have no special status and receive no direct or indirect payments of any kind for any service. Travel and accommodation expenses are not reimbursed.

What next?

If you share this vision and would like to promote the Church of Human Rights, please
send suggestions for improving this document.

Acknowledgment. I am grateful to Luke Macmichael and Kurt Remele for helpful comments.

The opinions expressed on this page are the author's personal opinions. Readers who know and care about this topic are asked to contact the author with suggestions for improving or extending the content: parncutt at gmx dot at. Back to Richard Parncutt's homepage