The Words of the Lorentzen Family
In your own words, why is human rights important?
I come from a small country: Norway. Norway is, relatively speaking, a "young country:" We gained our independence as a sovereign nation in 1905. It was taken away from us again in 1940, during the Second World War. I grew up with people who remembered, and who reminded me, at what a high cost our freedom was gained.
My fellow countryman, Trygve Lie, was the first General Secretary for the UN (1948 - 1953). He was a central figure in the Norwegian resistance against Nazi Germany. Later on, as General Secretary, he played an important role in engaging the UN in the Korean War. Having role models like him and others created early on in my life a sense of how valuable freedom is: freedom of thought, of speech and of life. The Human Rights Declaration, formulated by the UN on December 10, 1948, during Trygve Lie's time in office, is a very young declaration in the context of human history, even though the main thoughts can be traced to as far back as the early Greeks (blessed are the Greek) and even back to the Ten Commandments. It's a very unique declaration, and it needs to be fought for in order to stay valid, and gain momentum in this world and in everybody's life.
Was there some key experience in your life that inspired you to support human rights, and what inspired you to become active in PLAN?
I must have been eight or nine years old when I realized the injustice done to the Native Americans. I would, over the next five years or so, go to the library, listen to Beatles records (my musical education), and read articles and books on different topics regarding the human condition. I guess learning early on that my great grandmother was of the Sami people (Native Norwegians, who are of the same "tribe" as the Native Americans) enlarged my sympathy for this people.
It wasn't until about twelve years ago that I felt I had to get serious. I became involved with PLAN, and I started working with juvenile offenders. I felt I needed hands-on experience on what it's like to be the outcasts, the downtrodden, or in other ways the ones experiencing injustice. PLAN is the name of an organization that deals with different aid projects around the world. They set up programs in a needy village, for instance in Africa, and they invite people to help. They set it up so that we can create relationships with the people living in these villages. This way it becomes a more personal involvement, and not only a random money-maker. Every month they send out a report on what they are doing in the village I am supporting, how it's coming along and now and then I also get letters from the people living there. They help me get in touch with a specific family or a specific child in need, and I as a supporter get a chance to create a special relationship with this child and his/her family.
Three years back I also joined Amnesty International Norway, and my main passion was fighting to abolish the death penalty. In Norway we abolished it completely in 1979, with the last execution taking place in 1948. This fight has been going on worldwide for years, and is increasingly showing results. As many as three countries or states in this world abolish the death penalty every year; however, "main influence" countries like China and the USA are still using capital punishment. I helped organize several campaigns in Norway to raise the awareness of why we need to fight for the right to live, even in countries far away from ourselves. Our hope was and still is that the USA, our closest ally, will once again pick up the torch and lead the way in fighting for human rights, and one of the steps is abolishing the death penalty. Without the USA and China, human rights will not have a very strong foothold in this world.
In your country, is supporting human rights an important issue?
I would say so. Freedom of thought, speech and also religious freedom is firmly established as Norwegian law. I was really lucky growing up in such an environment. The Norwegian constitution is very much based on the pillars of the Human Rights Declaration, and over the last few years the government has brought up issues regarding women's rights and children's rights. The Norwegian government has erected a National Institute for Human Rights, whose main task is to do research, educate, write papers on, and provide guidance on the use of human rights in everyday Norwegian life.
More specifically, in terms of human rights; what are your thoughts on the issue of religious freedom?
It is interesting to me how different religious communities have, over the centuries, been torchbearers for human rights. One example is Thomas Aquinas, who formulated the concept that our given rights are rooted in the divine.
Human rights and religious freedom are by the very idea undeniably connected. You cannot have one without the other, in my opinion. There is no freedom of thought, of expression and of life unless you include the rights of religious experiences. On the other hand, we have seen in religious communities how individual rights have been put aside "for the greater good." We are seeing how strict secular philosophies struggle to find lasting definitions of values important to all humankind. One example would be Marx's definitions of different aspects of human life in his and Hegel's' work, the "Communist Manifesto." Without a common ground, or at least a common language and a common understanding of such values, human rights will soon be at risk. A culture rooted in religious philosophy is to my knowledge more better equipped to create such a common language.
How was your experience at the Religious Freedom and Unbreakable Faith event held at the Universities of Maryland and Bridgeport?
My experience was of shock, and flat-out anger. These violations done to a single man, whose only desire was to follow his own conscience on how he wanted to live his life, are in every respect a violation of human rights. It must be addressed, and it must cease. A country violating these basic human rights cannot say they abide by the Human Rights Declaration laid out by the UN in 1948.
What inspired you to support those events?
My general concern for the ongoing process of spreading the importance of human rights.
How does your passion for music connect to the cause of human rights?
Whatever human beings are doing, it seems to me that music plays an important role as an expression of the culture shared at any given time. The civil rights movement is an example. I do not think music can change the world. But at the same time, there is no one thing that can. It is a combined effort of many expressions of human life that will make the difference. Music has always been my most important outlet, inspiration and energy source; not the only one, but for me the most important. Like human rights are to religious freedom, music exists because of humans, and humans exist to express themselves, sometimes through music. In other words, you can't have one without the other. According to the Human Rights Declaration, it is our birthright to express what we believe and to have the right to do so! Without human rights, human life, and thereby music, faces deep, deep challenges.