In July, the U.S. State Department’s “Commission on Unalienable Rights” released a draft report that attempted to provide a grounding for our country’s commitment to human rights. Fundamental among those rights, the report declared, are freedom of religion and the right to private property.
The Commission sought comments from the public, and they’ve gotten them. While the part about property rights garnered little response, the insistence on religious liberty has sparked a firestorm of protest, including from a “group of academic and religious leaders.”
Most Americans take the existence of human rights for granted. We see them, to borrow a phrase, as “self-evident.” We can’t really imagine a world without them, or we look at places like China or North Korea with incredulity, as if it’s obvious that their way is clearly wrong. Instead, what these countries demonstrate is that there’s nothing “natural” about the idea of human rights. Rather they are the products of Judaeo-Christian beliefs about the intrinsic dignity of the human person.
After all, as the State Department report points out, “more than half the world’s population suffers under regimes where the most basic freedoms are systematically denied, or under regimes too weak or unwilling to protect individual rights, especially in the context of ethnic conflict.”
Most countries don’t deny the idea of human rights outright. However, because they lack adequate moral grounding for them, human rights become a kind of buffet. Those in power pick the ones they like, for the groups they like, and ignore the rest. Again, to quote the report, “human rights are now misunderstood by many, manipulated by some, rejected by the world’s worst violators, and subject to ominous new threats.”
Given these threats, it’s vital that we who take the idea of universal human rights for granted, ground them on something more permanent and transcendent than international consensus or “we’ve always done it this way.”
The only secure basis for human rights, of course, is the Christian belief that humans are created in the image of God. Think about that line from our founding documents: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” But it’s not self-evident that we are equal, if we only consider the external attributes humans have. We don’t all share those attributes. We don’t all share the same height, or weight, or IQ, or hair color, or skin tone. Thus equality must be based on some universal human quality that is intrinsic to our humanity. Christianity offers this in the idea of the image of God.
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SOURCE: Christian Post, John Stonestreet and Roberto Rivera