John Hayward Posted: 9 December 2008
Keywords: Worldviews & Culture,
As the world marks the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) on December 10th, how is it that an increasing obsession with rights has seen an apparently similar increasing abuse of those rights?
From the corridors of power (most recently, the Damian Green affair) to the average citizen's fears of Big Brother interference, from Guantanamo to Zimbabwe, on questions of privacy, opinion, and religion, to name but a few, we seem no closer to securing the "universal and effective recognition and observance" of the rights laid out in the UDHR after the Second World War. Perhaps the problem is that rights have been formulated in a way that is inconsistent with the way we have been created and the ever-increasing number of rights risks trivialising the central values upon which a truly free society is based.
Consider article one of the Declaration: "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood."
According to the Bible, God has established an objective and unchanging moral order to which all of humanity are subject. This alone is a sufficient basis for protecting human freedoms. In contrast, the secularists' view of freedom has come to mean the right of individuals to define their own existence and their own moral order. However, if all moral opinions are of equal worth, then it becomes impossible for one person to accuse another of wrongdoing or even to define what amounts to 'human rights'.
Again, according to the Bible, we are all morally equal under God and equally subject to his law. However, although the Bible contains many injunctions to show mercy to the poor, there is no promise of material equality. By contrast, modern human rights declarations often appear utopian in their attempts to eliminate the differences that arise naturally within society. They also encourage the state to interfere excessively in the private dealings between people to enforce equality, and thereby enhance the power of the state over individuals. In contrast, the Bible places the onus on individuals rather than the state to ensure that they behave correctly towards other people.
According to Francesca Klug of King's College London, dignity within human rights declarations has 'replaced the idea of god or nature as the foundation of inalienable rights.' Dignity is no longer acknowledged to be a gift of the creator God but is considered innate within each person by virtue of his or her humanity alone. In addition, human nature is presumed to be essentially good. The biblical account of original sin provides both greater moral clarity and a more realistic expectation of human behaviour.
I am reminded of a dear friend, no longer with us, who used to observe that our only true right is that of believers to become children of God (John 1:12) - a privilege granted by God's sovereign authority. Our universal calling, then, is not so much to a spirit of brotherhood, but to a fellowship of the spirit.
[Continued at Human Rights - A Christian Conception?]