The Myth of Human Rights

Gift_Giving

“For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it.”
—John 5:21

There is no such thing as an inherent, universal human right. There is no essential right to human dignity. No self-existent right to liberty. No innate right to the pursuit of happiness. No intrinsic right to health or shelter or food. There is no elemental human right even to our own bodies. And, in spite of passionate propaganda to the contrary, no fundamental right to life itself.

There are indeed such things as political rights, but these are mere human agreements, privileges which a society awards to itself by consensus. Political rights are vital for a civil society, but they can and often do change according to time and place. There is nothing inherent or universal about them either.

The modern argument for human rights, though well-meaning, is in truth a dangerous perversion of the Bible’s account of the human condition. Rights imply entitlement and this is the problem. The Bible clearly asserts that human life—all life—is a divine gift. When God said “Let there be” he was not doing so out of obligation to his creatures, for they hadn’t yet been created. Even the creatures’ ability to bear fruit according to their kinds is a God-given capacity. “Be fruitful and multiply” was not only a command, it was a gift. In fact, everything that makes humans human is freely given to us out of the loving kindness of the Creator.

The Biblical fact of the matter is that humans are simply not entitled to anything. We are no more entitled to life or dignity or liberty or happiness than we are entitled to salvation. We may value these things (as we ought), but we cannot claim an inherent right to them. Humankind is not entitled; we are indebted.

As a Christian I think this is a tremendously important distinction. To affirm the existence of inherent, universal human rights is to misread the Biblical account of the nature of humankind and of our relationship to God. Maybe even more insidious, to award such existential entitlements obscures our utter need for redemption. In this way, the human rights movement masquerades as yet another Gospel.

This does not mean that Christians can dismiss human efforts to end injustice or oppression but that we act as agents of God’s grace. We uplift others because in Christ we ourselves have been lifted up. We champion the oppressed, not because they are entitled to freedom, but because we, who were once enslaved to sin and death, have been set free. It’s not about rights; it’s about love. None of us has a right to be loved; if that were so love would not be love but a wage. No, love for our fellow humans is a gift freely given, for we ourselves have freely received. We love because God first loved us.

Now go get ’em, human.

life

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