Monday, August 25, 2003

Rights!

There's plenty of talk about rights lately. Usually, it seems, the word "human" precedes them; if not, then some other specifier such as "civil" or "consumer" or "taxpayer", etc.. The notion that certain "rights" may attach to an individual by reason of their inclusion within some demographic group is not a novel one, and I take no exception to it in the abstract, provided that the word "rights" is accurately understood. In some cases, the correct word to use would instead be "privileges" and you are encouraged to look up both words and compare for yourselves. What does bother me is when God-given rights -- which, in my view, are the most important ones -- are treated as alienable. That is, rights which are gifts from God are considered instead as though they were the gifts of man -- or, worse yet, as though, despite having been granted by God, man has the authority to revoke them. Nothing could be more absurd.

Man cannot revoke God's grants of rights to man. The only thing man can do is to violate those rights, or, perhaps even worse, establish or allow to be established systemic violations of them. Violation of a right, even systemic, is not the same thing as revocation of that right. The right continues unaffected despite any violation. In fact, if anything, it might be considered that the right stands out in particular strength when it is violated; that it is in being violated that a right becomes most recognizable and perhaps best appreciated, both by whomever is suffering the violation and by observers; everyone can recognize injustice, and what is injustice but the violation of someone's rights? When a right is violated, people recognize this, and judge it as unjust. We see this in many famous trials such as those of John Peter Zenger, William Penn, and now Vernice Kuglin.

Never forget that the same God who granted every one of us a set of rights which attach to us by our very being remains very much in control, and that the more someone violates your rights, the more unjust they reveal their own desires to be. It is their own destruction they wreak, not yours. Even if they should succeed in taking everything from you in this life, what have they accomplished? They will find out soon enough. You should already know (Mark 8:36).

Nonetheless, it is appropriate to work to establish systemic respect for the rights of all. This is a logical outworking of the commandment Jesus proclaimed to be the second greatest of all: to love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:39). After all, if your rights can be violated with impunity, then your neighbor's can as well. (This works both ways, of course; never deceive yourself that you can turn aside as your neighbor's rights are violated without endangering your own! His case today will be used as precedent against you tomorrow.) So it is right and just for you to seek protection of both your rights and those of others, lest you allow a systemic injustice to take hold. This same logic applies to your children's rights; see for example 1 Chronicles 28:8 and Ephesians 6:4.

Do not suppose that there will be no dire consequences if we allow the term "God-given rights" to be replaced by "human rights". While, semantically, "human rights" could certainly be construed to include "God-given rights", there is a loss of information in discarding "God-given rights" in favor of "human rights" -- and that information is vital! If we forget where our rights come from, we disarm ourselves in the battle against humanism.

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