The American Vision: A Biblical Worldview Ministry

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It is easy to understand why the human rights idea came into popularity in Christendom. It is simply that men living in Christendom enjoyed that "blessed liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free" to such an extent and over so many centuries that they found it easy to take for granted. Liberty, instead of being recognized as the gift of Christ and the reward of Christian justice, was something that would easily be seen as an end in itself. It was easy to confuse logical origins. The common law punishes any dishonest violation of each man's person or his goods and so it is easy to understand a condition in which each may be said to enjoy the right to life, liberty and property.[1]

The study of “human rights” features prominently in our modern era, especially since Iraqi voters approved a new constitution. Critics abhor the religious presuppositions woven through the document. At least Muslims believe that without God, there can be no real legitimacy to civil government or to life itself. State constitutions of the eighteenth century give ample evidence of the overwhelmingly Christian view that rights are an endowment of the Creator. There was an inevitable and necessary connection between Christianity, moral virtue, and personal and national liberty. Today, the human rights emphasis often seems purposely vague. Without the Creator, rights are court-created. What the courts give, the courts can take away.

Starting with God (Gen. 1:1), the necessary presupposition for all predication, what is a right? A right is a legal immunity. For example, God had a legal right to the Tree of Knowledge, and no one could legally question it; therefore, He could impose His will (law) on His subjects. No jurisdiction could usurp His rightful claim to the property. As Creator and Owner of all things, no creature could keep Him from making His claim. In the same way, we have no “right to” another person’s life or property. The State, because it is not the source of rights, has no “right to” our life or property. A “responsibility to” implies an immunity from coercive interference. When God tells the Church that it has the “responsibility to preach the gospel,” the Church is immune from the jurisdiction of the State if the State makes laws prohibiting the Church from fulfilling its duties as prescribed by God: “We must obey God rather than men.”

Confusion over human rights as they relate to judicial pronouncements arises from moral and intellectual relativism. If it is assumed that no real absolute law exists, then it follows that an individual’s rights must be equally relative. The reason debate over what is right (what is ethical or moral) continues is that too often no one really understands what is right or believes that there can be transcendental rights. This means that there is no way to account for moral absolutes within the presupposition parameters of a godless worldview.

When a nation moves away from the absolutes of God’s law, we can expect an immediate substitute to fill the void. The “human rights” idea has become the alternative to biblical law that served as the foundation for a comprehensive worldview where rights had a transcendental character. The human rights theory that makes man its ultimate standard has sand as its foundation. T. Robert Ingram comments:

The distortion in human rights comes from assigning lawmaking power to men as men, rather than seeing it as that by which God rules all things consummately. The difference is total. Every truly lawful right becomes twisted and its source a mysterious, unknown and impossible “state of nature” in which there was no law, and were no laws. The former implies stability, righteousness and an unchanging nature; the latter speaks of nothing but change, indetermination and fickleness.[2]



The modern doctrine of human rights answers to no one but man. Man, therefore, cannot be held responsible to anyone greater than himself. Responsibility is denied because there is no one to whom responsibility must be shown. Where there is no responsibility there is no accountability. The prevailing “law” is that every man does what is right in his own eyes (Judges 17:6). Instead of working for justice (defined according to the specifics of God's Law), the disgruntled demand individual or class rights based upon their own conceptualized views of justice. The most powerful, those who speak the loudest and carry the most political clout, are the ones who gain the greatest number of rights, usually solely for themselves and at the expense of others. Human rights become a declaration of self-law. Responsibility and answerability are abandoned for self-declaration.

To be responsible means literally to be answerable. Since it is God who gives the law, it means we are answerable to Him for what we do ourselves and to our fellow men, to our neighbor. Responsibility is a religious, a theological idea. Without the God of Scripture, the idea of responsibility breaks down. When every man becomes his own god, then man is not responsible, because a god answers to no one and to nothing. All things answer to a god.[3]

If there are many gods (each man doing what is right in his own eyes), then there are many independent laws. Every individual is a law unto himself; therefore, he demands rights for himself or for the group of gods who join with him. Responsibility before the one true God is denied, and a struggle among the many contradictory claimants of “rights” becomes inevitable.

Endnotes:

[1] T. Robert Ingram, What's Wrong With Human Rights (Houston, TX: St. Thomas Press, 1978), 49.
[2]
Ingram, What's Wrong With Human Rights, 21–22.
[3]
Rousas J. Rushdoony, Law and Society (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1982), 350–351.

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