Friday, May 25, 2007

Human Rights, Human Responsibilities or Just the Gospel?

Coolant Kiss
Lunchtime on a weekday. We had our heads under the hood of my car, ties stuffed into shirt pockets, tooling around. My friend, who indulges his pretty little Bimmer 5-series far more patiently than his own long-suffering girlfriend was bemoaning the singular aloofness with which I had been treating my car. Where was the tender, loving care? Where was the radiator flush? Where was the engine oil check and coolant kiss? Oh, and let's not even talk about a regular wax job. Tsk. A higher class of car would have upped and left me a year ago.

Rights! He pleaded as he stroked the bonnet of my car sympathetically. Your car has rights!

And rights, of course, has been the watch-word of the last 2 decades.
Right to Free Speech?
Our recent gambol through 1 Corinthians 8 - 10 brought to mind my final year thesis which was to have been on human rights.

As is fashionable these days, I blame a surfeit of children's books of the knight-kills-dragon-and-saves-village variety for the proclivity for fighting for the underdog, whether in the classroom, playground and later, when there were global movements for these sorts of things, in starting environmental drives (earth as underdog!), protecting abandoned pets (dog as underdog!) and endangered species, petitioning for asylum seekers, preserving local businesses in the face of globalisation and Mardi Gras-ing for gay rights.

By the end of summer of my second year, there'd built up a tottering stack of material that would back my call for greater transnational legislation to prevent multinational corporations from abusing the human rights of inhabitants of developing countries. I'd helped out at human rights conferences where mealtimes were spent chatting with people from international aid and regulatory bodies, getting collectively angsty over stories of ill-treatment and injustice, and challenging very calm folk sent by certain oil conglomerates. I was also considering offers for internships in ILO and UN after graduation.

The body of the thesis was written by the first month of term. But upon commencing the introductory paragraph, I realised that
the thesis could not, in good conscience, be submitted: there was a gaping lack of convincing bases for the importance of human rights.

Years later, a final year student asked for help in using the Bible as the foundation for the right to rights. Having become Christian in the meanwhile, I found nothing in the Bible that gave any basis for agitating for one's own rights to be recognised.

Rights are essentially me-centred. We fight for them because they give us ammo to hold other people at gunpoint and demand to be treated nicely and be given the things we want. But the Bible is first and foremost God-centred. In the face of God, we no rights but to be given what we deserve: condemnation to eternal death for our rebellion against God.

What place then of Deuteronomic neighbourliness and matehood-ness of the Gospels?

These are about other-people-centredness; about one's obligations and responsibilities to act correctly to fellow human being, not about demanding to be treated properly; about other people and their needs, not idolising me and my needs; about Human Responsibilities, not Human Rights.

But Human Responsibilities aren't just for their own sake. They aren't about getting ants in the pants over every perceived injustice (of which there are an infinite number in this fallen world), nor do they form some measurement of holiness or godliness - how much more of our rights we have sacrificed for someone else or how much more mercy we strong ones have shown our weaker brothers.

They are a response to the gospel - we live like that only because we know God. Other-person-centred as they may be, Human Responsibilities are ultimately God-centred. They are how God designed us: to know God our Creator and to live in submission to him in his world and amongst his other creatures according to his laws.

And if Human Responsibilities are the result of knowing God, then they are also about knowing God's will for his world. They are a reaction to knowing that God's judgement for the rebelliousness of men is sure to come and that the only way to be saved is through trusting in Christ. So they are all about the gospel, telling people the good news that there is a way to escape the coming judgement. They are about how much God means to us. They're about how much saving another human means to us.

And we will do anything that will further God's kingdom, anything that will make us useful to his purposes, anything that will help our fellowmen: whether it means giving up things we appear to be entitled to, whether it means curbing our "freedom", whether it means being all things to all men, whether pleasant or unpleasant, convenient or inconvenient. We will do everything for the glory of God that will one day shine forth throughout the earth knowing that we will have to give an accounting before him for our time on earth.

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3 Comments:

At May 27, 2007 8:55 pm , Anonymous atari said...

you may be interested to know that a universal declaration of human RESPONSIBILITIES was proposed. but it never got off the ground. i guess this demonstrates the inherent selfishness of humans.

http://astro.temple.edu/~dialogue/Antho/unesco.htm

 
At May 29, 2007 11:45 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember you're passionate arguements for the Roe v. Wade abortion ruling in school. Does your Christian conversion mean you no longer believe that a woman has rights over her own body?

 
At June 10, 2007 10:53 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Get a life, and make it simple. No point using all these bombastic words, when end of the day, u're juz an empty shell. Juz someone who stumbles upon this, and need to point u in the right dirn. Most importantly, believe in yourself, not something that you have not seen, heard or smell b4.....

 

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