Grounding Human Rights: A Christian Model.

Torture has been in the news recently, and I have seen many Christian’s come to the defense of the CIA and America. It is very troubling to me, given the teachings of Christ about how we are to treat our enemies and those who persecute us. I’m not going to spend my time on that issue, I was just pondering some thoughts on the grounds for human rights. I don’t have a complete, full blown philosophical model, but I have a rough sketch of it.

Some preliminary thoughts;

There are such things as human rights, regardless of a good account and basis for it. A secular grounding is difficult, and problematic in many ways, both ontologically and epistemologically. It seems much more plausible under a theistic worldview, and more explicitly a Christian worldview, that human rights can be ontologically grounded, and epistemologically known. The golden rule is a good starting point for a general grounding, not just theistic but also a secular grounding could use something like the golden rule. Even though ontologically, it would still reduce itself to cultural relativism, and personal subjectivism, do to the fact of the Enlightenment base assumptions of knowledge and ethics.

A rough sketch of the model:

I believe a Christian Metaphysic can be a far richer model for a grounding of human rights.

Before moving forward, lets define exactly what we mean by “human rights” and what that all entails. In the current political climate, the idea of “rights” seem to be messy and not narrowly defined. At least on the surface, most people equate their rights from the state. Whether that be the starting point, or what the state is supposed to provide and defend, is another task for a different time. I am not looking to any of those things to define what a “right” actually entails. To define what I entail rights are, I’ll borrow a definition from Nicholas Wolterstorff “I mean by a human right, rights as human beings have, just, qua, just as human beings. Not as human beings that can function as persons.” This is what I mean by “rights”. From here we can begin to build an ontology of human rights, and from there account for them epistemologically.

Our sole starting point would be in the revelation of God through Christ (Col 1:15), in which we have true knowledge of God (Eph 1:17, 2 Pet 3:18), and Christ who shares in our humanity (Heb 4:15). The Lord declares in the Scriptures we are made in His image (Gen 1:26), however we want to define what exactly that means to have the “image of God” is another matter. For my purposes I would ascribe a basic tenant of God’s image in us as our relation to God as His special creation, and also as it relates to the Trinity. Not just His general creation like the universe, angels or animals, but something unique within His grand work. The devastating effects of sin are apparent throughout creation, and within human beings. Whether it be mental illness, physical aliments, cancer etc. It’s effects are known universally, whether explicitly or implicitly.

This is where the secular groundings have a hard time making distinctions, and how it can fall into subjectivism and cultural relativism. We cannot account for our basic rights in how well we function as persons, considering new born babies have no real way of producing anything to contribute to society.

How we know and account for these basic rights are a separate issue. Under our model, our starting point is always our revelation of God through Christ, and as such we can gain true knowledge to why certain things like murder, rape and theft are wrong. God has revealed Himself in the person of Christ, and He poured out the Spirit of Truth to His beloved and we are able to participate in communion with the Trinity to discern the truths of God as they are revealed to us in the Scriptures. This is our foundation, and epistemological account.

More work is needed to be done, but this is a decent starting point.

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