Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Are we wrong on rights?

At Christianity Today online, Ted Olsen examines the problems Westerners have in looking at the world through the lens of rights. A rights-centered approach to life, Olsen notes, can be at odds with a Christian approach:

The language of rights is the language of power. Thus we are tempted to claim individual rights for selfish purposes and to forget our obligations. It's disheartening to see that the majority of Christian political rhetoric is about guaranteeing our "rights" as Christians: the right to hire who we want, the right to pray where we want, the right to preach what we want, the right to sell (or not to sell) what we want.

Olsen makes another good point:

Biblical freedom is not the "rights" of American autonomy. Paul was rarely shy about listing off his many rights—as a Roman citizen, as a Christian, as an apostle—but he recognized that invoking them can hurt, especially when they lend themselves to selfishness. Paul was entitled to funds from the church in Corinth, but noted, "We have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. … Though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all."

This is the kind of "Christian right" that needs much more attention.

Amen. I personally think, however, that Olsen may give a little too much weight to the value of human rights in a Christian worldview. For a powerful explanation of how the culture of rights-based morality arose, and its relationship to a Christian worldview, see Alisdair MacIntyre's After Virtue.


Blogger John said...

Great post Milton, linked to it at Scotwise!

5:19 PM, April 20, 2005  
Blogger Milton Stanley said...

Thanks, John. I enjoyed your roundup--found several good posts there. Peace.

9:18 PM, April 20, 2005  
Blogger Dan Edelen said...

Dead men have no rights. When we died at the cross, we gave up all our rights.

I once debated this point with Arthur Holmes of Wheaton College saying that as God is in charge of my life totally after my death at the cross, I have no right even to my next breath. If He is truly ordering my days, then God alone has rights and I have surrendered all mine to Him.

As the Bible says, the clay pot cannot say to its Creator, "What are you doing?"

12:44 AM, April 21, 2005  
Blogger Milton Stanley said...

Yes, that's right (about rights). Also, if I read MacIntyre correctly, he says that Western ethics were grounded on the will of God (as best we could discern it) from Aristotle to the Enlightenment. At that time, thinkers tried to develop an emperical ethics without depending on God's revealed will. What, then could they use? Human rights. Thus lying and murder and stealing were wrong not because they are disobedience to God, but because they violate someone's rights. The list of behaviors are very similar on each foundation, but here several hundred years out we're reaping the harvet of rights-based lives.

6:36 AM, April 21, 2005  

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