I find it interesting that every human being on the planet has a sense of right and wrong, and that what makes up that sense of right and wrong is virtually universal. From the deepest, darkest, metropolitan jungle, to the deepest, darkest, meso-american jungle, everyone has a built-in sense that things like murder, stealing, and lying are not good, not right, not appropriate behaviors, and need to be corrected. It isn’t a learned thing, it’s a pre-programmed thing. Obviously people get to a point where they choose to ignore this and do indeed murder, steal, and lie. Yet it’s still considered “wrong.”
Somewhere in all of this, things get a muddied up and we lose clarity. While there are some things that we all agree on and make into the law of the land, there are many other areas that seem to change over time. Not only do things change within a given culture, one culture will have a set of morals that directly conflict with another culture. This is usually where wars begin. In order to give these views more weight and urgency, we come up with a term like “human rights” and use that as the basis for instigating change. Sometime that change is done via swaying popular opinion, sometimes it’s done with tanks, planes, and soldiers.
In all of this, I have not heard this question answered or even discussed; where do human rights come from?
When the 2008 Summer Olympic Games were held in China, there was an uproar amongst those who have taken it upon themselves to fight for human rights. China has some horrible policies to be sure. The one-child limit, working conditions for children and adults alike, some basic freedoms of speech and religion, etc. Yet who is to say what they are doing is wrong? And what is the basis, the authority for them saying so?
The country of Saudi Arabia (among others) is governed by Islamic Sharia law. This system of law determines how women can and cannot be treated by men. It’s pretty messed up if you ask me (but who am I to judge?). Our government, along with other human rights organizations, voice their opinions regarding how women are treated in these countries in the name of human rights. Yet who is to say what they are doing is wrong? And what is the basis, the authority for them saying so?
In our own country, human rights and civil rights/liberties are always a hot topic. Homosexual marriage, illegal immigration, racism, the list goes on. Homosexuality and the legal recognition of a marriage/civil union is being fought for on a state-by-state and national level. Some say it is right. Some say it is wrong. Yet who is to say what they are doing is wrong? And what is the basis, the authority for them saying so?
Where Human Rights Cannot Come From
Popular Opinion – The problem with popular opinion is that it is constantly changing. For one generation, a particular behavior will be right, and for the next it will be wrong. But which is/was it? Is right and wrong determined by the majority? Is that absolute for all in that culture? Is that absolute for all of humanity or just for that culture? What if one culture sees an issue one way, and the nation next door sees it another? Does one have the right to correct or criticize the other?
Feelings – Let’s take the topic of sexual behavior. Who/What is it right to have sex with, or not? Is it based on love? Is it based on lust? Is it based on genetics? I know this example will freak people out, but that’s the point. 50 years ago, the idea of homosexuality being a legally protected lifestyle with full marital rights on the way would have been unthinkable. “That will never happen because it’s just wrong,” people would have thought. Yet today it’s a reality. Today, something that is thought of as equally wrong and unthinkable are these men who believe that they love young boys and it’s perfectly alright and even natural to have intimate and sexual relationships with them. Unthinkable (again, who am I to judge?). But what if 50 years from now our nation is fighting for their rights? What if it became “hate speech” to speak out against that? Why is one behavior considered perfectly acceptable today when it wasn’t 50 years ago, and the other behavior is today considered perfectly repulsive and “wrong”? What is the basis for this distinction? Is it feelings? Is it majority opinion?
Do you see the overall point? The point isn’t about how China treats its citizens, it isn’t about how the Saudi’s treat their women, and it isn’t about homosexuality vs. pedophilia. The point is, where do human rights come from? Or put another way, where does truth come from? What is the basis for morality? Not legality, morality.
If we decide, if it’s just feelings, or even if it’s popular opinion, then morality is at best transient, at worst an illusion. There is no such thing as morality if we get to decide what is right and wrong, moral and immoral. Why? Because what can be considered right one generation can be determined to be wrong the next, and visa versa. The majority can be forced to endure the behavior of a minority when it doesn’t agree with it. Truth, morality, absolutes, cannot come from within the community because the community changes, and that is contrary to the idea of an absolute. Even the statement, “There is no absolute truth.” is a statement of absolute truth.
If not from us, where can it come from? Where does it have to come from? The only other choice is from someone or something outside of the community, above the community. Put plainly, God. Even the founding fathers of the United States of America recognized this in the Declaration of Independence, that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain rights. Specifically, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. “But if that’s the case, that means we can determine for ourselves what our lives should be like, what makes us happy.” No, it doesn’t. The One who endowed us with these rights has also endowed us with the guidelines in which these things are to be pursued. Anything outside of these guidelines is a violation of our rights that we commit against ourselves.
No, human rights cannot be determined by humans because humans change, whereas God does not change. What is right, what is correct, what is proper, what is acceptable, what please God, what enables us to have pleasant and productive lives, has been given to us in God’s word. It is our Bill of Rights. If everyone just lived according to God’s best, life would be so much easier and more pleasant. But that’s for another time.
If you haven’t thought about this in these terms, I challenge you to wrestle with it for a while. Where does truth come from? Where must it come from?