On what do we base our belief in human rights?

In my article on vaccine passports, I argued that I was unconvinced by the argument that vaccine passports would be a major breach of human rights. I thought therefore that it might be worth leaning a little further into that and get us thinking more about the question of human rights.

A good few years ago I remember Dan Strange arguing in lectures at Oak Hill that when we seek to challenge and question issues in public life, we should use a thick rather than a thin apologetic. What he meant by that was that when we speak up on an issue it’s tempting to seek a common foundation for our complaint with co-belligerents. For example, Christians are concerned about proposals to restrict free speech and to prosecute people for hate crimes if they cause offence.

Christians are concerned that this will restrict their freedom to preach the Gospel and to talk about the uniqueness of Christ and the rightness of Biblical ethics.  Meanwhile comedians want to be able to tell jokes and poke fun at Muslims and Christians as well as a whole host of other people. It seems that we share a common goal but in fact our motives are different, and a closure look shows that our true rationale is different. Our concern isn’t about free speech and our right to say whatever we like. Our concern is that God’s Word is true, truth should be spoken, and God cannot be silenced. Dan’s point was that we shouldn’t hide from making that point because it is part of our witness. Of course, we can point out that proposed legislation such as the conversion therapy ban goes against the presuppositions and reasoning of our liberal secular society making it self-contradictory, but we want to say more than that.  The conversion therapy ban is intended to prevent people from letting God speak to them, challenge them, convict them, change them.

If we go to modern documents to find the foundation for what we believe about human dignity, rights and responsibilities then we’ll find those foundations quite shaky and unsound.  For example ,many people look to the US Constitution and Declaration of Independence for such a foundation.  After all the Declaration starts with these words

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Yet the US state and constitution were not founded upon equality for all but allowed for slave ownership, segregation, and racism.

As Christians we have a better foundation, the Bible. Of course, the problem there is that whilst it may say all sorts of things that people like, it also includes things they don’t want to hear.  But let’s start with the positives.

It is from Scripture that we discover that we have dignity and value. We were made in God’s image and blessed by him. We have purpose, to fill and subdue the creation and we have dignity (Genesis 1:26-29). This applies regardless of gender, ethnicity, or age (older generations are worthy of respect and our life is in God’s hands not just from “life’s first breath” but from conception. It’s on this basis that the right to life exists. When God makes a covenant with Noah in Genesis 9, he forbids murder.  Whilst animals are available for food, killing another man is punishable. 

These truths are renewed and restored in the Gospel so that:

“You are all children of God, through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  Galatians 3:26-28

God places immense value on his. He is the one who loves us so much that he sent his son for us (John 3:16). He treasures us and gives us to the Son who promises that he will not lose us from his band.

However, Scripture doesn’t present our autonomy as an absolute. Husbands and wives submit their bodies mutually to one another, Cain is his brother’s keeper, the OT law encourages familial and tribal relationships, Christians do not have bodily autonomy but are connected as part of the body (See 1 Corinthians 12). In fact, it is Adam and Eve’s craving for autonomy that leads to trouble in Eden.

Rather than prioritising our own rights and protection of self through bodily autonomy (1 Corinthians 7:3-4), Scripture’s emphasis is on our responsibility to one another. There’s a negative responsibility not to harm or to hurt. At the same time there’s a positive concern to protect and care. I am to prefer the needs of others over mine (See Romans 13-14).

These foundations do have implications for some of the big ethical decisions we face now including discussions around COVID laws such as vaccine mandates, lockdowns and immunity passports. Watch out for future posts when I’ll be picking up on some of these things.

%d bloggers like this: