I have been having a discussion with a Christia friend that started with his critique of my Birth Pangs fantasy/action adventure book series. We started out talking about human rights in general but more recently we have focused on the question of abortion. The gist of our debate is that I contend that there are ‘inalienable’ ‘rights’ and he doesn’t think so. Both of us agree (I think) that apart from a theistic outlook, the question of ‘rights’ is nonsensical. I wish to expand on that aspect due to its relevance to this blog.
That humans have intrinsic rights appears to be self-evident. Even countries that trample on human rights attempt to defend their conduct. The central issue concerns the basis of those rights. Here we have only two choices: humans themselves provide the basis for human rights or something other than humans does. It is really that simple.
Atheists and secular humanists quite obviously argue that we humans are all alone and that humans themselves determine their worth, their value, their ‘intrinsic’ dignity. The problems with this ought to be self-evident but atheists are crafty folks. History reveals clearly that humans can change their minds about the ‘worth,’ ‘value,’ and ‘rights’ of humans (usually other humans). For example, the Nazis depersonalized the Jews with consequences I need not expand on. Atheistic communist regimes depersonalized dissidents and capitalists with consequences I need not expand on. The atheistic apologetic on the point is that actually this goes to show the dangers of ‘religion.’ For, you see, anyone who ever does anything nasty, no matter what their ideology, is, by definition, acting religiously. In this way, atheists can always keep their hands clean.
However, it misses the point. The fundamental point has to do with our basis for decrying what the Nazis and communists did. If humans themselves are the sole and final arbiters for determining and dictating human value then no one can complain about what humans decide. Oh sure, the do complain. But in doing so they betray the inconsistency of their position.
The best one can hope for on the view that humans are the sole arbiter is attempt to negotiate a social contract where at least everyone will pretend that there are rights that no other humans should abridge.
In other words, if humans are the final arbiters on human rights then human ‘rights’ are mere fiction.
Some people are comfortable with that, although even then they betray the truth by being annoyed when someone tramples their fictional ‘rights.’ Few examples are better than the issue of abortion. The so-called right for a woman to choose is born of, and flourishes within, a secular humanistic mindset. But there are no intrinsic rights within a secular humanistic mindset. This ‘right to choose’ is no more than a vacuous wisp on atheistic grounds.
This is illustrated quite nicely by the fact that the net outcome- millions of aborted children- is mirrored in a society that does not have such Western notions about individual rights, I mean of course China. When push comes to shove, on a non-theistic framework, you only have as much ‘rights’ as those in power over you want you to have. If they want to come in in the middle of the night and shuttle you off for a forced abortion ‘for the good of society’ then of course they can, and who can really judge them? They are just humans in the business of arbiting human value. A secular humanist United States could do the same thing if they wanted and who could judge them?
The only escape here is to act as though humans are not the final arbiters of human value, and if you’re going to act or pretend that way, you might as well consider the possibility that it is true, too. Thus, if by introspection you recognize that it is absurd to behave as though human value resides within the individual or collective, and it really seems as though ‘rights’ really are self-evident, you might have in your possession the glimmer of an argument for the existence of God.
Granted, I have leapt to some conclusions about what other things might determine value apart from humans themselves but I think it is warranted given the fact that nearly everyone agrees that if there is something else imparting value, the most likely candidate is God.
In fact, hopping over a few more links in the chain, I would contend that apart from the existence of God, there is no such thing as ‘rights’ at all. In my mind, a fictional or societal convention of ‘rights’ is no ‘right’ at all, and certainly not inalieanable. For that you need something other and higher.
In the beginning, it was contended that we have these rights inalienable because we were all made by God. Today the attempt is to try to keep those rights inalienable without that embarrasing ‘God’ thing. But it was the embarrasing ‘God’ thing that made those rights inalienable in the first place… the consequences of this surgical divorce between God and rights are being felt today, are active in other countries of this world, and may yet be felt in all its severity in the good ol’ U S of A… at any time.
P.S. Sorry, Rand Objectivists: this all applies to you, as well. But nice try.
To counter my previously mentioned friend’s predicted objection: But isn’t abortion on demand, homosexual marriage, etc, all evidence of what happens when individualistic sacrosanct human rights are given full sway? Isn’t this the natural outcome? Not at all. These realities represent individualism detached from their source. As such, they are merely one manifestation of humans determining human value, and though different perhaps in manifestation, no different than the collectivism witnessed in history and in modern day places like Cuba and China.