Recently Christian Talour, of Christianity and Race (one of the few actually good Christian blogs) did a fascinating podcast on whether or not the concept of Lockean rights was irrelevant, and in need of being discarded.
Mr. Talour came out strongly against the idea of rights, and instead proposed a Christian ethic of public obligations to replace the failed ‘rights’ philosophy, which has been so easily co-opted by Leftists.
While I agree with much of what Mr. Talour said, I am not entirely ready to dispense with the idea of Jeffersonian rights altogether. If we are interested in creating a moral, Christian society, it is true that these rights – of life, liberty, and property/pursuit of happiness – are not explicitly mentioned in Scripture. However, I believe their general existence can be surmised as following, but only under the auspices of a Christian worldview:
Life. If God is our Father and the Creator of all that exists; if we are created in His image; if He loves us, and has created us to love Him, then I believe a right to life is self-evident. Indeed, without this ethic, Christians’ opposition to crimes such as murder and abortion falls apart.
One can forfeit one’s right to life, however, by committing a crime worthy of the death penalty. The Canaanites were destroyed because the fullness of their wickedness had been reached. Jesus’ death on the Cross was so unjust because He had done nothing to forfeit His life (though, of course, he willingly forfeit it for the salvation of the world).
Liberty. The Bible never condemns slavery. Nor, interestingly, does Locke. Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, never freed his slaves. So what does this word in context mean?
Although I have not read John Locke, the liberty he refers to likely means liberty from tyranny. Locke et. al. did not consider slavery to be a tyrannical institution. Though God permits slavery, and is an authoritarian King, he stands against tyranny. Slave owners could be punished for abusing their slaves. God warned the Children of Israel that if they chose a king to rule them, the king would often rule in a tyrannical fashion.
Property. It is true that all we own is a gift from God, and we are to be grateful and content, not greedy and selfish, with our possessions. Nonetheless, if we are granted a gift, we have an intrinsic right to said gift.
The Commandment, “Thou shalt not steal,” indicates the importance of private property. Numerous laws in the Old Testament deal with ownership and property, and while God often issues stern warnings to the rich, he never condemns them for being wealthy per se.
It is also telling that a defining characteristic of all anti-theist socialist movements throughout history is bizarre hatred of private property.
Pursuit of happiness. I much prefer Locke’s ‘property’ vs. Jefferson’s ‘pursuit of happiness,’ as the latter concept can be easily distorted to support any form of hedonism.
Nevertheless, what Jefferson likely meant was that man has a right to choose his own destiny: he has free will. The State should allow the people as individuals to choose their own paths, so long as they obey both the laws of the State and the dictates of society.
What about our other rights though – those enumerated in the Bill of Rights? Do we have sacred rights to freedom of speech, the bearing of arms, a jury trial? I will attempt to provide an answer this question in the Part 2 of this series.
Photo from Wikipedia.org