Or is it? Everyone seems to be claiming to have this or that right these days.
Lately, I have gotten into a few conversations and debates, having to do with so-called rights. Those who are familiar with my rants on topics political and social have heard me say that rights are not plucked from trees. Rights, true rights, ultimate rights, can only be dictated by our Creator. It is for His pleasure and purposes, that we exist, everything we are, everything we have, everything we do, is ultimately His do with as He pleases. Really, what this boils down to is that we have no rights, He owns us, end of story.
God is not a cruel slave owner though, He is a loving Father to those who will allow it, and a terror to those foolish enough to oppose One of such great power, and the only one who can define what is good. By definition, all who oppose God are evil. Consequently, since we all oppose God, we are all evil. Where are the rights here? He has the right to wipe us from His presence.
However, we know that He has chosen to give life, and He reserves the right to take it away. We have no right to interfere in that process, unless he grants it to us. Capital punishment comes to mind, so also might war. While there are many who would take issue with whether God has granted mankind any license whatsoever in the taking of human life, I am not here to have that debate.
In trying to recall verses about God granting rights specifically, only one came to mind:
12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 13 who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
I decided to look at the Greek underlying the word “right” in that passage:
exousia; (in the sense of ability); privilege, i.e. (subjectively) force, capacity, competency, freedom, or (objectively) mastery (concretely, magistrate, superhuman, potentate, token of control), delegated influence
From the way that definition from Strong’s reads, even this does not sound like what we consider rights to be. This kind of makes sense. If it is a right, we can take it. Our relationship however, is a gift, we were adopted, this is a bestowed privilege, more than it is a right.
Anyway, having these discussions about rights, and my repeated claim to the fruit pickers, that rights do not grow on trees, made me wonder myself about rights. Where do they come from, who has the authority to say, how do you know what is a right, and what is not?
While it is not hard for me to say to others claiming rights, that no such right exists, I have a harder time defining what rights do exist. It is easy to point to some law, and within the law, discover rights secured by that law. However, what about rights that are not obviously given to us by God, nor granted in any law, do they exist? If so, on what basis or on whose authority?
I have no idea. I am not willing to say that a right does not exist, if there is no law establishing that right, but I also cannot find it within myself to grant every right that people think they or others have. Often, when people state “it is my right”, I think what is going on is at some level, they think it should be their right, but fear that unless they claim it as a right, no one is going to automatically grant them the supposed right.
Claimed rights can be pretty silly. Some of these rights are claimed on behalf of others who have no voice. Some will say that chickens have a right to be treated decently. In fact, according to the law in my state, they do have that legal right. It is a crime, to have roosters have fights with each other. Now, this one I understand, but I cannot help but think there is a sort of irony in this. No one is making the roosters fight; they are only being allowed to do what they want to do, what their instincts tell them to do. Could t not be said then, that the roosters are having their rights interfered with, not protected, because the roosters are entering into personal combat by mutual consent? Boxers do this, and it sometimes results in death, unnecessary death. Why do we allow grown men to kill each other in the ring, while we generally believe that men have more value than roosters? Animals apparently have the right to be protected from themselves, while humans do not. Interesting!
Now, of course, one thing that will jump into the mind of many readers is that the roosters lack the clear thinking ability to make decisions regarding their own lives. Okay, I can accept that, they lack the rational ability to enter into contracts with such serious consequences. I would argue that the fact that two men will get into a ring together and pummel each other into unconsciousness, is evidence that they also lack the ability to think rationally.
Okay, enough with silly illustrations. Let us get into a real world example. Children.
We are protective of children. We assume that they cannot rationally make all of their own decisions. Let a child choose between chocolate and broccoli for dinner, and you will see what I mean (not that adults would necessarily choose well either).They cannot enter legally binding contracts; they cannot make decisions about other areas of live that they are not mature enough to decide on. I should not have to get too specific here. If you are an adult, you can figure some of these things out. We also recognize that children do not have a powerful political voice, so, are at the mercy of the adults in the society around them. Some of these adults, make poor choices themselves, and are not suited to make decisions regarding the welfare of children. I should not have to offer evidence or examples of that for they are plentiful and obvious. So, out of the recognition for a need to have a way to insure that the rights of children are protected, comes the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Now in my country, few people have even heard of this. I am not sure, but perhaps it is not well known in other countries either. For those interested in a long read, you can read the text of it here:
Now, I will be the first to admit that I do not know all that I should about how international law/treaties work, but my understanding is that all nations which have ratified the UNCRC, have obligated themselves to submit to the terms laid out in that treaty. This treaty has been in force, since late 1990. Unless you live in Somalia or the United States of America, this treaty is probably the law of your land. Somalia is planning to ratify the treaty. Elements within the current administration in the United States and in Legislative Branch of the U.S. are preparing to try to shove ratification through there as well. One might well ask, “Why would a country resist ratifying a treaty to protect the rights of children?”
Let me remind the reader, that this is what I am trying to reason out for myself here: “Where do rights come from”?
In this treaty, we have an attempt to recognize and agree upon, a universally accepted set of rights that children have. This seems like a lofty goal. Now, I would like to point out, just how dedicated to children’s rights, this U.N treaty is. There is a protocol in the treaty, which is optional. Basically, it says that children (under 18) cannot be conscripted into military service. It also requires that those children who volunteer for service, shall not be directly involved in direct hostilities. There is no age limitation on how young a child volunteer can be. As I read it, it looks as though a 5 year old can volunteer for military service under this protocol. Remember, this protocol is optional, meaning that the nations that ratified the UNCRC, are not obligated to obey this optional protocol unless they also separately, ratify it. In other worlds, this treaty allows nations who have not adopted the optional protocol, to force children into the military and make them be soldiers in combat if such nations see fit. So much for protecting the rights of children – oh, I guess that means that the U.N. had decided that children do not have a right not to be forced to be soldiers. O.K. I am beginning to see where rights come from, they come from the U.N. So, if a child complains that it is their right to try to have a happy and peaceful childhood, the U.N. say no, that is an option, not a right. I might mention another optional protocol. Article 1 of this second optional protocol declares Article 1 of the protocol declares that states must protect the rights and interests of child victims of trafficking, child prostitution and child pornography, child labor and especially the worst forms of child labor. So here again, this is an option, and Nations that do not choose the option are not obligated to obey they option. Once again, we have the U.N. pointing out, that children have no implicit right not to be sold, or to not be prostitutes, or not to participate in child pornography. I feel very comforted knowing that the U.N. is there to tell us that children only have these rights as an option, up to their country’s leaders to decide.
Now, I have mentioned these optional protocols, to demonstrate that the U.N. proves itself incapable of figuring out what rights should be. My country, the United States, is preparing to join the other countries that have already ratified the U.N. Treaty; I certainly hope that it does not. I do believe that children have rights, but I do not think the U.N. is the source of rights, nor am I confident that is it right place to hope to find rights.
I make no secret of the fact, that I distrust governments. The bigger the government, the more I distrust it. I am not an anarchist, I just believe that smaller governments are better, and local governments are superior to broader governments.
The smallest, most local human government is the individual. Children are individuals. However, clearly children lack the wisdom, knowledge or power to manage their own lives. The next largest small, local government is the family, specifically the parents. In my opinion, the family is God’s design and the raising of children, providing for them and protecting them, is a role given to parents by God. If it is given by God, does not that mean that it is a right, if anything can said to be a right?
While I distrust governments, I also recognize that God raises up authorities and wants us to obey the authorities as long as they do not usurp His position or try to overrule His commands.
To me then, rights, true rights, come from God. If the rearing of children is placed into my control, then I assume that it is parents, more than children, who need to have their rights protected.
Are we to trust that an international body, which thinks that keeping children from prostitution is an option, is the governing body that should decide what parents can and cannot do? I would rather have my own government, maintain it’s sovereignty, because so far, it has demonstrated itself to be morally superior to the U.N., but more to the point, I do not want distant, unrelated people, who have no personal interest in my children, deciding what is best for the family God has charged me with managing.
Now this is where it gets tough. Parents sometimes abuse their children, parent sometimes are drug addicts, or violent, etc, etc. Do I believe that the God given right of parents is absolute? No, I do not. Now, how can I say this?
It is God that grants human life and God who sustains it, and it is God’s right, to take back the life He has given, as he sees fit. Life is a basic human right, if there is one. It is God given. However, God has also dictated terms in which men can deprive other men of life. One only need read the Old Testament to discover many of these. I am not saying that every excuse for removing life found in the Old Testament should be exercised, that is not what I am addressing. What I am saying is, that God has shown us, that there are times, when it is proper for men, to deprive other men of rights that He has given.
I see parenthood in this light. Since He has charged us with taking care of and loving our families, it is our job first, as parents, to raise our children, and to make decisions about their welfare, according to the principles he has given us. When a parent is beating a child (beating, not spanking), or not providing for the child’s well being, or in some other way demonstrating that he or she is unwilling or incapable of providing and raising a child, then it is time to recognize that the parent has surrender parental rights, by quitting the job of being a parent. This is not different that giving a child up for adoption, rights are not ultimate or unlimited, they are dependent on responsibility.
As I said, this is where it gets difficult. Who gets to decide, and on what basis, when a parent has relinquished their right as a parent, through irresponsibility or lack of ability? This is dangerous ground. In my country, children have been removed from their parents because of the parent’s decision to educate their children themselves (a role assigned to them by God, by the way), rather than subject their children to the indoctrination of the public school system.*
I do not have the answers. I am writing this with no plan in mind, just exploring ideas about “rights” as they pop into my head. Every time I try to come up with some hard rule about who has what rights and what is a right and what is not, I can think up a situation where there is a large potential problem.
One day, not of this will matter. One day, we will either be with the Lord under His rule and yet as a co-heir, or we will be in a place where we do not have any rights whatsoever, except the right to a continual existence that we cannot enjoy. In this life, we do have the one right, to choose to live in eternity in bliss, or in pain, it is a tremendous opportunity.
For now though, we have to muddle our way through the complexities of a fallen and cursed world, imperfect humans and situations, and try to figure out it means to have rights, where they come from, what they are, when they can be removed, and whether they are flexible or inflexible, timeless or temporary, universal or regional etc.
I would be interested in hearing your thoughts, if you are up to the challenge, since I clearly do not have the answers. All I know, is that for now, I need to try to obey God and let everything else, take it’s course.
Once again, if you managed to make your way all the way through this (only to find no light in the darkness), thank you for your patience. May the Lord’s peace be with you.
* As a side note, you can read about a few cases where children have been removed from families for stupid reasons at this website, as well as find out more information about the possible implications of the UNCRC and what you can do to resists it’s implementation in the United States.