Human Rights and Responsibilities

by Feb 26, 2015Culture, Theology3 comments

I thought this was really insightful:

The latter—the teaching of natural law and natural rights—is the view from the American founding. We may take our bearings from the first paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, which speaks of “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.” In its second and most famous paragraph, the Declaration says human beings are “endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights.” What can the men who wrote and signed this document have meant by this?

A right that is unalienable is one that cannot be alienated—that is, it can be neither taken away nor given away, neither stolen nor surrendered. But I can of course give away all I own. So this must mean that our unalienable rights are not really ours, all the way down, as it were. We do not own them. We do not really own ourselves. And when we consider where these rights come from, in the Declaration’s account, this is not so surprising. We are “endowed by [our] Creator” with them. He gave them to us in such a way that they are part of us, and we cannot part with them. The source of our rights is something—or rather, Someone—to which, not for which, we are responsible.


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  1. Don Johnson

    Not to be more curmudgeonly than usual, but on “unalienable rights”, just how unalienable are they if they are so often alienated?

    I’ve always been curious about this concept, coming from a different political system and worldview.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  2. Mark Ward

    I’m not actually praising the American political system in this post. Actually, Thomas Jefferson was trying to domesticate God by using Him to prop up the system. He wasn’t willing to confess faith in Christ, so what kind of “Creator” can he be speaking of?

    However, I would think you and I do share the same worldview here, Don (if that’s what you were denying—or were you denying you share a worldview with Jefferson?). You and I confess that our basic rights and responsibilities inhere in us by virtue of God’s image in us, something that can’t be removed.

  3. Don Johnson

    Maybe worldview is the wrong word.

    But the Declaration says, “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.”

    You quotation above says this: “A right that is unalienable is one that cannot be alienated—that is, it can be neither taken away nor given away, neither stolen nor surrendered.”

    Life can be taken away, liberty can be taken away, and pursuit of happiness – easily obliterated. I guess something is a right that can only be taken away unjustly? Perhaps my quibble is with the quote and not so much with the idea of rights, although I am definitely not sure about the right to a pursuit of happiness.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3