The Irony of Human Rights in a Secular Age

human_rightsThe rise of the emphasis on human rights along with the rise of secularism in the West has always been interesting to me. The growth of secularization has lead to the growth of marginalization of religious rights. Our society as a whole is increasingly caring less about any sort of religious (largely Christian in America) morality, but is more vocal than ever about the idea of human rights.

In their book City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner write,

“The idea of human rights is in crisis. ‘If, as I suspect,’ says Michael Perry, ‘there exists no plausible nonreligious ground for the morality of human rights, then the growing marginalization of religious belief in…many liberal democracies…may leave those societies bereft of the intellectual resources to sustain the morality of human rights.'”

The quotation above the entrance to the Holocaust museum in Washington D.C. reads, “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.” Gerson and Wehner reflect on this saying,

“The Declaration of Independence  was accorded this place of prominence because it is, for all time, the negation of Nazism, the check on willful, lawless power, the definition of an idealism that makes us human.

The Declaration would make little sense without the word ‘Creator’: the God who both grants our rights and calls us to protect the rights of others.”

And so the irony of “human rights” without a God should be quite “self-evident.” Unfortunately logic and reason, which are things typically argued that anyone who believes in God does not have, is shown to be so sadly lacking in our society today.

Who gives humans rights to begin with? Why is it that all humans are equal? If we are created in the image of God, and if he cares for us and loves us, human rights make sense. We are all equal before that God.

If, on the other hand, there is no God, then there are no basic human rights. The strong are better than the weak, and equality is not something any of us can argue is an absolute right.

I am thankful for a God who through Christ loves us all equally, and gives us the opportunity to enter into a relationship with him. The “god” of human rights is not secularism, but God himself.

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2 thoughts on “The Irony of Human Rights in a Secular Age

  1. I have a hard time believing someone with a masters has never encountered a viable secular argument to be ethical. I suspect that you’re being disingenuous. If you are completely sincere o. Your belief that caring for others can only be argued for from religion, I encourage you to take some time and actively seek authors arguing other wise. I recommend starting with some Peter Singer.

    • You are correct in assuming I have heard a good deal of secular arguments for human rights. None of these are ultimately “viable” however. To say there is no God, and that macro-evolution is how we got here (which is the only way if God doesn’t exist), means that at the end of the day the strong eat the weak and the fittest survive.

      No matter how hard one may try to spin this, if this is the case, who are you or anyone else to say all humans have rights? On what authority can you make this claim?