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Can the concepts of Human Rights and Equality provide a basis for moral decision making?. Respect for individual human dignity has its roots in Judeo-Christian Scriptures. Cut off from these Scriptures, it is in danger of taking on a life of its own leading to: Moral confusion .
provide a basis for moral decision making?
Our moral awareness that some things are ‘right’ and other things are ‘wrong’ comes from a Real Goodness that is above and beyond us - pressing upon us.
Human life is intrinsically valuable because God, our Father, greatly values it.
Even if we don’t recognise it at first, the light of the Spirit and Word of God (the source of creation, beauty and goodness), shines through all creation, impinging upon us all. So we recognise righteousness and evil for what they are.
Goodness is the character of God shown, not primarily in a list of rules, but in His deeply personal dealings with us.
In our yet imperfect world God knows we still need laws so, by his grace, he gives them to us. (Ten Commandments etc).
Laws of the State as far as possible are in harmony with that goodness and Law of God
State legislation gives certain rights in certain contexts.
E.g. the ‘right’ of way at a crossroads.
But such a ‘right’ - not a fundamental human right.
The Concept of Human Rights replaces God.
Government legislation is always subject to European Court of ‘Human Rights’.
As in a religion people are reluctant to challenge a new ‘god’.
Where there is conflict between this Court and Government legislation - ‘Human Rights’ has the final say.Governments and the Source of Justice - Traditional & New.
provide this alternative source of a society’s ethics and government legislation?
Thomas Jefferson (3rd President of USA) asserted that his countrymen were a:
"free people claiming their rights as derived fromthe laws of natureand not as the gift of their Chief Magistrate,”
This gave poetic eloquence to the plain prose of the 17th century in the Declaration of Independence proclaimed by the 13 American Colonies on July 4, 1776:
"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."
If ‘wants’ are ‘rights’, then the wants of the strong prevail over the wants of the weak.
Whereas the political right believes we should make up our own minds and therefore be governed by our wants the political left desires to provide for our needs.
Difficulties immediately appear:
So the politically powerful decide our needs in a moral vacuum without an objective moral constraint.
Phil 2:3-11 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name …
Now for some quotations to consider:
John Witte Jnr is Director, Center for the Interdisciplinary Study of Religion at Emory University (2000- )
The modern cultivation of human rights ... began in earnest in the 1940's when both Christianity and the Enlightenment seemed incapable of delivering on their promises. ... there was no second coming of Christ promised by Christians, no heavenly city of reason promised by enlightened libertarians, no withering away of the state promised by enlightened socialists. Instead, there was world war, gulags, and the Holocaust - a vile and evil fascism and irrationalism to which Christianity and the Enlightenment seemed to have no cogent response or effective deterrent.
Oliver O'Donovan is Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology, Oxford
'What effect does this … have upon the conception of justice? It dissolves its unity and coherence by replacing it with a plurality of 'rights'. The language of subjective rights (i.e. rights which adhere to a particular subject) has, of course, a perfectly appropriate and necessary place within a discourse founded on law… What is distinctive about the modern conception of rights, however, is that subjective rights are taken to be original, not derived. The fundamental reality is a plurality of competing, unreconciled rights, and the task of law is to harmonise them… The right is a primitive endowment of power with which the subject first engages in society, not an enhancement which accrues to the subject from an ordered and politically formed society.'
The Judge was Jeremy Cooke at the Sept 2002 Oxford Conference on Human Rights.
Summary of a Christian Judge’s view*:
…the culture of bureaucratic individualism results in ... political debates being between individualism which makes its claims in terms of rights and forms of bureaucratic organisation which make their claims in terms of utility. But if the concept of rights and that of utility are a matching pair of incommensurable fictions, it will be the case that the moral idiom employed can at best provide a semblance of rationality for the modern political process, but not its reality. The mock rationality of the debate conceals the arbitrariness of the will and power at work in its resolution.
Alister MacIntyre, After Virtue
Is this kind of consensus possible? Perhaps because of my optimistic nature, I believe that it is. But we have to confess at the outset that it is not entirely clear around what the consensus would form, and we are only beginning to discern the obstacles we would have to overcome on the way there.
Charles Taylor, Conditions of an Unforced Consensus on Human Rights