Where do human rights come from?
Are these five alleged “human rights” actually right?
- LGBT justice
- Reproductive justice
- Distributive justice
- Racial justice
- Social justice
It depends on how you define them. But back to that in a moment. Before we do this, consider three parallel contrasts:
First, it is wholesome for kids to play in a secure treehouse. But it is foolish to cut a tall tree branch that you are sitting on when the saw is between you and the tree’s trunk.
Second, it is responsible for a carpenter to pay for a truck so that he can better fulfill his vocation. But it is reckless and immoral for a thief to steal that carpenter’s truck to take it on a high-speed joy ride through a neighborhood.
Third and similarly, it is wholesome and responsible to defend human rights. But it is foolish to defend human rights without the foundation that human rights come from the Creator. Further, it is reckless and immoral to claim to defend human rights when you are actually defending injustice.
Now back to those five alleged human rights. If you define them as follows, then they are examples of folly, recklessness, and immorality:
- LGBT justice. Everyone must affirm and celebrate the ideology of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people—and any sexual orientations or gender identities that do not correspond to heterosexual norms.
- Reproductive justice. Pregnant people (that’s the new term—not women but pregnant people since “men” can get pregnant, too) have a human right to have personal bodily autonomy—to choose to keep or to kill the unborn baby in one’s womb.
- Distributive justice. Society must distribute (or allocate) power and resources so that there are equal outcomes. (This is different from arguing that God-ordained authorities must impartially punish lawbreaking and right wrongs.)
- Racial justice. Society must remove systemic racial disparities in areas such as wealth, income, education, and employment. Justice is equal outcomes, and a failure to have equal outcomes is racism. (This is different from arguing that society must treat all ethnicities impartially.)
- Social justice. In order to understand what social justice typically means in our culture today, you have to understand what Critical Theory is. In a nutshell Critical Theory affirms four beliefs (I’m paraphrasing Neil Shenvi): (1) Society is divided into two groups: oppressors and oppressed. The oppressors have power, and they are evil bullies; the oppressed do not have power, and they are innocent victims. (2) Oppressors (the dominant group) maintain their power by imposing their ideology on everyone. (3) Lived experience gives oppressed people special access to truths about their oppression. (4) Society needs social justice—that is, society needs to pursue equal outcomes by deconstructing and eliminating all forms of social oppression. Social oppression includes not just disparities regarding race and ethnicity but also gender, sexual orientation, religion, physical ability, mental ability, and economic class. The term wokeness refers to the state of being consciously aware of and “awake” to this social injustice. (This is different from arguing that God-ordained authorities must oppose partiality in civic life by impartially punishing unjust perpetrators and righting wrongs.)
Those five issues are not human rights. God’s righteousness is what makes human rights right. What we call human rights are right only if God says they are right. So-called “reproductive justice” is actually gross injustice for the unborn baby, and so-called “distributive justice” steals money from some and gives it to others.
To defend the five so-called justice issues above as human rights is to selectively borrow from a superior worldview to justify what you want. Such foolish, reckless, and immoral behavior has been characterizing American culture for decades, and Francis Schaeffer put his finger on it forty years ago in A Christian Manifesto.
Where Do Human Rights Come From?
In chapter 2, “Foundations for Faith and Freedom,” Schaffer highlights that the second sentence of America’s Declaration of Independence states the correct answer: “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” (italics added). If you have an inalienable possession, then someone or something else can’t take it away from you. If you have inalienable human rights (and you do), then no one and nothing can take them away from you. After quoting the above sentence from the Declaration of Independence, Francis Schaeffer asks,
Who gives the rights? The state? Then they are not inalienable because the state can change them and take them away. Where do the rights come from? They [i.e., the authors of the Declaration of Independence] understood that they were founding the country upon the concept that goes back into the Judeo-Christian thinking that there is Someone there who gave the inalienable rights. . . . They publicly recognized that law could be king because there was a Law Giver, a Person to give the inalienable rights. (32–33)
But what about the separation of church and state? Schaeffer anticipates that argument:
Today the separation of church and state in America is used to silence the church. When Christians speak out on issues, the hue and cry from the humanist state and media is that Christians, and all religions, are prohibited from speaking since there is a separation of church and state. The way the concept is used today is totally reversed from the original intent. It is not rooted in history. The modern concept of separation is an argument for a total separation of religion from the state. The consequence of the acceptance of this doctrine leads to the removal of religion as an influence in civil government. . . . To have suggested the state separated from religion and religious influence would have amazed the Founding Fathers. . . . The men who founded the United States of America really understood that upon which they were building their concepts of law and the concepts of government. And until the takeover of our government and law by this other entity, the materialistic, humanistic, chance world view, these things remained the base of government and law. (36, 39)
Our secular culture argues for human rights without the standard of God’s righteousness. That’s why people enshrine whatever they want with the language of “rights.” “Justice” demands what I want. If a man wants to marry a man, it is his right because “justice” demands it. If a woman wants to kill the unborn baby in her womb, it is her right because “justice” demands it. If a man wants to become female through surgery and hormones, it is his right because “justice” demands it.
No, public justice refers to impartiality in society (e.g., Lev 19:15). Justice is for you to get treated justly, fairly, and equitably and for you to treat everyone else that way. In other words, justice is getting what you deserve and giving others what they deserve. And the standard for what is just is God’s righteousness. This is what Francis Schaeffer argued forty years ago, and it is something we need to recover today. (Thaddeus Williams helps us do that in his book Confronting Injustice without Compromising Truth.)
Where do human rights come from? Human rights come from God the Creator.
[Parts of this article update a talk that Andy Naselli presented in Bethlehem College & Seminary’s chapel on August 31, 2022: “Justice: Divine, Imputed, Imparted, Public, and Ultimate.”]