Skip to main content

The Missing Elements of Human Rights: A Theological Opportunity?

I've posted a fair bit about human rights and human responsibility, but generally only to be critical. I have yet to try to construct anything useful. Roman Catholic Theologian Anthony Kelly makes the same critique but with reference to some interesting and little know data:

While it is true that the terrible toll of the victims of totalitarian regimes have pricked the conscience of the international community, that conscience has not been uniformly reformed. The moral revolution that was hoped for has been frustrated in innumerable instances. One example is the prevalence of a spurious language of victimhood. Claiming “victim status” has now become a familiar manipulative technique in politics. A contributing factor in this distortion is the missing element in the UNDHR itself. As it framers admitted, there was no accompanying declaration of responsibilities—on the part of persons, groups or institutions—to assume the duty of implementing the basic rights in question. Another document was promised, but never appeared. With no reasoned grounding of universal human rights in universal responsibility, rights-language can be simply taken over by a consumerist culture. If that is the case, the appeal to rights is no more than a political machination, a useful rhetoric for the exercise of power. It balloons out into an uncontrolled assertion of rights, individual or corporate, against others, without any commitment to the common good and of responsibility for the truly powerless. And so it happens that the originally noble conception of human rights for all is trivialised, liable to exploitation by the politically adept few. Shared responsibility for the most vulnerable and powerless is thus compromised. A study by L. C. Keith sought to assess how much belonging to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights affected the promotion of human rights. [Journal for Peace Research 36, no. 1 (1999): 95-118] After examining a hundred and seventy eight countries over an eighteen-year period, his conclusions were not optimistic: observable impact was minimal.
He sees this lacuna as an opportunity for constructive theological work:

The very gap in the UNDHR Declaration and the current confusion as to what constitutes the basis of human rights is an open door for Christian theology, inviting it to recover a distinctive voice. The message would be something like this: Jesus’ rising from the dead undermines the history of mutual blaming and victimisation. For he freely exposed himself to the violence of cultural forces in order to disrupt, once and for all, the old world order based on the victimisation of others. His resurrection is not a new thought, but an interuptive and communicative event. It has its effect in a human community transformed into the image of the self-giving love of God. Jesus is glorified, not so as to glorify the role of the victim, but to unmask the victimising dynamics latent in all societies. The resurrection of this victim has a disturbing but liberating effect in the human community. It demands to be taken as the decisive influence in human relationships, the inexhaustible inspiration of responsibility for those victimised by suffering and oppression. Those who have suffered (victims, martyrs), and those who have caused such suffering (the enemy), are alike enfolded in the originary compassion and forgiveness embodied in the risen One.
Extracts from the article "The Resurrection and Moral Theology".

I think Kelly is working here in the direction that Jurgen Moltmann has already taken, and I'm surprised not to see Moltmann referenced in the article (he has been heavily involved in the ecumenical movement.) The themes of hope and the resurrection' s contradiction of death and violence are Moltmann's bread and butter.

The real concern I have is that while such thinking provides an ethic for the Christian it is is not easily applicable to the political sphere where most people live in ignorance of the resurrection of Christ and its implications. Moltmann has been saying this sort of stuff for decades and many Christians have taken notice, but it has had little or no effect on such organisations as the UN because the logic on which it is founded is peculiarly Christian. I have to be honest, in my old age I think I am becoming a Niebuhrian Christian Realist. I don't like it, I especially don't like how close it seems to bring me to being a Lutheran "two kingdoms" kind of thinker, but it is better than classical just war theory (although this guy doesn't think so) because it refuses to relativise the teaching of Christ .


Popular posts from this blog

The Addictive Power of End Times Speculation

The mighty Rhett Snell has picked up his blog again (I wonder how long he'll last this time), check out his theory on why people get so into annoyingly unbiblical end times nonsense.

I think that where codes-and-calendars end times theology is dangerous, is that it can give a sense of false growth. We read a theory online, or hear it from some bible teacher, and we come to think that we have mastered an area of our faith. A bit like levelling up in a computer game, or Popeye after he’s eaten some spinach. At worst, we begin to believe that we’ve taken a step that other Christians have not; that we’ve entered an elite class of Christianity.

Wars and Rumours of Wars

I write in the morning after the USA 2016 Elections, which featured the historic election of Donald Trump. Apart from my personal interested as a resident of planet Earth at this time, it is interesting to note some of the apocalyptic language emerging in discussions of what this means. Even archaeologists are turning to the medium of prophecy. Hear the word of Tobias Stone,
So I feel it’s all inevitable. I don’t know what it will be, but we are entering a bad phase. It will be unpleasant for those living through it, maybe even will unravel into being hellish and beyond imagination. Humans will come out the other side, recover and move on.  Stone suggests that future historians will be able to draw clear lines from Brexit to Trump to the 3rd World War, or something equally bad. Mind you, just because historians can draw those lines doesn't mean they are here.

Then there is the word of Thom Hartman who is more interested in the domestic fallout than the fallout shelter. 
The last …

The false link between suicide and mental illness

One characteristic of human society is the tendency to keep doing something over and over again despite it not working. One example would be our approach to incarcerating criminals to punish them instead of rehabilitating them, compounding their trauma and making it harder for them to live productive law-abiding lives when they get out. But this is the "common-sense" approach, the intuitive human response to the failings of others, punish them and they wont dare do it again. It has never worked, ever, but let's keep doing it. Secular society is screwed because it cannot comprehend that its vision is blurred by sin and therefore knee-jerk, common sense solutions are usually destructive and counter-productive.

So it is with our response to suicide. To kill yourself must be the response of the weak minded and sick - so the thinking goes - so to combat rising suicide we treat individuals medically. Yet suicide is a perfectly rational response to a world as broken as ours and…