Currently reading a very impressive article "Rhetoric, Postemodernism, and Theological education," by A.K.M Adam writing in To Teach, to Delight, and to Move, 2004, the following quotes are from page 69:
"Modern ethical reasoning speaks "human rights" as its native language, asserting the fundamental interchangeability of any human person - though these are usually defined in markedly particular terms (citizens of the United States have "free speech" as a human right, but not adequate health care, whereas citizens of China have "adequate health care" as a human right, but not free speech)."
This to me is a very important insight, the language of human rights is very relative depending on your cultural location. Hence so much misunderstanding between the West and radical Islam, to the westerner the sexual display of women in public is their human right, but to a conservative Muslim, or orthodox Jew, it is her human right to be covered up and protected from the lust of men, and it is mens right to be protected from her lust inducing potential! Yet most rights campaigners assume that their concept of human rights is universal and that no other possibilities exist. This is most tellingly manifest in the talk we have now in NZ regarding sexual rights. That prostitutes have a right to sell their bodies on the streets and homosexuals have a right to adopt children or marry is the obvious manifest universal truth to the liberal majority, and yet is it really being a reactionary conservative to suggest that these are not truly human rights at all, but rather arbitrary ones?
"To the extent that such a person a hypothetical person is universal, of course, [they are] no one in particular - but the God of Christian theology knows everyone particularly, so that the extent that theologians permit a modern insistence on universality to dominate their doctrines, they collaborate with the modern proclivity toward homogenisation."
This one could really screw with your mind, how do you do theology if you have to accept that God deals with everyone on a case by case basis?! What does this really mean? Is this a demand for situation ethics? Are there not universal axioms that can be applied to the human race? The idea that no person can be interchanged with another really makes the issue of 'rights' a very thorny one, because people 'rights' are always going to impinge on the rights of others. Especially in a world where people don't recognise the subjectivity of those rights.
In this way the idea of 'rights' dehumanizes and puts all the attention on the person as victim demanding to be treated fairly. By contrast we gain our humanity by living up to our responsibilities to each other, often giving to and serving those who in our world might have no rights to our resources and concern. It means nothing to assert that a street urchin in an Indian metroplolis has a right to food. It means a great deal to assert that maybe I have a responsibility to feed her. As a victim whose rights are being ignored, she is dehumanized; just one more statistic. As someone to whom I am inescapably connected she is a human who belongs to me, and to whom I belong. If I meet her rights I place myself above her as her saviour. If I fulfill my responsibilities, she allows me to be who I should be, and we are both beneath the saviour who called me to serve and who blesses her through me.
Just thinking out loud, :-), let me know what you think.