I Have My Rights!

I heard it attributed on a radio program earlier this week to Alexander Solzenhitsyn that when asked the question “When did America start going wrong?”, his answer was “When men turned their backs on God.”  An admittedly cavalier internet search didn’t verify that quote, but I did come up with one I liked:

It is time in the West to defend not so much human rights as human obligations.

I saw a clip of all the commentators on news shows – prompted by the AHA roll-out problems – of them saying “healthcare is a right”.  Some added housing and being fed as basic human rights.  Per Article 25 (1) of the U.N.’s “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights”:

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

It’s easy to see if we are all totally focused on our “rights”, there is going to be inevitable conflict and social turmoil, because rights collide.  One unemployed person’s perceived rights to food, clothing, etc. are invariably at odds with some employed person’s perceived rights to the fruits of their labor.  An indigent person’s right to free healthcare is potentially at odds with the healthcare worker’s right to be paid for it.  Employment can be perceived as a right: a business owner can perceive it their right to hire who they want to.  Innumerable attorneys in TV ads assure us “Injured in an accident?  You have the right to compensation!”  Making sure people “get their rights” is an industry in itself.,

What are our obligations?  What are my obligations as a Christian person of means?  I’m probably going to miss some, but here goes…

  • I am obliged by the Golden Rule; in my civic and social interactions to “Love my neighbor as myself.”  That’s a great mission statement for my – and everyone’s – obligations as we drill down to specifics.
  • I am obliged to obey the just laws of my commonwealth.
  • I am obliged to contribute a share of my earnings to the commonwealth, and to my church.
  • I am obliged to conduct myself with charity in every personal interaction.

There was a cartoon in the Sunday funnies in which an elderly gentleman held a door open for a woman we’ll call a “radical feminist”.  The interchange in the first several panels went like this:

WOMAN: Thanks, but I’m strong enough to open my own doors male chauvinist jerk.

MAN: Oh, I’m sorry.  I missed your sign that says “I have an attitude and I’m not afraid to use it.”

WOMAN:  Kiss my patootie, cowboy!

MAN: Where precisely?  It’s big enough to have its own area code.

The man was focused on his right to be treated with respect.  If he’d been focused on his obligation to be charitable, perhaps the response to “Thanks, but…” is

MAN: I’m sorry.  I meant no disrespect.

Momma always said “Two wrongs don’t make a right”, and she was right.  Momma also said “Eat your meatloaf, people are starving in West Virginia” and described remote rural areas as “where the birds sing bass and poop in the buckwheat.”  So we should look at what Momma’s sayings with a critical eye, but I think we can run with “two wrongs don’t make a right” with confidence.

What are the obligations of the person without means, temporarily or permanently dependent upon the commonwealth and/or private charity?  And let’s put Christianity aside, at a bare minimum:

  • I am obliged to obey the just laws of my commonwealth.

This obligation precludes rioting and other forms of violence as a response to a violation to one’s perceived rights.  Can we insist that the poor are bound by charity in human interaction?  We can at least point to the law.  For example one can respond to being cut off in traffic with “the bird”, and feel supremely justified in doing so, but if that initiates a chain of events that leads to road rage resulting in property damage and injury, one is likely criminally and civilly liable.  The Christian poor are held to the same obligations as the Christian rich, albeit more limited in generosity as dictated by their means.

In the Gospels I don’t think Jesus ever spoke about human rights, but He spoke volumes about human obligations.  And the words of Jesus lead us to true human happiness.

Luke 17:10 “So it should be with you. When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.’”

Have a blessed day!


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