Monday, August 20, 2018

What is a right?

The United States of America was founded on the premise that all men “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

We have rights, and they come from God, our Creator.

How do we know that?

I've often heard conservatives claim that “our rights come from God,” and I've never voluntarily heard an accompanying explanation of that premise. This is important because many Americans no longer “hold these truths to be self-evident.”

I was once at an FRC event featuring Hadley Arkes, and he made a similar statement about the origin of our rights. Afterwards I was able to ask him how we know that. He had a clear explanation.

Dr. Arkes went to the law of God and its most well-known part, the Ten Commandments for his explanation. I summarize it here.

Take, for instance, the eighth commandment: “Thou shalt not steal.” That command implies a right to private property.

If there is no right to private property, then there's nothing to steal. If there's nothing to steal, then taking something someone has would not be wrong and would simply be a matter of who is stronger. This is the “might makes right” philosophy.

The Word of God, however, protects private property, and therefore recognizes it as well.

Here are a few others:
  • “Thou shalt not kill” (#6) implies a right to life.
  • “Thou shalt not bear false witness” (#9) implies the justice system has a right to hear witnesses tell the truth.
  • “Thou shalt not commit adultery” (#7) implies a right to a faithful spouse.
  • “Honor your father and mother” (#5) implies a right to obedient children.

Obviously not everyone always keeps all of these commands. That is why God gave us His law, and that is the main reason why God instituted government. The government is not there to discipline everyone's child on every little thing, but the government should protect the rights of parents to correct their children. (Of course, ultimately the law is our tutor to bring us to Christ.)

The last six of the 10 Commandments relate to man's relationship with man. The first four relate to man's relationship with God. Even here there are rights the government can protect, or “secure” as the Declaration puts it.
  • “Have no other gods before Me” implies a right to freedom of worship.
  • “Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy” implies a right to a day free from work once a week.

To summarize as general principles:
  • Anything God commands us to do, we have a right to do.
  • Anything God commands against, we have a right not to do.
  • Anything God commands against, we have a right not to be done to us.

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