Saturday, August 13, 2011

Where do rights come from?

I've been having this discussion on the Miami Dolphins message board and I wanted to expand on it some more here. First lets define what a right is. In an inadvertent way, one of the guys on the board did a good job. He said:
Now if anyone truly believes their rights are granted to them by man, then you're not a free man. You are nothing more than a slave whose granted privleges based on your behavior and conduct, nothing more.

Rights are privileges that are given to you based on how you act. The example I used in response to him was using the right to bear arms (more on this right later). If you kill someone you don't still have the right to bear arms. You are thrown in jail and stripped of that right, and others. You may even be stripped of the most fundamental right, that of life. That quote from him is the end of him saying that god gives people rights, he even quoted Jefferson in the DoI.

I quoted his post because it shows the opposing view to mine, which is that rights are bestowed onto us by god. And Jefferson's famous phrase in the DoI is supposed to prove this point. But that is hardly proof, and I don't see any other evidence being presented.

So Jefferson first. He is writing a propaganda piece in which he is quoting John Locke regarding what rights are unalienable. John Locke and the other thinkers who came up with the rights Jefferson quotes are men, not god. Jefferson and the other founders chose which privileges they thought people should have. Those rights weren't transcribed to them from god. Nor were they taken from the bible or any other divinely ordained thing.

And that gets me back to the right to bear arms. Why would god make that a right? Why would god make anything we in the US designate as a right a right? Its been a while since I read the bible. But I'm pretty sure I didn't skip over the part where god or Jesus discuss rights. The closest you could come is the ten commandments. But its pretty obvious that isn't the same thing as rights. The ten commandments and everything else in the bible is about what people should or shouldn't do to other people. Its not about politics or the gov't. And as conservatives would correctly point out, rights are very much about what the gov't can't do.

I'm sure the response to this will be, well, they don't discuss rights explicitly in the bible. But if you accept Jefferson's line of thinking, you would probably argue that even though god may not have bestowed rights directly, god created nature and that is where political thinkers like Locke and Jefferson are claiming rights come from. So when we say natural rights we are really just saying the rights god put here for us to discover.

But that is a cop out because it assumes the presence of a god in the first place. Not only that, it assumes that god had a direct hand in creating nature, that god shaped it in a particular way so that we would discover these things that we would identify as rights. And, it assumes that god shaped us in a way that would allow us to be able to discover rights.

That's what you have to believe in order to think rights come from god. And that's a ton of assuming you have to do. And even if you feel comfortable assuming all of that, I think you have to embrace some sort of divine plan, one in which humans aren't in a complete way in control of how they behave. If you embrace the belief that this was all ordained by god, why do we need the conception of rights to begin with? And why did it take so long for humans to discover them and force gov'ts and people to respect them?

I've raised a lot of questions without answering them. That's because I don't think there are good answers. Either that or the answer is simply that its silly to assume all of that. Unless you can provide a plausible answer to any of those questions I don't see how you can say rights come from god. On the other hand, it is plausible to say that they come from humans because we have proof that humans thought up the concept and decided what constituted a right and what doesn't. And I'm inclined to follow the evidence.

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