Human Rights & Christianity: How a Biblical View of Man Resolves the Question of Human Rights
Hardly a day goes by that an example of human atrocity isn’t making the news. Christians are tortured and murdered.[i] Hundreds of women and girls are kidnapped and raped by terrorists.[ii] A celebrity is found guilty of fatal domestic violence.[iii] Another human trafficking ring is busted.[iv] These kinds of reports shock and appall us, as well they should. Left with a vexing queasiness, we question why these horrific events happen and wonder if there is a solution to the problem of Human Rights violations. We feel like something should be done.
To find an answer to the Human Rights problem, we must understand what are Human Rights and where they come from. This paper will take a look at the traditional view of Human Rights, compare different worldviews on Human Rights, and conclude that a biblical worldview of man and the Gospel message are the best approach to the Human Rights issue and a solution to the problem.
Traditional View of Human Rights
The dreadfulness of the Holocaust was a catalyst for the Human Rights movement. In response to the mass torture and murder inflicted on approximately six million Jews by German Nazis, nations came together and formed the United Nations.[v] In 1948 the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (“UDHR”).[vi] Often quoted, the UDHR preamble states in part:
Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world, Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people…Whereas Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in co-operation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms…[vii]
The UDHR was adopted as a consequence of the heinous events of World War II in an effort to prevent a repeat of such a horrendous experience.[viii] “With the end of that war, and the creation of the United Nations, the international community vowed never again to allow atrocities like those to happen again.”[ix]
Three key concepts can be found in the traditional view of Human Rights: “Inherent Dignity,” “Universality,” and “Higher Law.” “Inherent dignity” and “universality” are found in the UDHR. “Higher Law” was the basis for the convicting WWII German military leaders of war crimes at the Nuremburg trials.[x]
In general, the traditional view of Human Rights appeals to a “Higher Law,” which means that nations and any man-made law are subject to the law of God and the laws of nature.[xi] This is commonly known as a Law above the law. Additionally, Human Rights are based upon the “Inherent Dignity” of human beings, that is the unique value and worth with which humans are born.[xii] Finally, Human Rights are “Universal,” which we know intuitively means belonging to all human beings—regardless of gender, race, class, wealth, education, mental or physical abilities. To summarize this traditional view, Human Rights come from God, and gives unique and immense value to all human beings. As we will see below, there is only one worldview that is consistent with this traditional view of Human Rights, despite competing worldviews.[xiii]
Although the UNDHR was founded on these key concepts supporting the idea of Human Rights, eventually the traditional view was undermined by atheist philosophers who searched for an explanation for Human Rights, apart from the existence of God.[xiv] If we want an answer to what is the source of inherent dignity of all human beings, the answer isn’t clear if we take God out of the picture or have a distorted understanding of God. In fact, the rejection of God or misunderstanding of God can actually contribute to the Human Rights problems, as we shall see. Let’s take a look at different worldviews to see if they provide a solution to the problem that underlies the Human Rights discussion—do all human beings have inherent dignity?
Comparison of Worldview Philosophies of Human Rights
Atheist Darwinist Worldview
The Atheist worldview of Human Rights cannot appeal to Higher Law since atheists don’t hold a belief in God or gods.[xv] Science professor and author Jerry Bergman explains that without a belief in God, evolutionary science, based on a naturalistic worldview, becomes a god or religion.[xvi] In the 19th Century Charles Darwin popularized the theory of evolution, or natural selection, otherwise commonly known as “survival of the fittest.”[xvii] A Darwinist view of the world values the strong over the week and contributes to the evils of eugenics, racism, sexism, capitalism, Nazism, and communism.[xviii] Moreover, the idea of a “violent revolution in which the strong overthrow the weak” came from Darwin’s theory.[xix] Bergman claims that “naturalistic evolution theory, especially as popularized by Darwin,” was critical in influencing Stalin, Lenin, Marx, Mao, and Hitler.[xx] He states:
A central plant in Nazism, communism, and other totalitarianism movements was eugenics…Eugenics, the “science” of improving the human race by scientific control of breeding, was viewed by a large percentage of all life scientists, professors, and social reformers for over a century as an important, if not a major, means of accomplishing the goal of producing paradise on earth…The now-infamous eugenics movement grew from the core concepts of biological evolution—primarily those ideas expounded by Charles Darwin…[xxi]
Ironically, eugenics may have originated as a means to move humans towards perfection, however, “it eventually led to some of the most heinous crimes mankind has ever seen.”[xxii] Clearly, eugenics is inconsistent with Human Rights, dignity and value for all human beings.
What then is the atheist’s solution to the Human Rights problem? Philosopher Richard Rorty, who insisted the original foundation of the Human Rights culture is “outmoded,” rejected the traditional view of Human Rights and favored taking a “pragmatic view,” i.e. “how best to grab hold of history.”[xxiii] In other words, if people just become more educated about the mistakes of the past, like the atrocities of WWII, we can avoid such Human Rights violations.
Arguably since WWII there has been much education regarding the importance of Human Rights. Lest we forget the lessons we should learn, people can visit one of many Holocaust war memorials, like Yad Vashem in Israel. But has education helped improve Human Rights since WWII? Let’s first take a look at Islam.
The Islamic worldview does appeal to a Higher Law (i.e. Allah) but it most certainly does not give equal value and dignity to all human beings. For example, according to the Quran women do not have the same rights as men.[xxiv] Husbands have authority over their wives, and even permission to strike them:
Men are in charge of women by [right of] what Allah has given one over the other and what they spend [for maintenance] from their wealth. So righteous women are devoutly obedient, guarding in [the husband's] absence what Allah would have them guard. But those [wives] from whom you fear arrogance - [first] advise them; [then if they persist], forsake them in bed; and [finally], strike them. But if they obey you [once more], seek no means against them. Indeed, Allah is ever Exalted and Grand.[xxv]
Another thing is clear, non-Muslims to not have the same rights as Muslims.[xxvi] Moreover, Muslims who leave Islam acquire a death sentence.[xxvii]
Amnesty International, well known for its human rights advocacy, and a huge supporter of the United Nations, warned in its 2016 report that Human Rights violations is an escalating problem.[xxviii] The report highlights Syria, a predominantly Muslim country, as “one horrific example of the catastrophic human consequences of a systemic failure of the UN to fulfil [sic] its vital role in upholding rights and international law and ensuring accountability.”[xxix] Other Muslim countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia made the list of problem countries, whereas Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and Indonesia are noticeably missing.[xxx]
With the Quran as the guide to Islam and the atrocious Human Rights track record found in many Islamic countries, one can see why it is easy to dismiss Islam as a worldview that cannot explain Human Rights nor find a solution for the problem.
The Hindu view of God is rather complicated, often espousing a belief in one Supreme God who is revealed in many different forms, while allowing for thousands of other lesser gods and goddesses.[xxxi] Hinduism does not provide for dignity for all human beings, because it is based on the caste system, that is, some people are more valuable than others.[xxxii] For example, Brahmins are the highest class and have more rights than the lowest class of people, who are still referred to as the “untouchables.”[xxxiii]
Christian apologist Greg Koukl said this about Hinduism after a trip to India: “Hinduism is supposedly a very tolerant religion. This really isn't true in practice because Christians are ostracized, especially Hindus who become Christians. They are often ostracized from their families. So much for the religion that accepts all other religions.”[xxxiv]
One problem with Hinduism is the theory that everything is an illusion. If everything is an illusion, then you can’t know anything. This means you cannot know morality either. “Consequently, if you can’t know a moral truth then there is ultimately no distinction between good and evil…This is one reason you can see incredible debauchery and evil among the highest members of the Hindu castes.”[xxxv] For example, India, predominantly Hindu, experiences daily violence, “where brutality and torture have become a daily routine and which have reached a new level.”[xxxvi] Even the abhorrent practice of widow burning is still practiced in India (when a husband dies, the widow either voluntarily, or through force or coercion, is burned alive on her husband’s funeral pyre).[xxxvii]
Clearly Hinduism cannot provide the basis for Human Rights if it is unable to separate good and evil, and does not recognize the inherent human dignity for all.
The Buddhist worldview is not theistic, so an appeal to God’s law is tricky.[xxxviii] Buddhism does not recognize rights or dignity of humans, and holds that no one exists independently.[xxxix] Additionally, Buddhism views some people as more valuable than others due to its origination in the caste system as seen in hierarchical Asian societies.[xl] Inherency and universality of Human Rights simply do not apply in Buddhism. Therefore, trying to justify a Human Rights argument is a thorny issue for Buddhists. History professor and Buddhist Damien Keown admits this in his article “Are there ‘Human Rights’ in Buddhism?” He confesses that it is virtually impossible for Buddhists to even discuss human dignity:
It is by no means apparent, however, how human dignity is to be grounded in Buddhist doctrine. The very words “human dignity” sound as alien in a Buddhist context as talk of rights...If human dignity is the basis of human rights Buddhism would seem to be in some difficulty when it comes to providing a justification for them. The theistic religions, on the other hand, seem much better equipped to provide an account of human dignity. Christians, Muslims and Jews typically refer to the ultimate source of human dignity as divine.[xli]
Without the ability to accept the concept of human dignity, Buddhists are forced to twist word meanings and theories to justify what they must know in their hearts and conscience to be true—Human Rights are important.[xlii] For example, the Dalai Lama repeatedly calls for the respect of Human Rights.[xliii] However, Buddhists are incapable of a coherent explanation. They are left with an impossible challenge to come up with a justification for Human Rights that is consistent with their worldview.
No doubt there are atheists, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists who believe in and advocate for Human Rights, which is marvelous. However, the ironic thing is that their worldview is not consistent with their position and advocacy for Human Rights.[xliv] They are forced to borrow arguments from the traditional view of Human Rights, which can only be found in biblical Christianity, which we will see below. These other worldviews cannot justify inherent human dignity for all human beings. Arguably it seems these four worldviews actually contribute to the Human Rights problem. Not to leave us without hope, there is a worldview that explains Human Rights, where it comes from, why it is important, and even offers a solution to the problem. Let’s take a look at the biblical Christian worldview.
Biblical Christian Worldview
The Christian view of Human Rights includes a belief in God, and that God created man and woman in His image.[xlv] God is love and He loves us.[xlvi] Therefore, He created human beings from love, through love, to love.[xlvii] Through the first sin of Adam and Eve, all mankind became separated from God.[xlviii] We are all lost sinners in need of a savior.[xlix] However, the good news is that God loves us so much, He sent His Son Jesus to provide a way for us to be reconciled to Him, through His death on the cross.[l] For those who believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior, they are reconciled to God and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.[li] This is the essence of the Gospel message of Christianity.
What gives something value? The identity and signature/imprint of the creator of something helps establish its value. For example, a signed painting by Rembrandt has more value than a finger painting by an anonymous child. Why? We admire the well-known skill, expertise, and genius of Rembrandt; we do not find the same talent and ability in the child’s finger painting. Additionally, the signature on a painting by a famous artist increases the value because we know who painted it—someone very important; we don’t know the identity of the anonymous child. Christians believe that men and women were created by God, in the image of God. When He created us in His image, this left His signature or imprint on us. This gives us immense value.
Another way to determine the value of something is what a buyer is willing to pay a seller for something in a given market and the seller is willing to accept. For example, in determining fair market value of a house, it is based on what amount someone would actually pay to purchase the house in the market at the time, and the seller would be willing to accept. This is true regardless of whether the owner may think it is worth much more than anyone is willing to pay. Christians believe that God revealed the value of men and women when He paid an astronomical price for us, when He sent His Son Jesus to die on a cross in order to redeem us. This demonstrates how enormously valuable we are to God.
This concept of the inherent value of men and women is universal to all human beings. The Psalmist King David describes how specially and beautifully God created each of us with a purpose:
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.[lii]
This concept of universality is confirmed by the apostle Peter, “[God] is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”[liii] Human rights can only be legitimately justified by the Christian worldview because only in Christianity do we find inherent dignity and value in all human life.
If Human Rights is only legitimately justified by the Christian worldview, does this worldview also have a solution to the problem of violations of Human Rights? Christianity holds that the problem of Human Rights is not external. It is internal, a sin problem, a heart problem. The Scriptures tell us: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”[liv] and “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.”[lv] Everyone is born with a sin problem.[lvi]
If the problem of Human Rights is a sin problem, a heart problem, what is the solution proposed by the Christian worldview? The solution is found in the Gospel message – we need a new heart, a new nature, which is only possible through believing in and following Jesus.[lvii]
[i] Samuel Smith, “ISIS Using Churches as Torture Chambers, Forcing Christians to Convert or Be Killed,” Christian Post, September 21, 2015, accessed May 14, 2016, http://www.christianpost.com/news/isis-using-churches-as-torture-chambers-forcing-christians-to-convert-or-be-killed-145814/.
[ii] Adam Nossiter, “Boko Haram Militants Raped Hundreds of Female Captives in Nigeria,” The New York Times, May 18, 2015, accessed May 14, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/19/world/africa/boko-haram-militants-raped-hundreds-of-female-captives-in-nigeria.html?_r=0.
[iii] “Oscar Pistorius found guilty of culpable homicide,” BBC News, September 12, 2014, accessed May 14, 2016, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-29149581.
[iv] Aaron Mesmer, “Human Trafficking Ring Busted in New Port Richey,” Fox 13 News, May 11, 2016, accessed May 14, 2016, http://www.fox13news.com/news/local-news/140128606-story.
[v] “History of the Document [UDHR],” United Nations, accessed May 14, 2016, http://www.un.org/en/sections/universal-declaration/history-document/index.html.
[vii] “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” United Nations, accessed May 14, 2016, http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/; emphasis added. “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is a milestone document in the history of human rights. Drafted by representatives with different legal and cultural backgrounds from all regions of the world, the Declaration was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on 10 December 1948 General Assembly resolution 217A as a common standard of achievements for all peoples and all nations. It sets out, for the first time, fundamental human rights to be universally protected.”
[viii] “History of the Document [UDHR],” United Nations.
[x] Judge Roy Moore, “Nazis, Nuremberg and the law of God…on what basis could the victor nations presume to convene these war crimes trials in Nuremberg? The answer to that question is found in the opening statement of the lead prosecutor at Nuremburg, Robert Jackson, who was also a justice on the United States Supreme Court at the time. Justice Jackson stated that ‘even rulers are, as Lord Chief Justice Coke said to King James, “under God and the law.”’ The Nuremberg Court rejected the argument of Nazi defendants that there was no pre-existing law and appealed to natural law in its judgment, noting that “so far from it being unjust to punish [them], it would be unjust if [their] wrong[s] were allowed to go unpunished. Despite the fact that the defendants were following orders and laws of their country, they were found guilty of violating a higher law to which all nations were equally subject.”
[xii] Donna Hicks, “What Is the Real Meaning of Dignity?: Few People Realize It’s Extraordinary Impact on our Lives,” Psychology Today, April 10, 2013, accessed May 16, 2016, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/dignity/201304/what-is-the-real-meaning-dignity-0.
[xiii] This traditional view of Human Rights can be found in the United States Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” See “Declaration of Independence,” The Charters of Freedom, accessed May 19, 2016, http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/declaration_transcript.html.
[xiv] Richard Rorty, “Human Rights, Rationality, and Sentimentality,” On Human Rights: The Oxford Amnesty Lectures 1993, ed. Stephen Shute and Susan Hurley (Basic Books, 1993), 112-134.
[xv] “What is Atheism?,” American Atheists, accessed May 19, 2016, https://atheists.org/activism/resources/what-is-atheism.
[xvi] Jerry Bergman, The Darwin Effect: It’s Influence on Nazism, Eugenics, Racism, Communism, Capitalism & Sexism (Master Books, 2014), 7, 10-11.
[xvii] Ibid., 9-11.
[xviii] Ibid., 10-11.
[xix] Ibid., 268.
[xx] Ibid., 267.
[xxi] Ibid., 43.
[xxii] Ibid., 58.
[xxiii] Rorty, “Human Rights, Rationality and Sentimentality,” 116, 118.
[xxvi] Samuel Shahid, “Rights of Non-Muslims in an Islamic State,” Answering Islam, accessed May 16, 2016, http://www.answering-islam.org/NonMuslims/rights.htm.
[xxvii] Ibid. “Once a person becomes a Muslim, he cannot recant. If he does, he will be warned first, then he will be given three days to reconsider and repent. If he persists in his apostasy, his wife is required to divorce him, his property is confiscated, and his children are taken away from him. He is not allowed to remarry. Instead, he should be taken to court and sentenced to death.”
[xxviii] “Amnesty International State of the World 2015-2016,” Amnesty International, February 23, 2016, accessed May 14, 2016, http://www.amnestyusa.org/research/reports/amnesty-international-state-of-the-world-2015-2016?page=show.
[xxx] Ibid. Ironically, the United States is on the list with the likes of Syria for, “the continuing operation of the Guantanamo detention centre, an example of the grave consequences of its ‘global war on terror’; and its failure to prosecute those responsible for torture and enforced disappearances.”
[xxxi] “Hinduism: Beliefs about God,” BBC, accessed May 18, 2016, http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/gcsebitesize/rs/god/hinduismrev1.shtml.
[xxxii] Jayaram V, “Hinduism and Caste System,” Hinduewebsite.com, accessed May 18, 2016, http://www.hinduwebsite.com/hinduism/h_caste.asp.
[xxxiv] Greg Koukl, “Reflections on Hinduism,” Stand to Reason, February 21, 1993, accessed May 16, 2016, http://www.str.org/articles/reflections-on-hinduism#.VzqILZODGko.
[xxxvi] Shiv Visvanathan, “The ‘everydayness’ of our violence,” The Hindu, (May 10, 2016), accessed May 18, 2016, http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/the-everydayness-of-our-violence/article8576738.ece.
[xxxvii] Linda Heaphy, “Life in India: The Practice of Sati or Widow Burning,” Kashgar: Life for the Modern Nomad, accessed May 19, 2016, http://www.kashgar.com.au/articles/life-in-india-the-practice-of-sati-or-widow-burning.
[xxxviii] Damien Keown, “Are there ‘Human Rights’ in Buddhism?,” Urban Dharma: Buddhism in America, accessed May 17, 2016, http://www.urbandharma.org/udharma/humanrights.html.
[xliv] Tanya Walker, “Genesis - The Christian's Claim to Human Rights” (video of lecture, What Does It Mean To Be Human?: An RZIM in Asia Apologetics Conference, September 18-20, 2014), accessed May 14, 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1yQKlEg2RJg. Walker’s lecture provided the launching pad for this paper.
[xlv] Genesis 1:27. All Scripture quotations from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.
[xlvi] 1 John 4:7-12.
[xlvii] Michelle Tepper, “Apologetics for Doctrine of Trinity,” (video of lecture, RZIM beta testing of online apologetics program), accessed Summer 2013, URL unavailable.
[xlviii] Gen. 3:1-24; Rom. 5:12-19; Isa. 59:2.
[xlix] Rom. 3:23; Eph 2:1-10.
[l] John 3:16-17.
[li] Rom. 10:9-10; Eph. 1:13-14.
[lii] Psalm 139:13-16.
[liii] 2 Pet. 3:9.
[liv] Jer. 17:9.
[lv] Matt. 15:19.
[lvi] Rom. 3:23.
[lvii] Eze. 36:26-27; 2 Cor. 5:17; John 3:3-8.
[lviii] Isa. 1:17; Luke 10:25-37; Luke 4:18.