Tuesday, June 15, 2021

An Essential Human Right

Early in June, Nigeria became the world’s ninth country to either restrict the social media website Twitter, or ban it outright. Being neither a tweet generator nor a tweet consumer, I consider that no great loss for Nigerians. Twitter naturally disagreed, declaring an open internet an “essential human right”. The irony, of course, is that the same company has had no problem censoring the Nigerian president’s own tweets, not to mention banning US President Donald Trump entirely.

When you make the bed ...

I know, I know, leftist hypocrisy is not exactly news. But what struck me about the company’s reaction was not its near-total lack of self-awareness, or its insupportable and brazen assumption that it should be free to arbitrarily delete the public pronouncements of duly elected heads of state without repercussion, but rather its appeal to yet another essential new human right.

Rights and Rabbits

Rights are being declared essential these days with the rapidity of rabbits reproducing. I am starting to lose track. Call me a dinosaur, but I’m still stuck back at the right to declare one’s personal pronouns and the companion right to oblige others to use them. For me, that was the point the wheels came off the rights wagon. Or maybe it was the right not to be fat-shamed by your doctor. Or possibly the inalienable human right of trans people to receive romantic attention from the 90% of the population that doesn’t consider them optimal dating material. These are not so much essential rights as they are the wish lists of tiny and delusional minorities.

There is considerable conflation in the public square these days of three quite different issues: law, morality and conventional wisdom. There are times when these concepts overlap, perhaps even situations in which they entirely coincide, but most of the time they are not the same at all.

Everything Old is New A-Gwen

Take, for example, the issue of women going topless. An astounding twenty-five years ago, if you can believe it, the Court of Appeal declared that a woman who deliberately left her T-shirt at home “did not exceed the community standard of tolerance”. That’s the law in Ontario now, and it’s unlikely to change any time soon. However, if we take scripture as our standard, it is not difficult to discern that from the days of Noah, uncovering one’s nakedness was considered a disgraceful act. The conventional wisdom, which is that going publicly topless remains a thoroughly daft idea for the average woman, hovers somewhere in between the two. You simply never see shirtless women wandering around Ontario streets, notwithstanding the blow for “rights” struck by Gwen Jacob in 1991.

Declaring we have a legal right to something does not automatically make it a good idea. It certainly does not make it moral. By and large, even our laissez-faire, post-post-modern society agrees. But let me add this too: if there are rights which are indeed God-given, declaring them illegal or in violation of community standards of tolerance no more invalidates or removes them than I can rewrite my own genetic code.

Oh. Wait. Maybe I’d better find another example there …

The Mouth of the Most High

In any case, any list of unconditional and “essential” human rights is going to seem an odd thing to those of us regularly reading the scriptures, particularly the Old Testament. I am enjoying Lamentations at the moment (if that’s the right term), and one of Jeremiah’s major themes is that good and bad come “from the mouth of the Most High”. There is a sense in which every bad thing that happens to me must of necessity be allowed by God.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that all evils originate with God, or that he approves of them. The book of Job is the antidote to that false notion. Nevertheless, even an immensely powerful spiritual being like Satan requires God’s permission to wage his war against those under his protection. For Satan to be able to act effectively, God must choose to get out of his way, and sometimes he does.

When this happens, one of the many “bad things” which may occur is that my perceived rights get violated. Society will likely offer me a remedy of some sort, but my ability to realize on that remedy may turn out to be unenforceable, as it so often does.

Enforceable Rights

So then, the point is this: the only truly enforceable rights — and therefore the only meaningful ones — are those which have the power of God backing them. Even the language of the New Testament bears this out: the word “right” is a translation of the Greek exousia, which means “power”. Any true right has the authority of God behind it. A wish list will not get the job done.

Moreover, Christians have to recognize that even that very limited subset of the “rights” to which society feels we are currently entitled is not likely to be enforced much before the judgment of the great white throne. Ask yourself this: Did God enforce his own Son’s right to a fair trial under the Law of Moses? If ever there were world-class violations of multiple God-given rights, the cross of Christ was the occasion. And the rest of the New Testament shows us a group of godly men going out into the world possessed of rights they frequently did not use — the right to eat and drink whatever they liked, the right of the full-time servant of God to refrain from working for a living, and many other liberties authorized by God himself in his word — and counseling their readers to be just as generous with their God-given rights as they themselves were.

Rights as a Stewardship

So then, what should the Christian’s attitude be to all this talk of rights? Most modern rights are not God-given rights at all, and many are actual violations of God’s revealed will. Those real rights that remain are given to us as a stewardship, to make use of or not as we see fit. But it is when we are not making use of them that we are closest to Christ’s example, who did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied and humbled himself instead.

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