Our culture is obsessed with rights. In declaring our independence from Britain, the colonials enumerated the universal rights to which all people are entitled: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We believe (somewhat naively) that our whole society is founded on these rights, and we have used violations of these “universal” rights as the grounds for chastising, boycotting, and even invading other societies regardless of whether or not they share our conception of these rights. Moreover, Americans by virtue of their presence between, for the most part, 30 and 49 degrees north latitude have an extra endowment of Rights outline in our Bill of Rights. We can say what we want, worship what we want, own guns, and so much more.
But, if I may be presumptuous, God doesn’t care about your rights. I dare say He doesn’t even recognize them. Why should He? You didn’t have a life before He made you, and no matter how much you claim the right to it, He can dispose of it as He wills without consulting you. He has no problem telling us that we cannot say what we want, that we cannot worship who we want, that we cannot shoot who we want if they are on the property that we “own.” I will even go so far as to suggest that maybe God isn’t bound by the Eight Amendment.
This all came up in a discussion of women’s roles I am presently having with a non-believer. He is quite insistent that we cannot base rights on biology and that therefore women are entitled to preach. He is right, insofar as women are just as entitled to preach as men are. The whole concept of entitlement, and therefore rights, is totally foreign to the Christian religion. In the Christian system, you are not entitled to exist. God created you out of a free act of His loving will without compulsion or external influence of any kind. He didn’t do it because you are entitled to it. He did it because He willed it. My views on the reality of free will aside, you aren’t entitled to liberty either. In terms of sheer capability, He could have made you no less mindless than an ameoba. You certainly aren’t entitled to pursue happiness, at least not apart from the ordained path of that pursuit.
Christianity is about surrender, more specifically about surrendering to a God who was first willing to surrender to us. The difference is, Christ’s surrender was real. He was everything and became nothing. Our surrender is illusory. We give up only the pretension that we have anything on our own, that others and, more importantly, God owes us anything. The question of gender economics acts as a microcosm for the whole problem of Christianity and rights. The avant garde belief that ontological equality precludes economic particularity betrays that the whole issue has been clouded by a modern conception of rights. The idea that you are entitled to do or be certain things by virtue of some intrinsic value has led the church to believe that to “deny” women these “rights” is to somehow comment on their value. We have no value except that which divinely imputed to us, and we are entitled to absolutely nothing. Everything which we are or do respectively as distinct sexes–and, more generally, as created beings–is entirely gifted and directed by God. The very act of introducing “rights” into the discussion is a rebellion against our purpose.
Any intrusion of “right” into Christian practice should be excluded outright and replaced with more Christian concepts like duty or purpose or, God forbid, divine intentionality. If we treat others with dignity, it is not because they deserve to be treated with dignity, any more than you or I deserve to be treated with dignity (and if we reflect honestly on our own lives, I hope we will all see that we do not). We treat them that way because it is how God intended us to treat them so. If we intervene to correct injustice, it is not to prevent an affront against the abstract notion of universal rights. It is because we have a duty to a just God. Most importantly, we undermine the very nature of our salvation if we make a point of demanding our rights because we believe we are intrinsically valuable. Whatever value I have, I have by God’s good pleasure and redeeming power. I and everything exist through His good will, are free through His good nature, and are happy through His good grace. Rights, so far as I am concerned, are an artificial fabrication of the human mind and a truly pernicious false god.