Human Entitlement Derived From Human Purpose
The end of human existence that Scripture teaches provides a solid case for human rights. Human rights can be associated with the human end in relation to certain rights that pertain to the accomplishment of the human purpose. This is because the purpose for which God has made humanity is humanity’s supreme obligation. Since all people are supremely obligated to accomplish their fundamental duty, it is morally wrong to prohibit or prevent such accomplishment. Humans are obligated to allow other humans to accomplish their fundamental duty. Thus, we have human rights. Consider the argument:
- God created humanity for a purpose.
- The purpose for which God created humanity is humanity’s supreme obligation.
- It is wrong to prevent someone from accomplishing what they are morally obligated to do.
- Therefore, all humans are obligated to allow others to fulfill their supreme obligation
- Therefore, all humans are entitled to a certain existence based on their supreme obligation.
What is the purpose of humanity? If we can determine why we exist then we can know our fundamental duty because what we are created to do is what we should be supremely occupied with accomplishing. Our fundamental duty (i.e. why we exist) is the supreme thing we are obligated to do (i.e. what we should be supremely occupied with accomplishing). I assume the reader agrees that it is wrong to prevent other humans from doing what they are morally obligated to do (for example, it is wrong to prevent a child from picking up his room when his mother tells him to do so). To infringe on the accomplishment of a person’s fundamental duty would be to infringe upon the revealed will of God – He is the one who made man and his duty. Read what Scripture says our ultimate end is: “The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person,” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). Humanity’s purpose is to obey God. This is why we were created and it is our moral obligation to carry out this purpose. Thus, human beings are entitled to do God’s will. All other purposes fall under this one, supreme end.
To do God’s will inevitably means that we must obey Him. There are many commands in the Bible, but Jesus seems to sum them all up in His command to love: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets,” (Matthew 22:37-40). Therefore, I will include all such commands within this one: to love God (for if you love God you will love your neighbor). We can then say that humans are entitled to love God. Another purpose of God’s will is His glory. “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands,” (Psalms 19:1). This verse tells us that the universe naturally proclaims God’s glory. As the heavens are not hindered by a will to do anything contrary to their design, we can reasonably assume that they are carrying out their intended purpose (for the same reason we can assume a watch is carrying out its purpose and not choosing its own course). Thus, it reasonably follows that the universe was created by God for His glory. If this is true, then this means that humans are entitled to glorify God.
Supreme, Fundamental And Agent Rights
From these two basic entitlements – the right to love and glorify God – we can deduce certain Agent Rights. I call these “Agent Rights” because they are rights granted on the basis that they are required in order to fulfill our primary obligations of existence. These rights serve as agents by which we love and glorify God. The Supreme Right (to obey God) and the Fundamental Rights (to love and glorify God) are explicitly taught by Scripture. However, many of the Agent Rights are implicitly taught by Scripture, being logically deduced from the Fundamental Rights. Therefore, there is an extra dose of humility that must be taken when discussing Agent Rights. I hope to convey this as I continue.
In order to fulfill our fundamental obligations, it is necessary that we be functional beings. Thus, we can say that humans have a right to live. Basic necessities in regards to life include food, water and shelter. In order to glorify God, humans must have the right to make Him known. I will refer to this as humanity’s right to worship God, for worship involves the whole manner in which one lives his life. To love God it is necessary to know God. God has revealed Himself in the person of Jesus Christ, manifested in His Word. God engages us through His Word, how we know what God wants and what He is like. Therefore, we may say that humans have the right to read and learn God’s Word – to engage Scripture. We may also add here, “to obey Scripture.” This is related to loving God because by loving God we will obey Him. Including a right to obedience in relation to His revealed Word will help to more clearly include all specific commands mentioned in Scripture (see footnote 13 for further discussion on this). We may list the human rights thus:
- Humans have the right to do the will of God.
- Humans have the right to love God.
- Humans have the right to glorify God.
- Humans have the right to live.
- Humans have the right to sustain themselves with food and water.
- Humans have the right to in some way possess or access shelter.
- Humans have the right to worship God.
- Humans have the right to read, learn and obey God’s Word.
Differentiating Agent Rights From Permissible Concerns
The list of agent rights above is likely not exhaustive. Instead of trying to determine all of the agent rights, I would like to propose a means by which any possible agent rights can be tested. When something is suggested to be a human right, one may ask, “Is this thing necessary to love and glorify God?” The agent rights are those things which must be possessed in order to accomplish the fundamental rights/obligations (love and glorify God). It is manifestly true, then, that any proposed agent right must be essential to fulfilling our fundamental obligations. If a suggested right is merely compatible but not necessary for the two fundamental rights/obligations to be fulfilled, then the suggested right is not an agent right. It is instead a permissible concern: something that we are not entitled to but nevertheless permitted to affiliate with. Perhaps it would be helpful to consider the following examples from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: rest and leisure, nationality, no discrimination under law, free and public hearing.
Is a human really entitled to rest and leisure? Well, is rest and leisure necessary for loving and glorifying God? This is a good test for knowing if something is mandated by God as a human right. Leisure is a generic term which I take to mean “time to spend on something other than our responsibilities.” This is not necessary for loving or glorifying God. Rest, however, does seem necessary. We have to have a certain amount of rest each day or our bodies will cease to function. We need our bodies to function in order to love and glorify God. I therefore conclude this to be a human right, with the stipulation that it be called “sufficient rest.” Without this qualifying word, rest could become another form of leisure.
Are humans entitled to a nationality? Being part of a nation might seem fundamental to the human identity, but is it necessary to love and glorify God? Not at all. If someone were born on the moon and then lived a nomadic life on earth, it would not then follow that he could not love and glorify God. Therefore, humans are not entitled to a nationality. Possessing a nationality does not hinder one’s ability to love or glorify God, so we may label this a permissible concern.
The right to no discrimination under the law and the right to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal are both rights dealing with a society’s judicial system. In general, it does appear necessary that justice should be manifested in the way in which a society judges humans. No discrimination under the law fits this bill and reflects God’s own just initiatives. The type of hearing and tribunal also seems congruent with justice. However, we must ask if it is necessary to fulfill our moral obligations: to love and glorify God. If it is not necessary for this end, then it is not necessarily a human right. There have been many instances where people have loved and glorified God amidst corrupt political powers and courts. This proves that having no discrimination under the law and a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal are both not human rights. The best we could say is that they are permissible concerns, because they do not conflict with the Bible. If this paper was concerned with the obligations of government systems and the mandates from which ruling bodies should reign above a society of people, then perhaps these two things could be said to be necessary for such rulers to provide the people. However, in order to be consistent in reason, we must conclude that neither of these are human entitlements.
Commands In Scripture
Another issue concerns Biblical commands. We have an obligation, and therefore right, to fulfill any command that God gives us in Scripture. Rather than list all of these, they are summed-up in the agent right “to read, learn and obey God’s Word” and the fundamental right to “love God.” However, many apparent commands in Scripture may be difficult to identify. For example, do we have an obligation and right to abide by such commands as Exodus 23:19 (“…You are not to boil a young goat in the milk of its mother”) and Leviticus 5:2 (“if a person touches any unclean thing…then he will be guilty”)? The principle concerning Biblical commands is that every individual is responsible to obey any obligation derived from Scripture through proper exegetical technique. Under the agent right of “obeying God’s Word,” every person therefore has a right to fulfill such obligations.
What is needed, then, is a proper exegetical technique. This paper is not concerned with interpretation practices and I won’t provide instructions therein. Though perhaps it would be helpful to note a few things. First, the context of the reader is always vital to understanding whether or not a proposed command is actually an obligation to the reader. For example, Old Testament believers had an obligation to abstain from eating pork, as was prescribed under the Mosaic Law. In the New Testament (Acts), God revoked that limitation through Peter and the church in Jerusalem. Thus, the time period in which the reader of certain Scriptures lives in is vitally important. King David had an obligation/right to abstain from pork. New Testament believers (which includes Christians today) have no such obligation/right. Abstaining from pork changed from a fulfillment of the agent right to obey God’s Word to simply a permissible concern.
Second, despite the liberal case against dogmatism, we can know with assurance what God’s commands are in Scripture. I refer the reader to my essay on Appropriate Dogmatism – I pray it proves helpful if there is any doubt on the topic. Third, as already mentioned, any command that the Lord has given that we have an obligation to obey is summed up in the agent right “to read, learn and obey God’s Word” and the fundamental right to “love God.” This is sufficient for the present purpose of this work.
Further Thoughts On Human Rights
The merit of agent rights is found solely in their vital role in allowing humans to fulfill the fundamental rights. In the situation that someone is refused by others of any of these agent rights, they could still love and glorify God. However, being stripped of these rights, it would be impossible to continue to live and fulfill the fundamental rights. Remember, human rights are those things that humans are entitled to in relation to one another. There is a communal quality to human rights that must be understood in order to grasp how they are necessary to fulfilling the fundamental obligations. We are concerned with life in community – our relationship with other people. With this in mind, a few more things can be said of human rights.
I submit that entitlements are things that other people are responsible to allow but not provide for other people. The very nature of a “right” manifests this clarification. Saying that one person is entitled to have another thing is not to say that other people are obligated to provide it for said person. The flip side of the coin is that, under the agent right of obeying Scripture, we are all obligated to love others as ourselves. The love that God manifests every day to all people should lead all people to love all people likewise: with grace, patience and sacrificial service. Under the agent right of obeying God’s Word, then, we find this principle: I have an obligation to put others above myself when only one of us may enjoy the agent rights. There is yet another problem to consider, and I shall present it in the form of an example.
Suppose that a family (Dad, Mom, Daughter, Son) walks into a marketplace in San Antonio, Texas. The stores are outdoors, it is sunny and a host of other groups and individuals are scattered about the marketplace. Out of the corner of his eye, Dad sees a person running up the center walk-way. He turns to see a gun in the runner’s right hand. In this scenario, we will now evaluate several situations. Situation A: The gunman points the gun at Daughter. Situation B: The gunman points the gun at an elderly man some five yards away from Dad. Situation C: The gunman points the gun at his (the gunman’s) head. In each situation, what should Dad do?
Situation A is likely the easiest of the three. Because of his obligation to obey God’s Word, Dad should put other’s agent rights above his own. This includes the agent right to live. In addition, Dad is the principle protector and caregiver of Mom, Daughter and Son, and is commissioned by God to preserve his family. He is, for these reasons derived from the agent right of obeying Scripture, obligated to jump in front of Daughter to save her life. Situation C depicts an attempted suicide. It is dangerous for Dad to try to stop the shooter, but likely the reader will agree that the right course of action is for Dad to lunge forward and try to save the shooter’s life, because of the Scriptural mandate of love.
Situation B proves more difficult. The commission of love under the agent right of obeying Scripture tells Dad that he should jump in front of the elderly man. However, in doing so, he will no longer be alive to protect his family from the gunman. Dad does not know for certain that the gunman will try to shoot his family after shooting the elderly man, but such an event is likely. What should he do, then? Which obligation overrules the other? Under the agent right of obeying God’s Word, Dad is obligated to both save the man (mandate to love) and not save the man (mandate to protect his family). What should he do? One could reason that Dad also has a mandate of love for his family, thereby giving two obligations to his family and one to the elderly man. One may argue, however, that Dad does not know for certain that the shooter will shoot his family. What has yet to be considered is a third option: Dad rushes the shooter. In doing this, though, he may be killed. If he is, then his family is again exposed.
There is an ethical answer to this situation, but it shall not be deduced here. The point to understand is that seemingly simple ethical decisions can become very complicated and difficult to make. The priority of obligations as mandated by human rights is something perhaps no one will ever master to perfection. I propose that the principles deduced thus far in this essay are sufficient to understand the basic tenants of human rights as derived from the human end. The Scriptural case for human rights has clearly been presented and established. Perhaps in a later work deeper ethical problems can be considered and reasoned through.
Preliminary Arguments For The Rights Of Unborn People
Does birth transform a creature into another? Or course not. There is no change in the DNA. If unborn infants are not human beings, then what are they? I will assume the reader understands this. Consider these arguments…
- Unborn infants are humans.
- Humans have a purpose.
- Therefore, unborn infants have a purpose.
This argument follows the structure, “A=B, C=A; therefore, C=B.” It is a perfectly sound argument.
- Unborn infants have a purpose.
- Humans are entitled to fulfill their purpose.
- Therefore, unborn infants are entitled to fulfill their purpose.
- Unborn infants are entitled to fulfill their purpose.
- God’s revealed purpose for existence is to obey Him.
- Therefore, unborn infants are entitled to obey God.
Obedience to God – this is the supreme right mentioned above.
- Unborn infants are entitled to obey God.
- God is obeyed when one loves and glorifies Him.
- Therefore, unborn infants are entitled to love and glorify God.
Loving and glorifying God – these are the fundamental rights mentioned above.
- Unborn infants are entitled to love and glorify God.
- Certain things are necessary for loving and glorifying God.
- Therefore, unborn infants are entitled to what is necessary to love and glorify God.
Remember, we are talking about the purpose of every human within the revealed will of God. In His divine providence, God will ultimately bring about all He has purposed to occur. Human rights are concerned with what we now see, what we now are commanded, who we now are interacting with, and where we are in the grand scheme of history. This being the case, it does not make sense to say, “My baby can still fulfill its purpose if I kill it – just in heaven, not on earth. He can love and glorify God in heaven.” First, if this is true, then why is death a bad thing? Second, speaking of going to heaven only pertains to God’s children, not all people. Third, such a response completely misses the point of a human right as being a principle for human interaction within a community. This person would essentially be saying, “Well this right doesn’t apply here because I’m just going to take my child out of the community, and he can fulfill his purpose elsewhere.” Show me where this mentality is in Scripture and then I’ll take the response more seriously. Until then, I will continue to assert that unborn infants are entitled to fulfill their purpose.
The Rights Of Unborn People
While I have not deduced in this essay an exhaustive list of agent rights, I have certainly provided a true, incomplete list. This means that, whatever an unborn infant is entitled to, they are for sure entitled to the agent rights established above. To just name one – being as simple as possible – I submit that every unborn person has the right to live. To infringe upon this would be to hinder the unborn’s ability to love and glorify God in this world. This is an appalling crime. There are certain instances when taking a life is moral. Yet these always involve in some way the character of the individual that should die and facts concerning the individual’s interaction with others within the community of humanity. Notice that neither of these things can be considered or even attributed to the unborn infant. When has the infant accumulated a record – whether good or bad – before any moral system? When has the infant interacted with the community of humanity? He has not yet had the chance.
At the very least, we are all obligated to not refuse an unborn infant its right to live. Remember, entitlements are things that other people are responsible to allow but not provide for other people. Without even discussing the parental obligations of the mother and father, nor the ethical problems every abortionist deals with in choosing to enter into the infant’s shelter, it is clear that the most that we could morally do to bring about an abortion would be to stop taking care of the baby within the womb. The woman may cease to watch what she eats, what she lifts, etc. At the absolute most, this is what we are all permitted to do. I don’t have to carry this type of scenario through any further, however, because obviously this is not at all how abortions are carried out today.
Because every unborn infant has a revealed, God-given purpose, he has a right to live and accomplish that purpose. Handicaps do not trump this. Pain does not trump this. The possibility of death does not trump this. The context of the pregnancy does not trump this. The human end provides an ethical principle that destroys the so called “logic” behind abortion. To state it negatively: no one has a right to take away an unborn infant’s opportunity to accomplish the revealed purpose for which God put them on earth.