Rights, Responsibilities, and God

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In my Ignorance and Democracy post and in Pseudo-Polymath's responses here and here, it's come to my attention that I need to make clear my views on rights and responsibilities and how they relate to God. Most of this comes right out of the comments on Pseudo-Polymath's second post. He's been saying that because I have a responsibility to raise my children well I must therefore have a right to raise them in the way I choose. I initially responded that I don't have a right to raise them however I want, because I have an obligation to do it well. He seems to have clarified his position to say that he doesn't have a right to raise them however he wants, but he has a right to raise them in a godly way. I'm not quite sure if this is what he means, but that's what he seems to me to be saying. My response is just that it sounds funny to say that I have a right to love my neighbor or to pay my debts. I have a responsibility and obligation to do those things. A right is usually something I'm owed by others, derived from my own status and not theirs.

I think many people see rights as fundamental and responsibilities as derivative. I have a right to life, and therefore the government has a responsibility to protect me. I think the biblical view is the reverse, at least with many things we in the United States will end up calling rights. I think I have philosophical reasons for this, too, but I don't have the time today with all the grading I have to finish by Monday to give those reasons. I more just want to state what my view is to make sure we're not talking past each other.

We all have God-given responsibilities, and any talk of rights is derivative of those responsibilities. I have property rights only because God has put stuff under my care, but it's not really a moral right. It's a responsibility. The same is true of parenting rights. Children are a gift from God, but familial relationships will be superceded in the resurrection. It's therefore really just stewardship. Besides, they grow up and have their own lives, even if familial ties still give them some reason to consider parental advice as adults. Perhaps the image of God grounds a moral right to life. If so, that's different. I just don't see how these oher things can be rights for me to demand things of others.

It seems to me rather that people have God-ordained responsibilities to respect God's stewardship directives, which means they have to allow the God-appointed people to manage what they have authority to manage, whether that be property, children, the environment, or whatever. That doesn't mean I have a right to their respecting of God's appointments. It's not about me. It's about God. God is the one who has that right. It violates God's rights if they don't do it, but it's not my right for them to respect God's careful apportioning of authority. It therefore seems to me to be encroaching upon God's rights to say that I have a right to raise my children in a way different from how the government wants me to. If they fail to allow me to raise them the way God intends, then they've violated God's rights and perhaps my children's rights but not mine. That's why I don't think my rights as a parent should be the ground of laws preventing the government from controlling my parental choices. I just don't think I have such rights.

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Right and responsiblity are linked concepts. I examine how they are linked and what this implies a little more. Read More

4 Comments

Jeremy,
I think my transition from responsibility to right is not quite as your example (in the comment on my 2nd post) indicates. I have a responsibility to love my neighbor. What rights does this confer? I would infer only that it grants me the moral rights necessary to fullfill my responsibility. In the "love your neigbor" example, exactly how that works out into rights depends on how you interpret what loving your neigbor entails.

Perhaps if we interpret my parental reponsibility as God given, then, likewise the moral right to raise your child also has the same provenance. However, we may voluntarily cede some of this right and responsibility as part of our social contract to our community. I just thought of that, so I haven't by any means thought it through. :)

This takes us back to my main point, then. I have a legal right to raise my children to be racists. I don't have a moral right to do so, because that violates good principles of morality, and I don't have the moral right to do anything wrong. I in fact have a responsibility not to. So the moral right to raise my children in a godly way can't ground the legal rights to raise my children the way I want with regard to such things. Whatever you think about how rights relate to responsibilities, I think you have to admit that. A moral right you don't have can't ground a legal right, and similarly a moral right that you might have but that isn't very expansive can't ground a legal right that's more expansive. The legal right has to be grounded in something else.

We only have rights inasmuch as they are granted by the authorities who govern us. Morally, we are subject to one another (in different ways depending on relationship) and also to our government. Because of this, if someone must do wrong because it's been decreed by someone in authority, their sin is on the head of the one or ones in authority.

Here's a small real-life example that came to mind: about 1-1/2 years ago, I attempted to obtain vaccines for my daughter that had not been propagated using cell lines from aborted fetal tissue. I ordered the vaccines, but they could only be shipped to a doctor. I called every "authority" I could think of, starting with my daughter's doctor, then other doctors in my area, then drs. in neighboring cities, several county health departments, and even Merck. I kept running up against the same brick wall: only one or two were willing to give me referrals, and no doctor was willing to administer a vaccine unless my daughter switched to their practice (her own dr. refused). The nearest dr. I found willing to consider the whole proposition was 150 miles away. Not practical.

This left me with two options: to not vaccinate at all, or to use the standard "tainted" vaccines. I chose the latter. Use of these vaccines violated my own conscience (actually, made me kind of sick), but to not vaccinate at all violated my conscience even more, and in this case I was at the mercy of those who manufacture, handle, and control the vaccines and their administration.

****

I think we can be granted rights by a government, but they are legal rights only. I don't think we can own moral rights ourselves either. We can be granted them, maybe. I agree with you, Jeremy, that, morally, we have responsibility to God (and therefore everyone and everything we influence) as well as government to be good stewards and to love in practice. It can be tough to make determinations as to what to try to preserve or improve and what to "let go," however.

I think a government should allow parents to raise their children as they choose as long as that choice doesn't result in harm to the children (which again gets debatable in a "free" society), but parents don't get an automatic right to raise their kids however they want regardless, even if that way is what the godly way would be if allowed by government.

Following my thought on social contract, the legal right to raise our children in an immoral fashion is not restricted by law because we have not ceded that right (or responsibility) to the community.

It seems when in the transitive right/resonsibility relationship, a more restrictive right corresponds to a less restrictive responsibility. That is, a responsiblity to raise my children rightly, yields less rights or freedoms in how they may be raised. While a less restrictive responsiblity to raise my children so they get three square meals and clothing, yeilds more rights in how I can raise those kids.

This relationship between right and responsibility is sort of like duality in mathematics. In this case a responsibilty, under "transformation" has a dual (partner) right. The question of which comes first the responsibility or right, depends on your philosophy. The two concepts seem to remain linked nonetheless. The grounding of different rights (raising children morally or safely) correspond to different responsibilities.

I think I'm going to work on expanding on this.

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