When I gave up the mainstream left/right way of looking at politics, I started seeing the world in terms of natural rights instead. I’d always been influenced by the natural law/natural rights school of thought, but that became my lens for pretty much everything. I’m starting to wonder, though, whether we should re-frame issues in terms of choices rather than rights.
It’s not that I’ve suddenly stopped believing that every human being has rights. In fact, I firmly believe in my understanding of what rights are and where they come from. But that’s the problem. When we talk about rights, we’re all coming at it from radically different directions. We believe that different things are rights and we also have different explanations for where rights come from. It makes for interesting philosophical debate, but it’s pretty useless insofar as changing the world.
Doug Douma is a libertarian friend of mine who recently wrote an article asserting that the origin of rights is the Bible — the Christian New Testament and the Hebrew Old Testament, which the Jews call the Tanakh. Even though I’m both a libertarian and a Christian, too, I didn’t agree with his conclusion, so even though we’re both Christians who believe in looking to scripture theologically, even we don’t agree on that. I offer this as one tiny example of how difficult it is to decide on where rights come from and what they are. If Doug and I don’t agree — and we both take scripture seriously — how can we expect people coming from entirely different philosophical points of view to have any chance of agreeing with us or each other?