By James M. Kushiner, Executive Director, The Fellowship of St. James -
Our nation is deeply divided about what constitutes the right ordering of society. Everyone claims that they are seeking justice. All speak on behalf of rights. Many think they know what makes for "peace on earth, goodwill toward men."
Do human rights belong to each individual because each is made in the image of God? Or do rights stand on another basis? Douglas Farrow in Desiring a Better Country: Forays in Political Theology, cites the anxiety of Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz looking at the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights: "I wonder at this phenomenon because, maybe, underneath there is an abyss. After all, those ideas have had their foundation in religion, and I am not over-optimistic as to the survival of religion in a scientific-technological civilization." Farrow asks, "In other words: can we have human rights without God?"
Farrow discusses the tension between rights based on the vertical appeal to God and those based on a merely horizontal basis in man--without any reference to God. Take abortion, for instance. "Theologically put, is it wrong because God, rather than man or woman, has jurisdiction over the fetus and his future?"
From a traditional point of view, however, the rights of God and the rights of man are both found together in the God-man Jesus Christ. Farrow summarizes Pope Leo XIII's view:
"[T]he worth and righteousness of God, like the rights of God, are grounded in God himself. But the worth and righteousness of man, and the rights of man, are grounded, neither in the race (that is, in human nature) nor in individual members thereof, but in this particular man, the man who is also God. To him 'we must both feel and render with our whole hearts gratitude,' says Leo, for in him we see, and from him we learn, the truth about ourselves as God has established it. This is the truth it makes us free."
If we accept that rights are from God because our nature is given as a gift, we must also affirm "the Christian insight that humans have a eucharistic vocation... Our proper starting point is just this thankful reckoning with the rightful claim of God in each and all of us."
About the unborn child, Farrow makes this startling point: "[I]f it is wrong to kill a human fetus, it is wrong because this interrupts the vocation of that fetus to praise God and enjoy him forever, a vocation given it by God himself in and with the gift of existence, a vocation we may not override for purposes of our own without offending against the rights of God."
Existence is a free gift of God. The proper response to such a gift must always be continual gratitude. Our proper response--"it is meet and right"--is thanksgiving, the meaning of the word eucharist. This is our primary "right," if you will, to be thankful in our being. A. W. Tozer wrote:
"The work of Christ in redemption, for all its mystery, has a simple and understandable end: it is to restore man to the position from which they fell and bring them around again to be admirers and lovers of the Triune God. God saves men to make them worshipers."
In the Christmas story of the shepherds of Bethlehem we hear an angelic affirmation of this divine scheme that sheds lights on the rights of men: First, and primary, "Glory to God in the Highest!" and then may there be "peace among men with whom he is well pleased."
We begin with the Gift of God: "Unto us a son is given." "Unto you is born this day in the City of David..." The God-Man Jesus is both our Gift from God and the exemplary Son who gives God all thanks and praise as man, the Man in whom we are now, finally, made alive!