An Open Notebook

Rights and Gifts


Synthesizing some of my thoughts on ‘property,’ it seems the West uses the Lockean language of ‘rights’ quite often. We say we have the ‘right’ to such land, ‘right’ to vote, ‘right’ to ‘speech’ and ‘assembly.’ All these could be considered also in terms of ‘properties,’ what is ‘good’ and ‘proper.’

As framed by our friends from the eighteenth century, we possess the property to own property (within reasonable boundaries, not illicit materials or such which would jeopardize others to the degree our Constitution governs). The properties of our society are based upon the ‘rights’ which seem inherent to humanity: life, liberty, and the ‘pursuit of happiness’ (the Jeffersonian amendment to Lock’s famous phrase).

But, by using the language of ‘rights’ all the time, we can sound, seem, or give the impression of being selfish, prudish, and absorbed. Especially when it is separated from any theistic claim, when we follow in self-deterministic, humanistic worldviews, detached from any sort of quality metaphysics. Who endowed these ‘rights.’ The American Government?

Yes, in part. But, what the government can give the government can take away. If ‘rights’ are given by a good God, however, the language of ‘rights’ becomes far more optimistic. These things are ‘rights’ only because they are ‘gifts,’ gifts from God.

While the founders of the American government ranged from deist to theist to Christian theist, atheist and agnostics among them, they picked up the vocabulary of ‘right’ to express first that these are ‘rights’ because they are universal ‘gifts.’ “I have the ‘right’ to do something, first-and-foremost because it has been a gift given by God.”

That which is not permissible by God, are not gifts given to us, and thus we cannot do them. For instance, to take a life illicitly is not a ‘right,’ it is murder (Exodus 20). You cannot take what you have not been given, for God has not endowed you with the life of another to take-or-give by your own hands. 

Thus, in the spirit of Christmastide, we reflect on what it means to truly appreciate the ‘rights’ we have been given. As Psalm 119 says, blessed be the one who reflects on the laws of God day and night, perpetually and for all time. 

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