I’ve always enjoyed a good debate on current events and lately “rights” has come up more often in the conversation. The problem I’ve been running into is the phrase “God-given rights”. This phrase tends to muddy up an otherwise decent conversation.
For one thing it’s a bit lazy to just say something came from god and leaving it at that. I’m not a fan of explaining anything with “it came from god” especially when it comes to public policy and government. I’m in no way making an assertion about god or religion. I just think if you just say it “came from god” it makes it difficult to explore further and in this case that much more challenging to define what rights people have and in what way they can use them.
God doesn’t have a twitter account he uses to give us clarification. So debates where people ask questions like “do you think God intended people to have assault weapons that can be used to shoot up our schools?” can go nowhere fast. The problem here is I couldn’t tell you what God intended. I would also be cautious about anyone who tells me they know what God intended as a matter of fact. Many of the rights we enjoy today were written down by men 200 years ago and then edited further 17 times since. So this makes it a challenge to decide if we even have rights God gave us and if we are enjoying them in the way God intended.
This is why I believe Natural Rights is a much better foundation to start with when discussing universal and inalienable rights as opposed to something that just comes from God. Natural rights are individual rights each of us is entitled to by virtue of being human. Furthermore, we can all enjoy these rights freely at the same time in the same way and precede any political authority.
I use this as my guiding principle and the foundation of my thinking when it comes to rights. Making it easy to identify the difference between what sounds or feels like the right thing to do and what is morally right and justifiable.
For example farmers mix their labor and natural resources to create food. They can choose to sell it, give it away, or consume themselves. What if I said we all have the right to that food. This wouldn’t be a universal right at all. Someone would be born obligated to providing food to everyone else and we all couldn’t enjoy this right at the same time in the same way. It would be immoral to take the food from the farmer by force; the equivalent to stealing. Making sure everyone who needs food gets it is a worthy goal I believe in. It’s just not a natural right we are all born with.
Check out Tom Woods awesome speech below entitled Where Do Rights Come From? for a brief history of natural rights.