Rights & Obligations

Liberalism is the reigning political philosophy of the twenty-first century. As a result, almost all legal theory is based upon the idea of individual “rights.” The United Nations champions “human rights” and the United States proclaims “natural rights” and “inalienable rights.” The idea of individual rights has a long history, but the modern concept can be traced to John Locke and his 'Second Treatise on Government.' The United States revolutionaries who issued the 'Declaration of Independence' were influenced by Locke. Jefferson spoke in Lockean terms when he claimed, “All men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” 

The United States has been the preeminent global superpower for several generations, and its ideology of rights based political systems holds sway. Most Christians have felt reasonably comfortable with rights based political philosophy because they were assured rights originated from God. In the post 1960s era, however, the idea of rights has been turned into a weapon to undermine Euroethnic Christianity.

This reversal has been accomplished fairly easily because God never guaranteed rights to anyone, and the realization of this fact has set up a conflict between the biblical God and the liberal god; a battle in which most of the population and their elites are backing liberalism against Christianity. They are doing this by rejecting the illiberal Christian God who does not grant the natural rights their worldview demands (LGBT rights, civil rights, freedom from religion, etc.). To modern Westerners, the concept of rights has become sacred. To strip someone of their liberal rights is to commit a secular sin. 

Jefferson, and his founding father allies, may have called upon God to back their system of “inalienable rights,” but they should have known from the Bible that he was not on their side. They were merely using him to justify their rebellion against the English monarch. Their real objective was to inspire the soon to be blood soaked revolutionary France, which was already saturated in liberal ideology, to help them overthrow British colonial rule.

When one actually reads the Bible, one discovers a shocking absence of any reference to “human” or “natural” rights. If God has guaranteed certain rights to every person, why is this never recorded in the sacred scripture?

The Bible records God striking people dead in the Bible, God ordered genocide against certain ethnic groups, he ordered capital punishment for numerous crimes and sins. Nowhere did God discuss a “right to life.”

Locke said that if one puts themselves into a state of war with another person they are forfeiting their right to life. In the case of the Canaanites, however, it was God’s people who perpetrated war and slaughter. The Canaanites had every right to defend themselves, but God was against them. Jesus might have had a right to live, but he never mentioned it before sacrificing himself for us.

The Bible supports slavery, monarchy, and oligarchy. The Kingdom of God is an absolute monarchy headed by Jesus. The apostle Paul told slaves to obey their masters. He never spoke of their “right to liberty.” Perhaps the Israelites had a right to escape Egyptian bondage, but neither God nor Moses mentioned it before laying waste to Egypt and launching their exodus. Jesus may have had a right to liberty when he was arrested, but he never discussed it. The “right to liberty” is not a Biblical concept.

Jesus instructed us to take up our cross and follow him. He told us we would suffer for his name. He told people to sell everything they had and follow him. Christians do not have the right to “pursue happiness” nor possess property. Our lives and possessions belong to Christ. These things must be sacrificed the moment Christ calls. Both happiness and property are gifts, not rights.

The problem with rights based political philosophies is that the questions inevitably arise: who is granting rights, and where do rights come from?

The rights either come from God or government. If they come from government they can easily be manipulated or taken away, but if they come from God they remain eternal. But what if God does not grant them? If He does not, the fluid and transient guarantees of a temporary government are the best that can be hoped for, and this provides little stable foundation. 

Today, many people deny God any place in the political workings of society. They want strict separation of church and state. Even if we pretend God grants rights, the modern zeitgeist refuses to acknowledge his presence. Rather than building their rights on God, moderns have decided liberalism needs no foundation. In other words, they have proclaimed liberalism a self-justifying god unto itself. As a result, the modern concept of individual rights has been enshrined as a sacred “self-evident” idea. Liberalism (i.e. liberty and equality) is the new religion of the West.

Christians have two options. Either we can discard the idea of rights as unbiblical, or we can acknowledge that rights based systems are not rooted in God’s revelation, but maintain that they serve a practical purpose and should be embraced as the core of our socio-political system. 

The first option is unappealing because most people enjoy the limited government idea that the rights based system establishes, and that protects them from arbitrary government abuse. The second option is also unappealing because it is only a matter of time until a government whose moral legitimacy is based merely on practically is delegitimized. What is needed is a political philosophy that limits government, but is also firmly embedded in a Christian and biblical worldview.

I would suggest the solution to this problem is a political ideology built on the concept of competing God given obligations. 

Among the biggest moral objections to rights based systems is that they rely on human selfishness. The individual limits government only be demanding personal protection for their speech, their religion, their property, and their lives. The entire political life of a citizen, then, is founded upon a defensive and individualistic concept of selfishness and greed. The individual must begin every socio-political thought experiment by considering their own rights. An obligations based ideology, however, would place the good of others at the center of political thought, and would limit government through the conflict of loyalties God has given us.

God has given us obligations to him, to our governments, to our families, to our neighbors, and to the church. These obligations rarely, if ever, align perfectly. Following the secular law is not always compatible with our religious conscience, taking care of our families may be limited by the contributions we give to the church, etc. While attempting to fulfill all of our God given obligations we have to compromise and moderate how much loyalty we show to each center of obligation. 

If we apply this to the objective of limited government we find government is naturally limited by how much we can actually afford to give it while still fulfilling our other obligations. If the government is taking 75% of our income, and we cannot afford to provide for our families, then it becomes our obligation to dodge taxes and illegally make money to accomplish what we need to accomplish for our family. This is based on the Golden Rule. We cannot neglect our young ones to fulfill our God given obligation to the government because then we would be neglecting our God given obligation to our children. The government does not need our money nearly as much as our own offspring; so, considering the Golden Rule, we have to help our children by disobeying the government. In this situation, it would become a moral God ordained duty to disobey and, by extension, limit the power of government.

However, this rebellion can only morally extend so far. One cannot reasonably justify dodging taxes by claiming one’s family needs expensive new vehicles and an in-ground pool. God has bound us to obey our government as much as possible. We have obligations to our government just as we do to our families. Likewise, the government itself has obligations to the citizens; notably to rule in their subject's best interest and in a spirit of godliness.

The objection might be raised that if government oversteps its bounds under this system there is no justification for citizens to overthrow the government and establish a more godly one. This relates to the question of revolution, and if the Bible permits Christians to violently overthrow their governments. I would answer in the negative (95% of the time), but I would also argue armed revolution is, in most situations, the most costly and ineffective way to replace a government. The easiest and most effective way is to intellectually and culturally delegitimize it from within, and by taking advantage of the power vacuums it leaves in the wake of its inevitable decay. 

The United States Government is an example of a secular government which has abused its power and betrayed its people, but it is also among the strongest and most overreaching governments in history. Its beaurocratic power can be oppressively wielded on a highly personal level given its enormous size. And yet, even this intrusive leviathan can only do so much. It cannot directly enforce its will in a number of spheres that could be strengthened and used as centers of power that slowly replace a corrupt and declining government. The church is the most obvious of these institutions.

Insurrection against liberal hegemony must begin in the mind. It should be built on ideas that conform with a Christian worldview. The concept of rights should be abandoned for a Golden Rule ethic of competing obligations. Institutional insurrection (the “long march”) should begin in local institutions and communities able to evade the attention of an all-powerful central government: family groups, churches, schools, clubs, and local government.