Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, is evidently not a moral-relativist or a multi-culturalist. She has stated that “gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights,” and she’s so sure about this that she’s imposing this equation on the rest of the world.
This means that human rights – moral absolutes – ought to take precedence over the laws and traditions of the rest of the world. However, in order for this to be so, human rights must partake in at least three characteristics. They must be universal, immutable, and authoritative. In fact, all of these characteristics require transcendence – something or someone that exists beyond the laws of time and space, matter and energy. Let me try to illustrate why this is the case.
UNIVERSAL: If human rights weren’t universal, Clinton would have had no basis to insist that other nations make rooms for these “rights,” especially in light of the fact that they violate the laws and traditions of these nations. However, if human rights aren’t universal, she would need to qualify her position by stating something like this:
- “Gay rights are human rights only in the West but not in Africa or in Muslim nations,” or “They are human rights as long as they don’t violate your own traditions.”
However, by claiming that gay rights are human rights, she is claiming that they trump anything that might contradict them – any teachings from any religion or any culture. (The USA is making this assertion a universal one by denying US foreign aid to any nation that will not provide gay rights, even when they violate their culture or religion.)
We now have to ask, “What makes a law or a right universal? It can’t be based on a law or power source operating within the universe under its limitations.” Just think about any energy source – a radio station, for example. The further you remove yourself from it, the weaker the signal.
Why don’t human rights and other laws operate in this manner? Why do they not generate more influence at one point of the globe than another? If they are closer to their source, we should expect that they would exercise a great influence, that is, unless their source is transcendent and therefore can impact the universe uniformly. It depends on the existence of transcendent laws – laws that operate uniformly throughout the cosmos –laws that are not subject to the influences of time, matter, energy, space and relativity. Laws and rights cannot be expected to act uniformly if they are based within the cosmos.
IMMUTABLE: In order for Clinton to make her assertion, human rights must be immutable –unchangeable. She is not simply saying that human rights trump any laws to the contrary just for today or this week. Instead, she is saying that there is something timeless about them. While our laws and cultures change, Clinton’s assumption is that human rights do not change.
This is partially why human rights are more inalienable than national laws. They are unchangeable because they are based upon something greater, which is also unchangeable.
However, Clinton failed to articulate what or who it must be that is the basis for our human rights. In fact, this question demands articulation. We live in a world of molecules-in-motion. There is nothing in the physical world that is not changing or moving. We are even told that there the molecules in a steel plate are moving around – even deteriorating. What then can be the basis of moral absolutes, including human rights?
Our Declaration of Independence provides the one possible answer: We have been endowed by our Creator “with certain inalienable [unchangeable] rights.” If human rights were granted by governments, then governments can also deprive us of these rights. However, Clinton speaks as if these rights transcend government, culture, and human society, but without explaining what makes them inalienable or transcendent.
If human rights are based upon our culture, laws, or even evolution, they would rest upon a shifting foundation, which would mean that they too are changing and relative to our differing foundations. If so, then Clinton would not be justified in telling Nigeria – and their conditions are different than our own – to adopt gay rights, lest they lose American foreign aid. Such a requirement would be nothing short of cultural imperialism.
Instead, there is only one adequate foundation for immutable human rights, and that is an immutable Being who is greater than all cultures, religions, governments, majority-rules, and historical precedence. Also, in order to be immutable, He must also be transcendent – beyond the created universe, which is enmeshed in the changes of time, space, energy, and matter. This is a universe in which every molecule is in motion.
However, some will appeal to impersonal laws as a basis for human rights. After all, gravity is universal and immutable. Why then can’t there be impersonal moral absolutes? Why can’t they operate impersonally as a karmic principle or law?
I’ve already alluded to the fact that the existence of our physical laws, like gravity, can’t be used an argument for non-transcendence or naturalism. Instead, these laws bear unmistakable qualities that set them apart from the things that we find within the cosmos. They too partake of universality, uniformity and immutability. However, moral absolutes partake of a quality that goes beyond the qualities of the laws of physics. They are authoritative.
AUTHORITATIVE: Underlying Clinton’s assertion is also the idea that human rights must be authoritative. They should require our submission to them. To put it another way, let’s assume that there exists human rights that are universal and immutable. This in itself isn’t adequate to persuade us to live according to them. Something immutable and universal might lack clout or sanction. In other words, why should anyone allow these human rights to trump their own traditions if they are not authoritative.
OK, gravity is universal and immutable. But we need not live according to its “dictates.” We can defy gravity in many ways. We can fly in a plane or even blast into outer space where we can float freely, outside of gravity’s grasp. Perhaps we might even build an anti-gravity machine. And why not? Would there be another wrong with this idea?
However, no one will suggest that we build an anti-human rights machine or establish a zone where the requirements for human rights wouldn’t penetrate. This, of course, is ridiculous. But what makes it ridiculous? If we can get-around the force of gravity, why not also human rights?
Intuitively, we know that human rights and moral absolutes carry an authority that gravity lacks. It’s an authority that impresses itself upon our conscience and even our identity. It’s also an authority that makes pragmatic sense to us. We legislate laws in accordance to this authority and require obedience, and they work to build better societies.
We also know that there is an absolute Authority Figure who stands behind our intuitive sense (Romans 1:18-32; 2:14-15). And He is essential. Arthur Leff, atheist and professor at the Duke School of Law, wrote of His necessity:
- “The so-called death of God wasn’t just His funeral, but was the elimination of any coherent ethical or legal system…As it stands now, everything is up for grabs…Napalming babies is bad, starving the poor wicked, buying and selling people is depraved—but, ‘Sez who?’ God help us.”
Leff is right. We can have absolute, universal, and immutable moral principles, but if there is no God whose moral authority stands behind them, why bother! Human rights must have this Authority supporting them. Without this supreme Authority, there exists nothing higher than our various contending ideas and desires. Besides, if human rights were merely the result of an impersonal and unintelligent karma, there would be no reason at all to not try to find a way around them, as we do around gravity.
However, Clinton would not condone any attempt to get around gay rights. But why are these human rights? Is the lifestyle of a polygamist, a pedophile or a beastophile a human right? Why then should we even consider gay rights human rights? Every major religion fails to recognize such “rights.” Perhaps Clinton needs to confer with God about this! However, I think that she would find this consultation less than satisfactory.