Friday, March 7, 2008

Wrong About Rights

Emergents are Wrong About Rights

This is an entry in which I will comment on another blog. If you read “God’s Politics” often it quickly becomes apparent that it is not. I will reproduce the most comment-worth sections of the original, interspersed with my comments in bold.

God’s Politics a blog by Jim Wallis and friends
Monday, February 18, 2008
An Emergent Politics Primer: Part One (by Tony Jones)

The unnuanced maps showing states as "red" or "blue" disregards the fact that in a red state, as many as 49 percent of the voters are blue, and vice versa. . .

But even more important, it ignores what we all know to be true: each one of us is a complex mélange of viewpoints and opinions, and very few of us line up with every plank in a party's platform. Being that postmodern Christians are acutely aware of micronarratives and justifiably incredulous toward metanarratives, they are particularly suspicious of the spokespersons of left and right . . .

Will “emergent politics” turn out to be as muddle-headed as the “emergent church”? Let’s have a look.

We begin with “micronarratives” of which postmodern Christians - something that is probably a conjunction of contradictory terms - are “acutely aware.” To translate that out of emergent/postmodern speak and into English, postmodern Christians are wrapped up in the concerns of their own little groups and sub-groups.

These same “postmodern Christians” are “justifiably incredulous toward metanarratives.” This means they don’t pay much attention to all-encompassing views, because they don’t think there is any reason to do so.

That is especially amusing because - as the postmodern are prone to do - the author is about to present a very “metanarrative” perspective on human rights. While you can point this out to these postmoderns, you are usually wasting your effort because they often put very little stock in logic - all the while using it, of course. This again leads to something we could point out, but why bother with postmoderns?

From a theoretical point of view, both the good and the bad of our democracy in its present state seem to be driven by the concept of unalienable, individual human rights. . . the modern version of individual rights was invented by John Locke (1632–1704) and written into the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution by Thomas Jefferson and his posse. . . individual rights became the foundation of liberal democracy, clearly the most robust and equitable of all systems of government yet conceived.

So was only the “modern version” of individual rights “invented” by John Locke? Is there an older version that preceded Locke? Inquiring minds would like to know such things, but more on that later.

However, it is also responsible for some serious ills, including the rampant consumerism ("You deserve that new iPod!") that has led to the average U.S. adult carrying a credit card balance of $8,000. And, it seems, the premise of individual rights means that some arguments just aren't winnable - the rights of the mother versus the rights of the unborn child . . .

Apparently, emergent/postmodern “thinkers” like Tony Jones don’t pay much attention to “micronarratives” - things like what John Locke actually thought. Locke’s view might make “consumerism” possible, but it certainly does not endorse it. Of course, if individuals have even a degree of economic freedom, they can borrow what they will if they can find those willing to lend.

And, really now, is a new iPod really a “serious ill”?

Beyond these trifling points, it is the height of stupidity to claim that Locke’s view of rights makes it impossible to decide if a mother has a “right” to kill her unborn child.

Emergents don't have a problem with Lockean individual rights per se - their problem is with the fact that unalienable, individual rights is not a biblical-theological virtue. The Bible's call is not to protect the self but to sacrifice the self. Jesus says clearly to his followers, "Drop everything and follow me. ... Let the dead bury their own dead. ... Sell everything you own, give the money to the poor, and follow me. ... Take up your cross daily."

It appears that emergents have not forgotten how to build a straw man. Who, exactly, claims that the idea of individual rights is a virtue? Even Locke, whose Christian orthodoxy might be questionable, rightly understood that “rights” derive from the fact that God is our Creator and as such has given certain behavior-limiting commandments. If the Creator has commanded that no one take innocent human life - and He has - then innocent humans have a “right to life.” In a similar fashion, the commandment not to steal creates a right to property.

To that, the Apostle Paul adds a score of exhortations to self-control, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Supplement this with the fact that every word of the Hebrew and Christian scripture was written to human beings living in community (the nation of Israel in the former, the early church in the latter), and it becomes untenable for a Christian to base her life on the philosophy that "it's all about me and my rights."

None of this, properly understood, leads to a philosophy that ‘it’s all about me and my rights.” As a matter of fact, without an understanding of rights at least in the ball park of Locke, the virtues would make no sense. Jesus’ statement “sell everything you own” presumes that you do, in fact, own something to sell. Without a right to property, the man to whom Jesus spoke would have had nothing to sell. Perhaps those enamored with “emergent politics” should bother to study Acts chapter six very carefully. There we find that those communities mentioned, especially the early church, clearly recognized the right to property.

The emergent/postmodernists always have a metanarrative. It is, strangly enough, a metanarrative of trying to ignore metanarratives. Call it what you will, but a bit of clear thinking would be good for those emergent politicians.

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