Kennedy's 'Postcards from
Rights and responsibilities
Jonal entry 989 | Monday, June 5 2006
A major article in newspapers around the country this past weekend was Associated Press religion writer Richard N. Ostling's warning that if same-sex marriage becomes the law of the landand social observers are saying that is virtually inevitableit is likely to permanently alter the face of most American religious institutions. Catholics, evangelical Protestants, Eastern Orthodox, Mormons and other religious groups say that they can never permit same-sex marriages; they will never perform them. But no sooner than gay marriage becomes the law than the next pressure point from the left will be to force all agencies to grant new assumed rights, and, based on past precedents, courts can be expected to rule that human rights of all Americans will trump religious scruples. Churches will either conduct gay marriages or face the loss of tax-exempt status, and possibly even more stingent penalties. Christian and other religious adoption agencies will be forced to place children with couples without consideration of their sexual orientation, as the law of Massachusetts is already being applied in the wake of that state's supreme court ruling that gay couples have a right to marry.
"Rights," even civil rights and so-called "human rights," are relatively new concepts. There is no basis for them in the Bible, where all the emphasis is on the individual's and the community's responsibilities before God. God calls on individual believers and the government (of ancient Israel) to extend liberty and dignity to people in need, and even warns that failing to show compassion and charity will be judged and punished. But He doesn't say this is because the person being treated less than charitably has "rights" to be treated otherwise but that all people have responsibilities to their neighbors and people in need.
For all intents and purposes, "rights" is a creation of the modern way of thinking that is traced to The Enlightenment, which is exemplified by personages like philosopher John Locke, French free thinker Voltaire, and American revolutionary tractarian Thomas Paine, who is best known for having written the 1776 tracts under the name "Common Sense" that inspired many of the advocates of war against England to gain American independence. Lesser known but more pertinent to the topic of the day is Paine's book, Rights of Man. And in yet another book, The Age of Reason, he declared his personal war against "organized" religion:
Most Christians would say the concept of human rights is a positive contribution of liberalism to modern times, and I would agree. For years I praised former President Carter for his pressing this concept in the courts of world opinion so forcefully. Though I am not enthusiastic about the United Nations, one of its best potentials is in the area of securing human rights for people oppressed by governments. Yet rights are tricky. "Your right to swing your arm ends at my nose," is often used to highlight the conundrum. Whose rights, and how are the lines drawn that preserve the good of the past while assuring the dignity and liberty of newly identified interest groups? These questions bear additional scrutiny.