Some Thoughts on Justice, Rights and Worth

‎’Only someone who is religious can speak seriously of the sacred, but such talk informs the thought of most of us whether or not we are religious, for it shapes our thoughts about the way in which human beings limit our will as does nothing else in nature. If we are not religious, we will often search for one of the inadequate expressions which are available to us to say what we hope will be a secular equivalent of it. We may say that all human beings are inestimably precious, that they are ends in themselves, that they are owed unconditional respect, that they possess inalienable rights, and, of course, that they possess inalienable dignity. In my judgement these are ways of trying to say what we feel a need to say when we are estranged from the conceptual resources we need to say it. Be that as it may: each of them is problematic and contentious. Not one of them has the simple power of the religious ways of speaking.

Where does that power come from. Not, I am quite sure, from esoteric theological or philosophical elaborations of what it means for something to be sacred. It derives from the unashamedly anthropomorphic character of the claim that we are sacred because God loves us, his children. (Raimon Gaita, ‘Thinking about Love and Truth and Justice,’ p. 23-24, quoted in ‘Justice: Rights and Wrongs’, by Nicholas Wolterstorff, p.324-325)

Gaita is not himself a theist – but this is an interesting observation. I do think that Christian theism can offer the most solid account of rights/justice/ethics, and that while there are secular accounts, most of them seem to fail at providing a solid grounding.

The above has the feeling of someone who has taken seriously the thought of people like Nietzsche and has the consistency to see the consequences of such thinking. Religious thought, and in particular Christian thought, seems to offer the strongest and most powerful account of human worth, rights and justice.

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