Do Human Rights Mix With Religion?

Resonant with the themes of Arc of the Universe is a conversation worth reading over at Open Global Rights on religion and human rights.  Today’s human rights advocates — activists, academics — commonly believe that religion is an impediment to human rights.  They  believe that human rights were a modern, Enlightenment-era invention that replaced religion, which was hierarchical, feudal, and irrational.

The series, edited by James Ron, a political scientist at the University of Minnesota, challenges this view — and does not.  It begins with a post by Larry Cox, who makes the case that religion, though some times in tension with human rights, also bolsters human rights.  Others come back and defend the conventional contemporary view — that religion is in tension with human rights, leading to exclusion and even persecution.

My own post argues that it is difficult to make a strong defense of human rights without God.  Human rights activists may be perfectly committed to their cause even without believing in God.  If you want to know why there are human rights, though, you can’t get far without God.

It is true, though, that secular and religious people often offer different accounts for why there are human rights, which human rights are valid or deserve priority, and who is entitled to human rights.  Rather than religion vs. human rights, I think it would be better to speak of “clashing visions of human rights” or “competing orthodoxies.”  A more accurate and honest debate would ensue.

 

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Daniel Philpott

© Daniel Philpott The views expressed in this forum are those of the individual contributors and do not necessarily represent those of Daniel Philpott, CCHR, or the University of Notre Dame.