- The American Conservative - https://www.theamericanconservative.com -

What Has Christianity To Do With Human Rights?

Ross Douthat:

[T]he core of my argument [is] that much of contemporary secular liberalism depends on assertions that are potent and widely persuasive only because most Westerners are still deeply influenced by Christian premises about the nature and destiny of man. Sanchez, in his conclusion, suggests that this argument has an “odd circularity” to it:

The notion seems to be that someone not (yet) convinced of Christian doctrine would have strong reasons—strong humanistic reasons—to hope for a world in which human dignity and individual rights are respected. But then why aren’t these reasons enough to do the job on their own? If Christian doctrine is true, then external considerations are irrelevant to the truth of whatever normative beliefs it supports. If it is false, and our moral beliefs are unsustainable without this false premise, then we should be glad to be rid of false and unjustifiable beliefs. If we think it would be awful to discard those beliefs, then that awfulnessis sufficient reason to hang onto them without any religious scaffolding.

But the whole point is that I don’t think that many humanists actually do have strong reasons for their hopes regarding human dignity and human rights. I think that they have prejudices and assumptions and biases, handed down as an inheritance from two millennia of Christian culture, which retain a certain amount of force even though given purely materialistic  premises about mankind and the universe they don’t actually make much sense at all.

I don’t think that’s any kind of answer. Okay, so humanists don’t have strong reasons for their faith in human rights. Do Christians have strong reasons for believing in Christianity? Strong in the terms Douthat is talking about here? If you already think that Christianity “makes sense” – that is to say, is persuasive on its own terms – then you don’t need to have a conversation about whether believing in it is pragmatically necessary for society; you already believe it. If you don’t already think Christianity makes sense, then why is it pragmatically necessary to believe in Christianity in order to believe in human rights and human dignity? Why can’t you just believe in those things directly? That’s Sanchez’s question, and Douthat’s answer – that humanists don’t have strong reasons for their beliefs – is a non-sequitur. If there are no good humanistic reasons for believing in human rights, then there are no good humanistic reasons for believing in Christianity in order to believe in human rights either. And therefore there are no good humanistic reasons for believing in Christianity. In which case Sanchez is right.

If these beliefs – belief in human rights, and belief that God redeemed the world from sin by incarnating Himself as a human being and allowing Himself to be crucified – both require leaps of faith, then what is the ground for deeming one more persuasive than the other? Presumably, the ground is something other than reason – it’s aesthetic, or psychological, or something. Among other things, the latter belief, being a myth, tells a story. But the point isn’t that without Christian premises you can’t believe in human rights – because those premises are just as ungrounded as direct belief in human rights. It’s that believing in random premises is less convincing to people than believing in myths, in stories, because that’s how human psychology works.

Add one more layer, in which you, the philosopher, admit that, yes, Christianity is just a myth, that nihilism is “true” but that society requires believing something other than this awful truth, and you’ve got the Straussian defense of traditional religion. I can see Douthat doesn’t want to go here, but what other destination can he have making the kind of argument he’s making?

But more to the point: when did Aquinas or Augustine talk about human rights? I seem to recall that rights, as we understand them today, were an invention of the Enlightenment. Notwithstanding Douthat’s argument that Locke’s views “depended on certain theological premises,” what he was arguing against in the Second Treatise was the patriarchal model of government that traditional Christians would have recognized as normative and that the Catholic Church endorsed well into the 20th century. If he was making a Christian argument, so was Filmer, which only proves that the argument was playing out within a Christian civilization – which we already knew as a matter of historical fact. Looking from the outside, it looks very much to me like Christianity has appropriated these concepts – promulgated as often by materialists and deists as they were by theists – and reestablished them on Christian foundations. Which, for all I know, may make them more secure – on some level, I agree with the Straussian defense of traditional religion. But getting the intellectual genealogy right is kind of important.

Around the Muslim world today, there is a great deal of debate about whether Islam is compatible with democracy and human rights, and if so how that compatibility should be construed. A Christian doctrine that says, “in the long term, you can’t believe in democracy and human rights unless you accept Christianity” is, effectively, arguing that Islam is not compatible with these ideas – that they are the nose of the Christian camel under the tent. A Christian doctrine that says, in an Eisenhower-esque vein, “in the long term, you can’t believe in democracy and human rights unless you believe in religion, and I don’t care what it is” winds up, effectively, endorsing at least some other religions as at least “sort of true.” Which I think any orthodox Christian would find highly problematic. By contrast, saying, “the ideas of democracy and human rights emerged from the Christian world, but they are not necessarily dependent on Christian premises, and are pragmatically useful outside of that context” leaves open the possibility that they could be re-founded on other religious principles. Which would seem to me to be a good pragmatic reason for making such an argument, in addition to its being historically more correct than the idea of posthumously baptizing ancient and medieval Christians as Lockean liberals.

21 Comments (Open | Close)

21 Comments To "What Has Christianity To Do With Human Rights?"

#1 Comment By tbraton On May 22, 2012 @ 7:34 pm

“By contrast, saying, “the ideas of democracy and human rights emerged from the Christian world, but they are not necessarily dependent on Christian premises”

The citizens of ancient Athens must be rolling in their graves upon hearing the notion that democracy was an invention of the “Christians,” the first of whom didn’t appear until more than 500 years after Cleisthenes.  (That is, they would be rolling in their graves if they believed in an afterlife, which most of them didn’t.)  They would also point out, being avid students of history (Herotodus being its purported Father) that the “Christians” didn’t come around to developing their own brand of democracy until 1600 years after the supposed death of Christ.  American Southerners of the early to mid 19th century, especially the slave-owning variety, who were ardent followers of Christ, might raise their eyebrows at the identification of Christianity with “human rights.” 

#2 Comment By Michael B Dougherty On May 22, 2012 @ 8:04 pm

Not sure this is right. 

If I’m following correctly, Douthat is arguing that respect for human persons is at least grounded in the metaphysical framework provided by Christianity. But that belief in human rights without religion isn’t even grounded in its own worldview. It’s a dogma that has to acknowledge that it is arbitrary. 

Yes there is a leap of faith in becoming a Christian (although Aquinas would argue that natural theology gets you pretty far). But human rights isn’t even that – it is more like a simple assertion. 

#3 Comment By Noah172 On May 22, 2012 @ 8:27 pm

Christianity exists outside politics. Jesus said that his kingdom is not of this world. He refused to be an earthly, political messiah (which is what most 1st-century Jews wanted), leading the Jews to military victory over the Romans and reestablishing the Davidic monarchy/theocracy. He offered salvation — eternal life — to all who would have sincere faith in his divinity, regardless of political affiliation (or really anything else).

The concepts of democracy, liberty, and republic arose before Christianity in the pagan Greek and Roman worlds; the concepts freedom and right are Germanic pagan in origin (freiheit and recht). These concepts all found fuller expression within Christianity, which speaks of every human being’s dignity before the Almighty, emancipation of the soul from the slavery of sin and fear of death, and ethical guidelines (not precise statutes and commentary thereon) which have formed the basis of Christian civil society.

Nonetheless, Christianity is compatible with, or can exist within or alongside, a wide variety of political systems. The Lord never wielded earthly power in his short life, and he was executed as a common criminal. Many if not most of his followers in the first two generations were similarly executed. The faith spent its first three centuries a persecuted sect, both by Roman officialdom and Jewish mobs. Throughout the centuries until the present day, Christians living under non-Christian rule have endured the most unimaginable suffering. The faith teaches believers to look forward, regardless of earthly circumstance (including political circumstance), to a heavenly city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

Islam and Orthodox Judaism, in stark contrast, are politicized religions which were unambiguously theocratic before encountering European Christian influence (and to a great extent, still endorse theocracy). Both have divinely-ordained law codes (sharia’ and halakha) with extensive clerical commentaries, all of which are meant to direct civil matters: who needs a legislature, or elections, then? Both religions have sacred territories (the Arabian peninsula — or all of Dar ul-Islam, for many a Muslim; biblical Judea and Samaria for Jews) which adherents are commanded to defend militarily and govern theocratically.

#4 Comment By noahmillman On May 22, 2012 @ 9:09 pm

Yes, Aquinas would argue that – and you and I can agree to disagree on how persuasive we respectively find natural theology. To me, it looks like there are some pretty big ungrounded assertions at the heart of natural theology as well.

Here’s my point. The distinction between an ideological claim – like “human rights are absolute” – and Christianity is not that one is ungrounded while the other is grounded in a “metaphysical framework.” That framework just amounts to a longer list of ungrounded claims if viewed as a set of propositions. What makes them something more is that they have a narrative relationship to a lived human life, and that they are embedded in a lived tradition. That’s why they “work” deeply in a way that a secular schema doesn’t. It’s nothing to do with logic or reason or groundedness in truth. It’s about groundedness in human psychology.

And I basically disbelieve Douthat’s historical claim. I don’t believe that “respect for human persons” is “grounded” in the metaphysical framework provided by Christianity, because that metaphysical framework has – historically – proved perfectly compatible with a variety of actions that we would consider to demonstrate lack of respect for human persons – torture, slavery, etc. – and because various of the key figures who historically advanced the idea of inalienable rights understood themselves to be breaking with orthodox Christianity. Douthat himself knows that the Catholic Church’s embrace of democracy and human rights dates basically from the 1940s and 1950s – he says so in his own book.

What I think is true is that Christianity – as a living, breathing religion that speaks to human beings on a mythic level – has a lot more staying power than liberalism does which, truth be told, is just a “good idea.” I shouldn’t say “just” a good idea – good ideas are really, really rare. But they don’t speak to us the way a mythic system does.

So is it a good thing or a bad thing to, retroactively, ground some of the basic ideas of liberalism in Christianity? I see two sides of that. On the one hand, yes, it probably roots them more firmly. On the other hand, it probably limits them by hedging them around with the demands of orthodoxy.

I could say much the same about Aquinas and Aristotle. Was it a good idea to root Aristotle in Christianity? On the one hand, yes: it rooted reason in something with deeper psychological roots. On the other hand, no: it turned Aristotle into dogma, which meant that, centuries on, to disagree with what Aristotle thought were insights based on observation of the natural world was understood as unacceptable heresy.

This isn’t just a Christian problem. In the ultra-Orthodox Jewish world, you can find people who say the sun revolves around the earth because Maimonides said so. Maimonides himself would undoubtedly be appalled, but there it is.

#5 Comment By Eric_Hansen On May 22, 2012 @ 10:46 pm

I still think Ross is making a point that is more telling that you allow.  The question is, why should I care about, say, the poor, weak, and unfortunate (setting aside for the moment the problematic cases of democracy and human rights)?  A modern , secular outlook can’t really provide an answer to that question, not even to those who accept it.  Christianity (and other religions) can at least explain to its adherents why there is an obligation to care here.  Of course, to those who don’t accept, it explains nothing at all.  It is just a “longer list of ungrounded propositions”.

I think here you touch on something quite true: “What makes them something more is that they have a narrative relationship to a lived human life, and that they are embedded in a lived tradition.”  But I think this is more than just psychology; it is the medium through which one grows in knowledge.

#6 Comment By Eric_Hansen On May 22, 2012 @ 11:01 pm

I still think Ross is making a point that is more telling that you allow.  The question is, why should I care about, say, the poor, weak, and unfortunate (setting aside for the moment the problematic cases of democracy and human rights)?  A modern , secular outlook can’t really provide an answer to that question, not even to those who accept it.  Christianity (and other religions) can at least explain to its adherents why there is an obligation to care here.  Of course, to those who don’t accept, it explains nothing at all.  It is just a “longer list of ungrounded propositions”.

I think here you touch on something quite true: “What makes them something more is that they have a narrative relationship to a lived human life, and that they are embedded in a lived tradition.”  But I think this is more than just psychology; it is the medium through which one grows in knowledge.

#7 Comment By Egyptsteve On May 23, 2012 @ 12:56 pm

I think you’re missing Ross’ real point.  He’s not talking about Christianity as historically understood and practiced, in other times and in other places, by other people.  He’s talking about Christianity as properly understood,  here and now, by himself.  

#8 Comment By Scott Galupo On May 23, 2012 @ 3:20 pm

Re: Douthat vs. Sanchez, I’m surprised no one brought up the old Bertrand Russell conundrum: If goodness is good because God says so, it’s essentially arbitrary. But if God and goodness are distinct, then God is in some sense subordinate to it, or “under” it, just like we are.

#9 Comment By RodDreher On May 23, 2012 @ 4:08 pm

My reading of Ross’s point is more general than yours, Noah. I think he’s essentially saying that any moral claim made outside a religious metaphysic is going to be much weaker than a claim made from within. For example, I don’t believe that the Islamic religion is true, but I recognize that within a Muslim society, a moral claim made on the basis of Islam is going to have force that one based on secular criteria, e.g., the appeal to abstract rights, will have. 

My reading is that Ross was simply trying to say that secular liberals depend a lot more on religion than they seem to recognize.

#10 Comment By Joshua Dill On May 23, 2012 @ 5:08 pm

Thanks for this good post.
There are a few things I wanted to comment on:
First of all, it seems that, in the original post, and in your comment in reply to Michael B Dougherty, you represent Douthat as advocating a “retroactive grounding” of liberalism/rights discourse in Christianity. I haven’t followed the trail all the way back to the discussion with Saletan (I only read Douthat’s blog post), but I don’t think he makes this argument. I don’t even think he would view this as possible. Rather than an argument, I think that his post is an exposition, an exposition that has an implied warning: “danger, danger, lack of grounding.”

I was a little surprised to see the question you ask above, that asks why one leap of faith is more valid than another leap of faith. I’d follow MBD’s line of arguing, that the distinction is leap of faith/assertion. Christianity claims to tell the truth about a metaphysical reality (God exists, etc, and the religion reflects this reality) which is involved in a historical reality (about Israel, about the figure of Jesus, about the Church). I think most Christian believers can understand doubting their religion, can understand the idea that these things could be not true. Hence the “leap of faith.” But as for liberalism, its beginnings/invention are historically transparent! It really can’t claim to be more than a “good idea.” There’s no question of, “is this true, or is this not true?” There can’t be a leap of faith. The issue isn’t even belief, it’s only assent. Hence the talk of games, preferences, good ideas.

“OK, But what’s wrong with a ‘good idea’?”– seems to be your question in your comment. I think that this question brings us right back around to Douthat’s original point. “Danger, danger! weak system.”

Skipping the Hitlers and Stalins, I wanted to mention the weirder figure of Charles Maurras. This guy panicked a bit after he lost his faith in Christianity, but, influenced by Auguste Comte’s humanistic secular religion, he decided that the nation (France, in this case), should be the transcendent community. France as the transcendental, that was his good idea. Even at this level of abstraction France is still at least a real thing. Or you can pick human rights as a transcendental and that can be your good idea. “Danger, danger, is that all you’ve got?”(Finally–and this is basically a post script to this giant comment even though this was probably your main point in the OP– I think Christianity [I suppose I’m thinking in specific of the RC church] has its own moral system that works on different principles than liberalism and rights, and that it uses or appropriates liberal vocabulary because it knows that this discourse is dominant in the contemporary world. In fact, I’d say that the more conscious they are that this is merely appropriated vocabulary that only approximates the real moral teaching, the better. And in a way maybe this has to do with Douthat’s point.)

#11 Comment By Clare Krishan On May 23, 2012 @ 9:36 pm

 almost there… the Word is God,  saying Goodness is not something god says is, but just is “IAM WhoAM” a unitive power

Christian polemics “had it the power,
while keeping its own identity, of absorbing its
antagonists, as Aaron’s rod, according to St. Jerome’s
illustration, devoured the rods of the sorcerers of
Egypt” /
is to be humble in Isaiah’s spirit of awe and fear of the Lord, says Newman in his Development of Christian Doctrine, “that
the search for truth is not the gratification of
curiosity; that its attainment has nothing of the
excitement of a discovery(*); that the mind is below truth,
not above it, and is bound, not to descant upon it, but
to venerate it; that truth and falsehood are set before
us for the trial of our hearts”

 * ie its not progress (or progressive in the Enlightenment sense) its holy or sanctifying in the religious sense, and there lies Douthat’s caution: rights imply obligations that can only carry force when those entitled to them honor the entailment of the deed as recorded (Downton Abbey and all that). Democracy has not the power to award an alloidal claim. The records office rests in the hands of the majority reins to power (ie Israel’s birth dearth conundrum). Judeochristian accounts are held in the Book of Life, to be audited at the Messiah’s leisure when he comes in Glory. Others hold yo get a chance to return and make amends, others hold there’s no harm to be amended unless the government says there is – a very peculiar double entry book keeping if I may say so, but one quite well established in FIAT currency regimes: “We get to spend with fiduciary media of present value  and you will be billed with interest accrued on your fiduciary media of as yet unknown value at some date uncertain” — the Statist just price/ pris fixe (not) dogma (of left or right) of a unitary executive:
“Inflation is a good thing sayeth the Lord (Chancellor of the Exchequer)
Let private property rights be anathema.”

#12 Comment By Clare Krishan On May 23, 2012 @ 9:39 pm

Does my URL citation have human rights, absent a citation moderator?
Is that why my earlier post is watiting divine judgment? Pls advise

#13 Comment By Clare Krishan On May 23, 2012 @ 9:50 pm

 Indeed here’s a wee bon mot icon
I found on the blog of a secular Franciscan  (the order charged with custody of the Holy Places ) that makes the moderate argument for struggle against oppression of the “what’s wrong with the world” variety ( GK Chesterton’s pithy response? “Me”) ie I’m what’s wrong with the world, me and my very real human faults. A democracy built on such naked public square humility is rare.

#14 Comment By noahmillman On May 23, 2012 @ 11:08 pm


That sounds like a psychological claim, not a philosophical one, not that secular liberals depend, logically, on religion, but that religion “works” in a way that secular claims don’t. That is to say: we are more inclined to believe in God, really really believe, than to believe in rights.

That may be true, but if is then it’s a truth about human psychology, not about God or about whose metaphysics are more grounded.

If Ross is arguing that “respect for human persons IS grounded in Christian metaphysics” then I dispute this as a historical claim, at least if “respect for human persons” means what we take it to mean today. If Ross is arguing that “more people will believe in respect for human persons IF we explain that the ground for that respect is Christian metaphysics than if we try to ground it in a secular metaphysics” then he’s making an empirical claim about what people WILL believe, not a logical claim about what they MUST believe.

The unspoken assumption hiding behind what you, Ross and Michael are arguing, I think, is that there is a *contradiction* between a secular worldview and liberal ethics. That needs to be demonstrated, not assumed. Simply pointing out that the Enlightenment sprang from Christian civilization – and therefore inherited many assumptions about human nature or morality inherited from Christianity – doesn’t prove that liberalism can’t survive without Christianity, any more than proving that Christianity got many of its ideas and forms from Judaism proves that Christianity can’t survive the rejection of Jewish dietary laws.

Again, I’m not really arguing with the notion that religious belief is stronger than other kinds of belief, and therefore if you believe God gave people rights you’ll take them more seriously than if you merely believe that postulating such rights makes for a better-functioning society. That’s an empirical claim that I’m neither endorsing nor denying. I just don’t think that’s all Ross is saying. He’s saying secularists have “no strong reasons” for wanting human dignity to be respected. That’s a very strong claim, and I don’t think it’s justified by any argument he makes.

#15 Comment By Narutaki On May 24, 2012 @ 1:11 am

The problem with those asserting that the idea of human rights existed before Christianity is that, while they are right, in a sense, they don’t go further and ask: Which humans, and what rights? And based on what? According to whom?

The Romans had a certain set of rights that they believed existed – if you were a free male Roman citizen. The Athenian idea of human rights was approximately the same, and certainly stopped at the gates of the city. It certainly wasn’t anything like the idea of universal, irrevocable rights that were yours just because you were human. It was more like: “Here are the rights extended to you by your membership in our very exclusive club”. Anyone who thinks that the Greeks or Romans believed in anything like the modern concept of universal, “God-given” human rights simply doesn’t know their history. 

And yes, the idea of “God-given” human rights is critical even to the most hardened atheist. It implies the idea that your rights are yours because they are given to you by a source above any man or group of men. If your rights are not “God-given”, in at least a metaphorical sense, then they can and will derive exclusively from their only other possible source – from men. Which means that your rights are whatever a King, or a Comrade Chairman, or a Supreme Court, 51% of your neighbors piece of paper say they are, and no more. 

Which brings us to an old argument but still a good one, which is that without their endorsement by an authority that is above man, no one set of ideas about what “good” and “bad” might be (which is, of course, key to determining what should be considered a “human right) can conclusively be shown to be objectively true. Human beings have an endless range of opinion on what “good” and “bad” might actually be, and there is no real way to prove that one man’s concept of it is more objectively true than another’s. Aristotle’s idea of it, Aquinas’s, Marcus Aurelius’s, Thomas Jefferson’s (slavery and all), the Marquis de Sade’s, Karl Marx’s, Mikhail Bakunin’s, John Maynard Keynes’s, Ayn Rand’s, Anton LaVey’s – all of these different concepts of what exactly constitutes “good” and “bad” have solid arguments to be made in their favor, and are plausible enough that they can’t really be conclusively disproven.

Lastly, as for the idea that Christianity neither invented nor particularly endorses democracy, I say: guilty as charged, and thank God. I am not a member of the democracy cult, especially in its current incarnation, which seems to be radically missionary to the point of being Trotskyist in strategy. If my 38 years on Planet Earth has taught me anything, it’s that democracy is not the synonym for liberty, much less virtue, that the members of its cult say it is. I agree with Professor Hoppe – if there’s any god that’s conspicuously failed lately, democracy is it. 

#16 Comment By Carl On May 24, 2012 @ 5:28 am

Here’s my very Richard Rortian take on Douthat:

Douthat’s argument is something like, In Christianity, the assumption of God gets you human dignity and the premise of human dignity gets you liberal values. In secular liberalism, they keep the premise of human dignity and the resulting liberal values, but they don’t have any deeper reason for it anymore. Of course, the search for “deeper reasons” is, in a certain respect, a mug’s game. After all, if God is the final premise, then we don’t have any “deeper reasons” for believing in God. Indeed, this is why theism fell apart so spectacularly at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century—God was a final premise so there was no way to defend it from questioning besides by pointing to all the other conclusions that came from it and gesturing about how you wouldn’t want to put them at risk. Intellectuals look around and said, we can probably still get these conclusions with some other premise, and that was it for God.But the advantage of having deeper reasons is that it gives arguments somewhere to happen. It sets the stage on which you can have debates. It’s not possible to have a rational disagreement with someone unless you’re talking about the same thing and talking about the same thing means speaking the same language.This means it’s a bit dangerous to set human dignity up as the last answer to a “why?” question. If a significant number of people ever start to turn on human dignity, we won’t have any rhetorical space to argue against them in. If that premise is ever questioned, all we can do is dogmatically reassert ourselves. All we’ll be able to say is, “If you don’t believe in human dignity, you’re not one of us.” We’ll gesture at all the wonderful conclusions that come from the assumption of human dignity, and we’ll say, “Wouldn’t you miss these things if they were gone?” And they’ll say, “Guess not,” and crush us like bugs because they don’t care about those things.Which is not to say civilization is about to fall apart tomorrow! It just means we’re giving up an important bulwark of civilization when we give up a shared ultimate language to debate in.

#17 Comment By Carl On May 24, 2012 @ 5:31 am

The dilemma is older than Russell. It’s generally called the Euthyphro problem, after the Platonic dialogue of the same name. Douthat mentions it in his latest blog response to Sanchez.

#18 Comment By EpicureanRx On May 25, 2012 @ 4:24 pm

“Justice is a compact between individuals for mutual advantage, neither to harm or be harmed.” – Epicurus.

His school allowed women and slaves, and flourished for around 700 years. (He even let women lead, which got him labeled as “effeminate” and “hen-pecked”.)Thomas Jefferson agreed with Epicurean ethics.* And Pierre Gassendi influenced both Bentham and Locke. So it’s not clear that even liberalism in the form it takes today has an entirely Christian pedigree.

*http://www.csun.edu/~hcfll004/jefflet.html  (See in particular, Jefferson’s summary of Epicurean ethics at the end. Predicts modern liberals nicely IMO.)

#19 Comment By ossicle On May 29, 2012 @ 12:56 pm

That’s true, but for the record Sanchez mentioned it first, in his initial post.

#20 Comment By MEH_0910 On May 30, 2012 @ 8:39 am

Razib Khan (as David Hume) at Secular Right [3]:

As an empirical matter I think Ross, and Christians more generally, over-read the causal role of their faith in Western history. Though the Christian religion certainly effected some change, it is important to note that its emergence and rise to prominence was coincident with a whole host of other changes in the world of antiquity. And more importantly, Christianity itself has turned out to be incredibly adept as justifying nearly every political and social perspective under heaven. The metaphystical coherency of Christianity, or any other “system of thought,” founders on the reality that human action is fundamentally disjointed, incoherent, and a slap-dash constellation of innate reflexes and historically contingent norms.

#21 Comment By anon On June 9, 2012 @ 5:25 pm

Eric_Hansen says:
“The question is, why should I care about, say, the poor, weak, and unfortunate (setting aside for the moment the problematic cases of democracy and human rights)? A modern , secular outlook can’t really provide an answer to that question, not even to those who accept it. Christianity (and other religions) can at least explain to its adherents why there is an obligation to care here.”
How? How does Christianity explain an obligation to care? Okay, so they claim there’s a superior being that wants us to care. So what? How is “God wants us to care” any more compelling than “secular humanists want us to care”?

Joshua Dill says:
“But as for liberalism, its beginnings/invention are historically transparent!”
The beginnings of people ASSERTING liberal premises might be historically transparent, but that doesn’t mean that the premises themselves are historically transparent.

“The issue isn’t even belief, it’s only assent.”
But Christianity, so far as it asserts a morality, is equally a matter of assent and not belief. Christianity makes claims of facts, and it makes claims of morality, and accepting the former does nothing to establish the latter. To the extent that Christianity’s morality can be characterized as a “leap of faith”, so too can secular humanists’.

“Which brings us to an old argument but still a good one, which is that without their endorsement by an authority that is above man, no one set of ideas about what “good” and “bad” might be (which is, of course, key to determining what should be considered a “human right) can conclusively be shown to be objectively true.”
Simply asserting a defect in your opponent’s position is not an argument, unless you can show that your position lacks that defect. How does having a being “above” humans do anything to establish any objectivity to the morality?