Date of Award
Bachelor of Arts
Human Rights Studies
While the current human rights tradition has come out of a common sentiment to move away from religion—for religion has, historically, been an immense source of human rights violations—the origins of human rights need to be considered, and perhaps more importantly, why human rights must exist in the first place. In his article “No human rights without God,” Daniel Philpott contends that three essential characteristics of human rights necessitate the integration and acknowledgment of God: universality, human dignity, and their “trump card status” (Philpott, 2014). Philpott counters the notion that reason alone can establish human rights’ universality, focus on human dignity, and their need for paramount importance, and argues that reason alone cannot provide grounds for these three vital aspects of the human rights tradition. Arguing that, objectively, humans are nothing more than a set of relatively more complex biological and neurological processes, he contends that a higher must reveal the unique nature of humankind. Through this thesis, however, by examining these three facets of human rights that Philpott claims are justified through Christianity—or similar faiths holding that there is a singular God—it will be discovered that a Godly perspective can justify universal moral norms and human dignity but fails at establishing “trump card” status through moral absolutism. However, this is not a fault of God but rather one of the limitations of historical events and the constant manipulation of God’s Word. While Philpott’s argument may fail regarding Christianity’s ability to justify the “trump card” status of human rights, human rights certainly provide a framework with which the moral absoluteness of God can be taught.
This thesis is not written to say that human rights cannot be effective without the Christian God, but rather that this primarily human endeavor of recognizing and protecting human dignity has a finite scope in that it was born from the human atrocities by thinkers who share the same imperfect nature of those who initially violated said human rights. If we are to equate humanity with imperfection, the fallacy of human rights disappears, for the very term “human” implies a sense that we are always making mistakes, learning from them, and striving to be better. And ultimately, this is the best we can do in an imperfect world as imperfect beings.
Where does this assumption of fundamental fallibility come from? One basis of natural rights stems from the idea that man was created in God’s image, “for men being all the workmanship of one omnipotent and infinitely wise Maker” constitutes a common basis of deserved rights (Locke, 73). However, John Locke and many other natural rights advocates missed a critical part of the Bible, that although man was created in God’s image when Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, they thus cursed all their descendants to be separated from God; this separation between man and his Creator invalidates the notion that humankind deserves anything, including rights, for outside of an earnest and personal relationship with God, humankind is doomed. To speak more on human fallibility the Bible states “therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned” (NIV, Romans 5.12). One might ask why should all of humanity suffer for one man and one woman’s sin? A difficult question, to be sure, but people pay for the mistakes of others all the time. To say that a classroom punished by the acts of one rebellious child is not comparable to all of humanity’s punishment in the eyes of God, the creator of literally everything, is arrogant of us.
Yoon, Caleb, "Human Rights & God: Universality, Human Dignity and Moral Absolutism". Senior Theses, Trinity College, Hartford, CT 2022.
Trinity College Digital Repository, https://digitalrepository.trincoll.edu/theses/983
Senior thesis completed at Trinity College, Hartford CT for the degree of Bachelor of Arts in Human Rights Studies.