Is there a basis for Human Rights?

God’s existence and His revelation are necessary conditions for meaningful human rights. Christianity gives a firm foundation for human rights. Not only that, but Christianity has “the strongest possible resource for practicing sacrificial service, generosity, and peace-making. At the very heart of [Christianity’s] view of reality [is] a man who died for his enemies, praying for their forgiveness. Reflection on this could only lead to a radically different way of dealing with those who [are] different from them. It [means] they [could] not act in violence and oppression toward their opponents.”[1] Of course, that doesn’t mean that the ideal is always followed.
There have been Christians that have done very wicked things. There have also been many wicked things that have been done by atheists.[2] That, however, does not mean that all atheists are bad or even that atheism is wrong. As we will see below though, atheists do not finally have any basis for morality or human rights.
Richard Wurmbrand who experienced ghastly torture at the hands of an atheistic government said,
“The cruelty of atheism is hard to believe. When a man has no faith in the reward of good or the punishment of evil, there is no reason to be human. There is no restraint from the depths of evil which is in man. The communist torturers often said, ‘There is no God, no hereafter, no punishment for evil. We can do what we wish.’ I heard one torturer say, ‘I thank God, in whom I do not believe, that I lived to this hour when I can express all the evil in my heart.’ He expressed it in unbelievable brutality and torture inflicted on prisoners.”[3] 
Scripture, on the other hand, clearly condemns injustice.[4] Scripture shows us that God loves justice and, conversely, hates injustice; He has compassion for those who suffer injustice—everywhere around the world; He judges and condemns those who perpetrate injustice; and He seeks active rescue for victims of injustice.[5] Much of secular society, however, does not have a reason to condemn injustice.

Nietzsche actually lambasts Christianity and compassion and Richard Dawkins seems to think compassion and justice are just mistakes. He says, “Could it be that our Good Samaritan urges are misfirings”? By Dawkins account we have “programmed into our brains altruistic urges, alongside sexual urges, hunger urges, xenophobic urges and so on…. We can no more help ourselves feeling pity when we see a weeping unfortunate (who is unrelated and unable to reciprocate) than we can help ourselves feeling lust for a member of the opposite sex (who may be infertile or otherwise unable to reproduce). Both are misfirings, Darwinian mistakes: blessed, precious mistakes.”[6]
It is interesting that Dawkins criticizes Christians and even God. On what basis, however, can he do that? Dawkins says evil does not exist and also says God and Christians are evil.
Let’s try to follow Dawkins logic:
            There is no A
            There is A
We actually cannot follow Dawkins logic here.[7] Here he has no logic. He breaks one of the rules of logic, the Law of Non-Contradiction (A cannot be A and non-A at the same time, in the same relationship).
Dawkins says:
            There is no evil
            Religion is evil
In contrast to Dawkins, I appreciate William Provine’s honesty. He said in a debate at Stanford University with Phil Johnson that “there is no ultimate foundation for ethics.” It was Provine’s view that no life after death exists, no ultimate foundation for ethics exists, and there is no ultimate meaning to life.
Jean-Paul Sartre, and really all the existentialists I’ve read, are at least logically consistent. Sartre says,
“The existentialists… thinks it very distressing that God does not exist, because all possibility of finding values in a heaven of ideas disappears along with Him; there can no longer be an a priori Good, since there is not infinite and perfect consciousness to think it. Nowhere is it written that the Good exists, what we must be honest, that we must not lie; because the fact is we are on a plane where there are only men.”[8]

 If we fail to acknowledge God then the moral laws that flow from His character are gone as well, and we are left with blind skepticism and relativism; every person doing whatever is right in their own eyes. As we consider this we should never forget that, as Martin Luther King Jr. exhorted, “everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was ‘legal.’”

So, is there a basis for human rights? Many must say, “No.” Sartre must say, “No.” William Provine says, “No.” Nietzsche emphatically said, “No!” Richard Dawkins, if consistent, would say, “No.”

I say, “Yes.” An Emphatic “YES!” There is a basis for human rights! 

I believe, as Jean-Paul Sartre communicates, that God’s existence and His revelation are necessary conditions for meaningful human rights. Thankfully, I believe God does exist, has spoken, and has amazingly shown His love for us in Jesus. So, Christianity gives a firm foundation for human rights.

God says, I love you and you ought to love one another.

See also:


[1] Timothy Keller, The Reason for God, p. 21. Keller asserts that “the typical criticisms by secular people about the oppressiveness and injustices of the Christian church actually come from Christianity’s own resources for critique of itself” (Timothy Keller, The Reason for God, p. 61 see p. 62).
[2] “Historians now estimate, only as a starting point, anywhere from 20 to 60 million deaths in the Soviet Union, 40 to 70 million in China, 2 million in Cambodia (by the Khmer Rouge), 1.6 million in North Korea, and 1.2 million in Yugoslavia… Remarkable, communism in the twentieth century killed twice the combined dead from World Wars I and II” (Understanding the Times, 101).
[3] Richard Wurmbrand, Tortured for Christ, 38.
[4] See Ps. 9:8, 16; 10:16-18; 11:7; 33:5; 36:6; 37:6; 45:6; 101:1; 103:6; 106:3; 112:5; 140:12; 146:5-10; Prov. 18:5; 21:15; 29:7; Is. 1:17; Is. 9:7; 30:18; 42:1; 51:4-5; 56:1; 58:6; 59:15; 61:8; Jer. 21:12; 22:13; Ezek. 34:16; Hosea 2:19; 12:6; Amos 5:21-24; Micah 6:8; Zech. 7:810; Matt. 12:18; 23:23; Lk. 11:42; Rom. 3:22-26; Rev. 19:11.
[5] Gary A. Haugen, Good News about Injustice: A Witness of Courage in a Hurting World, p. 83. Regarding the crusades see Rodeny Stark, “The Case for the Crusades” in SBJT 20.2 (2016): 9-28 and his book, God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades.
[6] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, 252-53.
[8] Jean-Paul Sartre, Existentialism and Human Emotions, p.22.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

About Paul O'Brien

I am a lot of things; saint and sinner. I struggle and I strive. I am a husband and father of three. I have been in pastoral ministry for 10 years. I went to school at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary but most of my schooling has been at the School of Hard Knocks. I have worked various jobs, including pheasant farmer, toilet maker, construction worker, and I served in the military. My wife and I enjoy reading at coffee shops, taking walks, hanging out with friends and family, and watching our three kid's antics. :)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: