Friday, July 13, 2007

Human Rights, Part II

I was on the phone on Friday with a good friend, Sr. Anna, OP, of the Nashville Dominicans. Something she said made me want to revisit the blog on "rights" I posted last week.

I was trying to describe the modern idea of rights and wrote:

"In the state of nature, each individual claims the "right" of self-preservation and can use any means necessary to achieve it. He uses his reason to achieve that preservation and, after his survivial is ensured, anything else he wills that he has the power to get. The purpose of government, then, becomes to protect our "rights" to whatever we will. That is, the state exists to ensure a space where men can exercise their wills. The perfect human life would be one in which all the individual's "rights" were fulfilled."

Sr. Anna was talking about her high school students this past year and how hard it was to communicate to them the goodness of life. "I tried to show them," she said, "that simply to exist is good in any circumstance--the sheer goodness of life. That's how good life is."

I wonder, then, if talking about the "right to life" is as helpful or true as pro-lifers seem to think it is. As you may have noticed, I find "rights" language off-putting, because rights talk inherently hinges on each individual's will to power in isolation from others and God. To say we have to protect the "right to life" is pandering to individualism.

But what if we changed the language of the debate: Life is a good. Without this most fundamental good, no other good can be even pursued.

The sheer goodness of life. The life of an infant who is miscarried is good. The life of an impoverished child is good. The life of the 90-year-old, forgotten man in a nursing home is good. The circumstances may not be good or feel good, and those who believe that life is a good have a responsibility to care for life, but simply to exist is a good.

I wonder if Christians would be more accurate, then, in emphasizing the radical idea that life is not so much a "right" (as if even God owes us our existence) but a good. It is radical because I have heard more women than I care to count say, "Well, we don't want to raise children in a world like this." Or, "I've had my two children and feel it would be selfish of me to have any more." Or, "I don't want to be a burden on anyone when I'm old." But without life, there are no other goods.

Oh, my breaking heart. Life is good in any circumstance. We must receive it in all circumstances or lose ourselves.

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