HUMAN RIGHTS & RELIGION: An Argument with Michael Perry

By Callahan, Sidney | Commonweal, November 17, 2000 | Go to article overview

HUMAN RIGHTS & RELIGION: An Argument with Michael Perry


Callahan, Sidney, Commonweal


Now that the campaign season is over, we can get down to serious arguments over the role of religion in American politics. Some sea change seems to have taken place--beyond the use of religious rhetoric to win votes. Dogmatic secularists sound more tentative as they reiterate the received faith that religious belief has no place in public policy debates. I even find myself newly convinced that people who are religious should raise their voices in the public square. Until lately I had been more or less brainwashed by the secular elite to feel that the faithful should keep their convictions to themselves. But why should secularists effectively establish the religion of no-religion, and declare off limits the deepest moral commitments of the faithful?

Yet some proponents of the validity of religious argument in public life go too far. At the moment I am engrossed in the books of legal scholar Michael J. Perry, a thinker I credit with helping me change my mind about the correctness of resolutely secular public discourse. I enthusiastically agree with most of Perry's positions in The Idea of Human Rights (Oxford University Press, 1998), but balk at his assertion that the idea of human rights is "ineliminably religious." Ineliminably? Perry is not claiming that those without a transcendent religious faith won't defend human rights in practice, or that they will be personally immoral. But he contends that those without faith will not possess an intellectual foundation sufficiently grounded to sustain a commitment to the inviolability of individual human lives. When push comes to shove, Perry argues, those without a transcendent religious belief in the benevolent meaning of the universe will wilt under utilitarian pressure and fail to justify and protect human rights as inalienable and inviolate. Only a commitment to sacred reality can maintain the sacredness of human life.

Perry makes his argument sound convincing by quoting reams of the rantings and ravings of Friedrich Nietzsche as he asserts the nonexistence of morality and the hypocrisy of religion. OK, so dogmatic atheists and nihilists could never defend the inviolable value of human life, since everything is meaningless. In a moral void, might might as well make right since only the triumph of the will exists.

But most secular unbelievers we know are not dogmatic atheists or nihilists. The elites that make up current intellectual establishments are agnostics, unconvinced that the Alpha and Omega sustains all being. A typical expression of skepticism, which I found recently in an issue of Free Inquiry, has Quentin Smith asserting that "the most reasonable belief is that we came from nothing, by nothing, and for nothing."

This may sound like a case of invincible nihilism. But note that Smith bases his doubt on an affirmation of reason, as in "reasonable belief." I would contend that any skeptic who affirms the reality and meaningful authority of reason can defend the moral reality that undergirds the existence of human rights.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

HUMAN RIGHTS & RELIGION: An Argument with Michael Perry
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.