Does Human Rights Need God?

By Elizabeth M. Bucar; Barbra Barnett | Go to book overview

1
Why Human Rights Needs God:
A Christian Perspective

MAX L. STACKHOUSE

More than a quarter century ago, I was invited by my church to participate in ecumenical discussions and to serve as a visiting lecturer in the theological academies of sister churches in the German Democratic Republic and in South India. I became fascinated with the way in which different ideational and social traditions treated human rights, including the interpretations of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 (the “Universal Declaration”) and its subsequent covenants. Resistance to “Western” definitions of human rights was intense in the Marxist parties of Eastern Europe and, it turned out, both in the leadership of the Congress Party under Indira Gandhi in India, when she declared her “emergency” in 1976, and in the then emerging Hindu Nationalist parties. On the basis of these extended exposures to non-Western interpretations of human rights, I engaged in a comparative study of the roots and conceptual framework that made modern human rights discourse possible.1 The invitation to contribute to this volume is a welcome opportunity to rethink the issues in view of new conditions.

There are many things that I might say in response to the organizing question of this volume, “Does human rights need God?” But because space is brief, I am going to focus on two matters, perhaps best understood as providing a response to what I perceive as two challenges to the grounding of hu

This essay expands on motifs offered at a panel on religion and human rights at the Society of Christian Ethics, later published as “The Intellectual Crisis of a Good Idea,” Journal of Religious Ethics 26, no. 2 (1998): 263–68; and at a talk on Tolerance and Human Rights, given at Andover Newton Theological School, later published as “A Christian Perspective on Human Rights,” Society 41, no. 2 (2004): 23–29.

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