Does Human Rights Need God?

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

2
Human Rights and Modern Western Faith:
An Orthodox Christian Assessment

VIGEN GUROIAN

The philosopher Richard Rorty dismisses biblical faith as myth and illusion and spends untold pages of nice speech punching holes in Enlightenment theories that were leaky from the start. For these and other sleights of hand, he has become one of the most talked-about philosophers of our generation. As is evident, I am no admirer of Professor Rorty, but when he aims his criticisms at human rights doctrine and theories of an ahistorical human nature, I admit it, my ears perk up. I suppose I, too, am inclined to swing an ax at some of the larger trees of the Enlightenment wood.

In other philosophical and theological quarters, similar judgments have been tendered about the Enlightenment legacy and human rights, most notably by Alasdair MacIntyre and Stanley Hauerwas. MacIntyre argues that “the possession of rights [presupposes] the existence of a socially established set of rules” and that therefore “the existence of particular types of social institution or practice is a necessary condition for … a claim to a possession of a right … [to be] an intelligible type of human performance.”1 I take this to mean that the only real rights are norms of human conduct that are articulated in the customs and laws of particular historical communities, and that is pretty much where I stand on human rights.

I part company with all three writers, however, when they reject the notion of a normative human nature or deny the knowability of it. I want to distance myself from philosophical and theological positivism regarding our

This essay was originally published as “Human Rights and Western Faith: An Orthodox Christian Assessment,” Journal of Religious Ethics 26, no. 2 (1998): 241–47. This slightly modified and reedited version appears here by permission of the author and Blackwell Publishing.

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