Does Human Rights Need God?

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

11
What Kind of God Does Human Rights Require?

MARTIN PALOUŠ

For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your
worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, “To an un-
known god.” What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to
you. (Acts 17:23)

The organizing question of this volume — “Does human rights need God?” — can be reversed: “Does God need human rights?” The matter is the relationship between God and man; the problem of whether respect for human rights — generally recognized as a conditio sine qua non of any form of democratic governance and politics — can be used as a kind of proof of God’s existence, proving that despite modern secularism and all the atheistic inclinations of our “enlightened” times, the realm of the divine and the realm of the human, in any open society, belong essentially together.

I have organized my reflections on the issue of God and human rights into four parts. In the first two parts, I remind us of two fundamental distinctions, or rather tensions, that must be recognized in any attempt to explore what Aristotle called philosophia peri ta anthrZpina, to inquire into the philosophical foundations of our “human condition.” First, I look at the distinction between two elementary modi of human existence, the vita activa and the vita contemplativa; and second, I examine the polar relationship arising within human existence between its finiteness and historicity on the one hand, and its openness toward transcendence or eternity on the other. In the third section of the essay, I mention the classical political “virtues” — such as self-control, respect for common sense, generosity, moderation, and so on — and I use Cicero as an outstanding example of a moderate politician. I argue that the Ciceronian attitude toward public matters, the Ciceronian moderate

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