Rights Do Not Come From God.

It is common for Christian people to remark, “Our rights come from God.”

There is no reason to believe rights came from a god.   Allan Dershowitz in Rights from Wrongs summarizes the arguments about where rights come from.

Some environmentalists believe we are such a part and product of our environment, our rights come from nature.  That is to say, we can live here but we need to stay within the confines of sustainability.

There are those who say our rights come from logic.  I have written something like that in many posts, but the precise source is something else.

Others point to our government and the laws it has established.  It is easy to see how one would reach this incorrect conclusion.

Our rights come from our collective human experience.  This experience began at least hundreds of thousands of years before Christianity.

This experience continues.

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About Jon Lindgren

I am a former President of the Red River Freethinkers in Fargo, ND, a retired NDSU economics professor and was Mayor of Fargo for 16 years.
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21 Responses to Rights Do Not Come From God.

  1. Henry says:

    Jon: “Rights Do Not Come From God.”

    Locke would disagree.

    • Henry says:

      Mao would agree with you, Jon.

      • Henry says:

        Let’s choose. Classic liberalism recognizing God or centralized government ignoring God. I think I know which side Jon is on.

        • Avatar of Jon Lindgren Jon Lindgren says:

          Henry 2:30 “Choose. Classic liberalism recognizing God or centralized government ignoring God. I think I know which side Jon is on.”

          Which ever side says rights did not come from a god but from human experience is the side I’m on. It has nothing to do with centralized government.

          Centralized government is more in the domain of those who want government to decide gays cannot marry and women have no rights about their pregnancy from day one.

          • Henry says:

            Now, Jon. You are wanting to burden some humans to benefit others, in both cases. You need to consider all individual rights.

          • Avatar of Jon Lindgren Jon Lindgren says:

            Henry 2:49 “You need to consider all individual rights.”

            Correct. That’s what I am doing.

          • Stan says:

            Accept for the right to worship as we choose, do it behind closed doors so it doesn’t offend the others.

          • Avatar of Jon Lindgren Jon Lindgren says:

            Stan 3:41 “Except for the right to worship as we choose, do it behind closed doors so it doesn’t offend the others.”

            What?? Where did I say you should not be able to worship as you choose???

          • entech says:

            Stan, personally I prefer open doors and free speech, even if either offend. Who knows what goes on behind closed doors or concealed words.
            Of course there are some things that are better kept to a private space.

        • entech says:

          Surely that is what they call a false dichotomy:
          A classical liberal society without God must be a possibility.
          We all know a centralised government with God, is possible, it has and does exist – Iran anyone.

    • entech says:

      According to Locke there are three natural rights:
      Life: everyone is entitled to live once they are created.
      Liberty: everyone is entitled to do anything they want to so long as it doesn’t conflict with the first right.
      Estate: everyone is entitled to own all they create or gain through gift or trade so long as it doesn’t conflict with the first two rights.
      The social contract is an agreement between members of a country to live within a shared system of laws. Specific forms of government are the result of the decisions made by these persons acting in their collective capacity. Government is instituted to make laws that protect these three natural rights. If a government does not properly protect these rights, it can be overthrown.
      (Not the last sentences, justification for the American War of Independence and the right to bear arms)

      Locke says these rights come from ‘natural law’ from analogy with the ‘state of nature’. The only time he talks of rights given by God is in his rebuttal of the God given right of Kings to rule.

      In the right to religious freedom, he does have something to say:
      In matters speculative and divine worship a man ought to possess absolute liberty, for these are based on his subjective understanding of the nature of the universe and of God. In such areas of thought, no man may force his opinion on others – excepting atheists, for they are like ‘wild beasts’. In so arguing, Locke again adheres to a very Protestant (Puritan) theory of conscience and the individual’s relationship to God. Whereas the Catholic Church emphasises the role of priests and the theological hierarchy in reaching up to God, the Protestant reformers of the Church proclaimed the individual’s right to seek God by his own path, and Locke, following the Cambridge Platonists, emphasised the role of reason in understanding the relationship between man qua individual and God.
      Alexander Moseley, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

      In my 2:23 post I agree in the main, saying in addition that “a man ought to possess absolute liberty” to be free from the strictures of any particular religious belief. I emphasise the bit about atheists, I am sure Henry would like and agree with that.

      • Henry says:

        endwreck: “The only time he talks of rights given by God is in his rebuttal of the God given right of Kings to rule.”

        Locke’s works extensively reference scripture. It is foolhardy to claim Locke does not use God as a basis for rights of man.

        Furthermore, I found it very interesting how when reviewing wikipedia, how one could get the impression Locke was a nonbeliever. A quick sweep through his actual works quickly shows otherwise.

        • entech says:

          Without doubt a very religious man. I thought you would have applauded his ‘atheists as wild beats’.

          As a believer in God as the creator of the universe he must ultimately attribute everything to God.

  2. entech says:

    As an outsider looking in on the three monotheisms all seem to have one and the same right, that is the right to submit to the will of God and to worship him.

    The rest of it are obligations, and these do not seem to be from God but from people who claim to speak on his behalf.

    Although I can’t join them I have a lot of respect for people who believe and quietly worship.

    I have absolutely no respect for the second group, the ones who appoint themselves as Gods messengers on earth.

    People who accept what the preachers say should be quite free to do so and to live their lives in accordance with these ‘teachings’. The problem is that so many of these preachers have different views of what is required by the same one God, again if you accept what any preachers says is the word of God you should be free to submit and worship.

    I do not agree that the preachers should be able to dictate to the world at large what they consider to be the true word (often the true word is revealed differently to different people) should and must be the basis for the law of the land and the way other people, those that do not accept the preachers words, should live their lives.
    At the same time the law makers should not impose on the way people accept the words and live by them.

  3. Michael Ross says:

    Our rights may come from the environment, logic,or collective human experience. In other words you don’t know where they come from, they just don’t come from God. For a Phd college professor and long time politician you sure don’t know much. My 8th grade educated dad knew more than you do but back then education wasn’t a brain-washing as it is now.

    • Avatar of Jon Lindgren Jon Lindgren says:

      Michael 5:42 I stated clearly our rights do not come from the environment or logic, but from experience.

      Otherwise, you are correct about me not knowing much. I’ve never claimed so.

  4. Ray says:

    Our founding documents refer to inalienable rights endowed by our Creator. Then again, far too many people in this country have no use for our founding documents anymore.

    • Avatar of Jon Lindgren Jon Lindgren says:

      Ray 5:45 “Our founding documents refer to inalienable rights endowed by our Creator.”

      Is this like the Bible, then, where if something is written by the founding fathers it is absolutely factual?

  5. Matt Slocomb says:

    In my opinion, I have yet to hear a good argument that there are absolute rights that exist apart from an absolute divine being. Let’s start with this question: do absolute rights against? Is there any behavior that is absolutely wrong all of the time? If you answer these yes and deny God/a god, please explain why/how? Honestly, I have never seen a response to this that is good in my view…

    • entech says:

      In my opinion, I have yet to hear a good argument that there are absolute rights that exist apart from an absolute divine being. Let’s start with this question: do absolute rights against? Is there any behavior that is absolutely wrong all of the time? If you answer these yes and deny God/a god, please explain why/how? Honestly, I have never seen a response to this that is good in my view…

      But seriously all I can say is that some things are quite simply wrong, always and regardless of circumstances. Child abuse while acting ‘in loco parentis’ is absolutely wrong and can have no excuses, is one example. Rape is another, now if a young woman is raped and then denied marriage because she would be stoned to death for not being a virgin is another, in fact the stoning is a greater moral evil than the crime of rape. I know this the same way that you know your God exists.
      Specifically on rights, my 3:53 above the rights described by Locke and your founding fathers are “self evident”, while Locke was a religious man he did not need God when writing about politics and economics.

    • Avatar of Jon Lindgren Jon Lindgren says:

      Matt 3:37 “do absolute rights against? Any behavior that is absolutely wrong all the time? …deny God…explain how?”

      There seem to be general kinds of behavior all societies more or less find intolerable. Yet, some of them are condoned under some circumstances. For example, the stronger taking advantage of the weaker, i.e., an entech pointed out, child abuse. Then there is rape. There is the stronger spouse beating up on weaker one. Incest is another universal taboo.

      So, you question is, if these are quite universal, does not that mean these taboos were put in place by a god? No. They were put in place by centuries and generations of experience. Societies without these rules could not survive and function.

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