The Rights of Adam
by JUSTIN D. BARNARD
Director of the Institute for Intellectual Discipleship
March 18, 2009 - According to a recent AP report, the Obama administration is poised to sign a United Nations declaration calling for the worldwide decriminalization of homosexuality. An unnamed U.S. official apparently offered this comment, “The United States is an outspoken defender of human rights and critic of human rights abuses around the world. As such, we join with the other supporters of this statement and we will continue to remind countries of the importance of respecting the human rights of all people in all appropriate international fora.”
The AP report added that the Obama administration was “concerned about ‘violence and human rights abuses against gay, lesbian, transsexual and bisexual individuals’ and was also ‘troubled by the criminalization of sexual orientation in many countries’.”
Every human being, by virtue of the inherent dignity that attaches to being made imago Dei, deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. Violence committed against the morally and legally innocent compromises the dignity and respect that ought to be afforded to every human being – regardless of how they may describe their sexual proclivities.
But the U.N. declaration that would decriminalize homosexual behavior goes beyond that. For rather than being a declaration of human rights that is deeply connected with the kinds of creatures that we are by nature, it is rooted in a conception of “human rights” according to which we are entitled to become whatever we want – even if, in so doing, we do violence to our distinctively human nature.
To couch support for this declaration in the rhetoric of “human rights” is deeply misleading. Rhetorically, it labels those who would oppose the U.N. declaration as being against human rights. Yet nothing could be further from the truth.
In fact, those whose conception of human rights is grounded in the maximization of individual autonomy – the idea that one has a “right” to do whatever one pleases within the bounds of involuntary harm to others – is ultimately destructive of human rights precisely because it is destructive of the human being. It separates human rights from human nature – grounding them instead in the aggregate of disembodied desires or sheer acts of will.
Thus, to speak of human rights in this way is incoherent. It presumes that the fulfillment of our nature is to give license to those very disordered desires that would destroy us, if unleashed. If one could meaningfully have a “right” to such a course of action at all, it would most certainly not be human. For the very exercise thereof would consume our humanity – just as tragically, it does among those whose disordered sexual proclivities are given free reign.
In his letter to the Christians of Rome, the Apostle Paul grappled deeply with this problem when he wrote, “But I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” The answer to his rhetorical question is implied in the praise that follows, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
The prototype for human rights is not the desires of the old man, but nature of the new Adam. For in the former, “all die.” But in Jesus Christ, “all shall be made alive.” To speak of “human rights” outside such a framework is to employ the rhetoric of death.