Catholicism, contrary to the libraries of explanations and discussions that exist, is, by and large, a simple religion. It’s not an easy religion, but fulfilling its various requirements is quite straightforward. There is a single God, ten Commandments, the need for prayer, and seven Sacraments which cover all the essential parts of religious life. That’s about it. You can be born, live and die by these basics and go directly to Heaven. Dogma surrounding things including the Trinity, the Immaculate Conception, and others, while important to accept in faith, is totally unnecessary to understand. Whether these ideas are true or not ought to make no difference to one’s actions. If life is conducted in accordance to the above principles, earthly life becomes much more manageable and pleasant than it otherwise would be.
God’s ideas are simple and elegant. It’s people who make things complicated and ugly. It’s people who manage to twist and mangle what was once simple, in order to make it fit whatever perversion they seek to justify. A good example of this is the current Pope, who continues to show his lack of (or incorrect) understanding of Catholic dogma and basic theology, this time in the area of human rights.
Zenit news reports that Pope Benedict XVI espouses and wishes the world to promote the concept of Universal Human Rights:
Benedict XVI is urging members of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences to defend and promote those “non-negotiable human rights” that are based in God’s law.
He goes on to say:
“The modern period helped shape the idea that the message of Christ — because it proclaims that God loves every man and woman and that every human being is called to love God freely — demonstrates that everyone, independently of his or her social and cultural condition, by nature deserves freedom.” … The Pope stated that the Church’s action in promoting human rights is “supported by rational reflection, in such a way that these rights can be presented to all people of good will.”
One has to wonder why there cannot be a simpler way to say “I’m making this into Church teaching, even though it’s new teaching. It seems to make sense to me except I can’t claim that it’s supported by Scripture or Tradition.” This is, after all, what the Pope is doing. He is not merely saying that people have a right to be Catholics (which is arguably the only ‘human right’ that Catholicism espouses), but that they have rights to believe whatever god they choose, rights to have property, rights to this, rights to that. While they sound nice, these ideas are not part of Catholic religion.
While mankind is important, and human beings are important, even sacred, insofar as they are temples of God and part of his plan, they are still capable of being trust into Hell at the end. As such, a human soul (and body) has no right to anything. Everything given to it by God is a thing undeserved. This is fundamental to understanding the theology of grace. Therefore, to suggest that a human being has a right, before God, not to die, or not to suffer, is incorrect. It is simply not a Christian idea, as it places man at the center and not God. Yet from the other end, we have an obligation towards one another to show respect, give dignity, relieve suffering and ease the burden of life. That, however, is not what Human Rights are about.
What the Pope is proclaiming is something which is a man made invention and not part of authentic Catholic teaching. Human beings have no rights whatsoever, no freedom rightly exercised except that which is in accordance to God’s will. Nobody has an inalienable right to live, or to die, or to walk, or to talk or to do anything. Everybody has a right to worship God and to obey his Commandments, and so forth. That’s the correct Catholic view, notwithstanding the teaching on natural moral law.
The concept of Human Rights, though useful, is not a religious one. It can be used as a legal tool, or used to measure the usefulness of a social intervention, but it can never become a part of orthodox Catholic teaching. Whatever his motives, Pope Benedict XVI shows (and sows) confusion on many areas of Catholic teaching. His lack of orthodoxy impedes the recovery of Catholicism in modern times, which would otherwise have occurred, had he simply stayed with sacred Tradition.
The Geneva Convention of 1863 coincided with the advent of “modern” warfare with organized medical aid for wounded soldiers and the formalization of the Red Cross Society, the idea being that wounded soldiers would be left alone and help to them not impeded. Subsequent Conventions (1906, 1929, 1949) built on this principle, extended the idea of protection (leaving alone) to prisoners of war and civilians. The declarations imply that war is inevitable and they do not attempt to address the problem that in most cases war is unjust. The original Geneva Convention was driven by Christian principles and all the original signatories were Christian nations (Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Spain and Switzerland).
The Christian principle underlying the Geneva Conventions, though not explicitly stated, was to love thy neighbour as yourself. It concerned duties towards others (eg: don’t shoot at people with white helmets and red crosses, provide help to the injured) and as such it did not place Man or the Self at the center of the moral argument but one’s duty of care.
All this changed with the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, which does not concern itsef with what people do, but what was done to people:
Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world, …
It sounds good, but what is wrong with it?
Rights, as such, are useful as a way to describe ethical and legal problems. However, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is flawed. To have inalienable rights means that they cannot be abrogated under any circumstances, yet this can never be the case in practice and was not previously recognized in law. In reality, rights are not an absolute, even though some things are always wrong. If one reads the document literally, then no person, for example, may take another’s life and life is to be preserved at all costs. Nobody, in theory, can imprison anyone else:
Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.
Fault is placed on human beings every time someone “misses out”. We can see how often this is used as a political tool, such as when a government is blamed for “failing to protect the rights” of minorities. The “human rights” approach to moral reasoning is Utopian and, as such, is doomed to failure.
Impossible and silly things have become “rights”, such as:
…right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
…the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.
These kinds of statements underscore a new mentality that has taken hold in the world, namely that we are no longer asked to examine our own actions but the status of others. Governments frequently cannot afford the standards of living which the “rights” demand. As such they are set up for failure and criticism, precisely because certain things are happening which are not mentioned in the Charter, such as the usury which is imposed on poor countries by wealthy ones. Human rights don’t work because not all circumstances are the same. In some circumstances capital punishment is a necessity, such as when there no other way to contain evildoers. Those living in first world countries may not think it to be so, but not everything can be remedied by imprisonment.
Christian moral theology does not run into this problem. If we were to produce a Universal (Catholic) Declaration of Human Obligations, we might say things like:
Employers must provide adequate pay to their employees such that the employees are able to support themselves and those in their care. Payment should reflect the value of work performed. Hours of work should not exceed those which are compatible with the health and safety of the employee.
In this case the onus is on the employer to do the right thing and to prove he has done so. The victim doesn’t need to demonstrate injury.
The issue which best illustrates the problem with rights versus obligations is with Abortion. The Right-to-Life organizations argue that a foetus has a right to live and the Pro-Choice camp argues that the woman has a right to use her body in any way she pleases. They are both wrong and this is why the approach which has been used by the anti-abortion movement has failed time and time again.
Let’s get it straight. Women have no rights. Men have no rights and the unborn have no rights. No rights whatsoever except to follow God’s divine will. Nobody may willfully end an innocent life. That’s the end of the matter. This covers all forms of murder, preemptive war, abortion, euthanasia, you name it. Not because people sat down and agreed it was a good idea, but because God said so – because it is an objective truth.
Christian moral law does not presuppose the existence of a certain kind of government or monetary system either. There is only one structure which is guaranteed to exist while human beings exist – the family. Any other social structure or instrument is optional and is entirely up to the populace to choose, so long as people act morally towards each other. So, in contrast to the United Nations Charter, Christians needn’t expect to be educated by the government of the day. It’s the parents’ duty to ensure their children are educated. Governments should make it easy for parents to educate their children, by whatever means are effective.
Many will assert that what is being put forth as being Christian morality is entirely compatible with the Human Rights model. The modern Catholic Church promotes the Human Rights model, after all. Yet this is an error, because, although human beings have value in that they are made in God’s image, they don’t have rights from the theological point of view. There is nothing in the Bible or the teachings of the Doctors of the Church purporting the existence of human rights. There are simply do’s and dont’s. The current attitude of the Vatican is, therefore, heretical.