Rights 2

At the end of Post 2 I suggested that Post 3 would be a survey of my rights-oriented research, filling in a very few high points of rights thinking for the past 3,500 to 4,000 years in the Western traditions. In the interim, it occurred to me that I needed to interject this, the story of the personal impetus for this research. So, that brief background on the development of Western rights thinking will have to come in the next post, #4.

Asininity of Modern Rights Affairs

So here in the USA of 2020, we’ve devolved in our rights thinking to the point that children have legal rights “against” their parents, all to be defined and brokered down the gun sights of the government. With this advent we have degenerated to court directed, government enforced family management and child rearing. Now, of all things, we’re attempting government enforced (state defined and approved) parenting. Brilliant. If you’re the government or a lacky lawyer, it is, anyway.

Not too many years ago I read a news story of a case wherein a pair of parents of a grown man-child had tried to evict a 20-something brat who refused to grow up and move out of their home. The kid was actually able to find a lawyer who was unashamed enough to pursue such ridiculousness, and then even a court/judge stupid enough to hear the case. And as might be expected with a judge that stupid, the ruling was in favor of the punk kid. The kid had a right against the parents to remain a kid, a burden for the parents to support in his customary manner, in their home.  This arrangement being enforced by the state, based on the kid’s rights. As a garden variety red-neck kind of a dad (one who expects his capable kids to grow up, even at their own sometimes-considerable inconveniences) my gut level inclination would have been to cancel the homeowner’s insurance, move all my stuff out of the house, and burn the damned thing to the ground. If the brat was lucky enough to be out when it burned, I would have wished him good luck with the enjoyment of whatever was left. Now I confess, according to the bible it is not good for man to be alone, and my wife has so far managed to keep me out from these kinds of situations (and she has in fact saved me from at least one of them). But for me, the temptation would have been very, very real. And even now, I must confess, at least a few years ago, the case referenced here was still recognized as goofy enough to be considered newsworthy. At least at that time we still had that little going for us.

But, those kinds of temptations that my wife has so far managed to save me from have nevertheless given me cause to pause and wonder “What the hell is it about rights in the first place, anyway?” For years and years now, bubbling around the back of my mind.

A personal journey of rights presumption, thinking, and doubt

I was raised by a United States military officer, spending some years attending schools actually run by the U.S. Department of Defense. As a military officer’s kid, if anything, I was downright rights privileged. I grew up just about as Red, White, and Blue, U.S. Constitutionally righted as any kid could.

In my second post, I mentioned growing up in a Christian cocoon. My U.S. Military family was also Christian. When I grew to an adult to work out my own faith in life, I also chose homeschooling for my children, very largely for value-based reasons. We did try public schooling for our kids. It was requiring such daily debriefings that it was just easier to do it ourselves and spare the kids the chaos and confusion of two world views, or one world view coupled to secular chaos – kind of a non-world-view. Or maybe, more accurately, even an anti-world view. Just rootless chaos. Anyway. That would be yet another web-site, and I can only afford time and money for so many.

During the latter course of those homeschooling years I had occasion to visit with a longtime Christian mentor. This was perhaps 12 to 15 years ago, maybe even a couple more than that. Time does get along. Or we get along through it. Or something. During that visit with my mentor that day, he knew roughly where I was headed, but had no idea how far I might have considered taking it. Here was the background bubbling around the back of my mind (with him unaware) at the time:

Remember that I had grown up Christian, and fiercely Red, White, and Blue, Constitutionally Righted. In choosing to homeschool, we had decided to reject secular educations for our kids, to refrain from using tax-funded, compulsory, psychologically and emotionally neglectful school systems. We had decided to own the responsibility for raising our own children in a Christian, home-based child development paradigm. The costs of those choices are not small. You pay for a system you wouldn’t allow within 100 yards of your own children, forgoing “free daycare”, (skip education, that barely factors into our system of schooling for child development) and then forego one income for a parent to remain home and raise a couple’s own children. At the end of all that, you discover that, in many states, the state defines the curriculum required to be used in the home, by the parents, for their children. Children raised at home still have to be tested to the toxic satisfactions of the state bureaucrats. It may well be a providential blessing that I was not living and raising my children in one of those states at that time. Because what that amounts to is, rather than surrendering your children for state defined child development (rearing) through the school system, what those poor parents have actually accomplished is the importation of the state gun-sighted bureaucracies into the defining and running of their own homes. This by way of “children’s rights” to education defined and approved by the state. So instead of sending their kids out for development (largely for free (tax funded) daycare in many cases) in state run, government defined day-homes, or “children’s development centers,” the parents awake one day to realize (or not realize, in many cases) that they have imported the state into running and defining the child development in their own homes. It’s a rights-less lose/lose for the parents and any value system worth having, let alone worth passing on to one’s children.

Well, as you might imagine, as a fiercely Red, White, and Blue righted Christian American, and a second amendment kind of a guy at that, none of this was setting well with me, about 15 years ago. These were the things on my mind as I asked my mentor about “When is enough, enough? When and where do we draw the lines on state/government encroachment into what should be private, religiously based, family life?” I, at that time, was blessed to not live in a state where I was facing those immediate challenges. But other Christian Americans were, at the very moment of that conversation, living exactly those imposed, enforced realities. And where I was headed in the conversation that day with my mentor was, “When do we, knowing we will lose in the end and die for it, decide to take out a few bureaucrats on the way? When’s the time and place to go out in a blaze of glory for liberty? At what point do we finally decide to go out in blazes of liberty-glory (kind of like the Alamo) taking as many educrats as we can with us on the way? When and where do we say, “You’ve gone way beyond too far in your governmentally enforced lunacies, and we’re ready once again to ‘Live Free or Die’?”

Now again, at the moment of my visit with the mentor, I was not personally on this hook. But via online connections, I knew of and knew people who were (whether they recognized it or not). So, on that day years ago, when I visited with my Christian mentor, these were the things on my mind. These were my targeted topics of discussion for the afternoon.

He drew me up close and short, so quickly that he ruined my whole day. His reply has probably contributed to keeping me alive long enough to sort all this out and at least begin at getting it written.

That day, before I even got started good, he interrupted me with something along these lines: “Well now, you do realize that when you became a Christian, you gave up all your rights. Right?” He immediately recognized that I was galloping headlong into a rights-based train wreck, and he cut it off. And blew me away. He continued on along these lines: “You realize that much of this rights thinking is American, but really not very Christian at all in its origins. Now if you’re an American first and foremost, then you may have a place to take this discussion. But if you’re primarily a Christian, and an American only secondarily, this discussion you’re headed for may not be very valid.”

Talk about a paradigm check. BLOWN A-WAY. I was in my mid-40’s with early-teen kids by that time.

Following a pause of stunned disorientation, I went to the gut-level intuition. I replied, “Well, if Christianity is anything at all, it’s a representation about the truth of the human condition. So, if Christians don’t have rights, the truth is nobody has any rights, and Christians would just be among those who few recognize that sorry state of affairs.”

So, considering myself primarily Christian and American only secondarily, I set about trying to re-calibrate my life experience to this rude new awakening. I basically did that by repeating the mantra, “nobody has any rights.” I did that for probably 12-14 years. When you’ve grown up and lived (and very nearly raised your own kids) as presumptively Red, White, Blue, and Constitutionally Righted as I had, there were an awful lot of cerebral reconstructions to be worked out over the years. You don’t just wake up the next day as a newly minted, rights-less guy. Well, you do. And you don’t. And the don’t part of it takes a while (years in my case) to re-settle.

But of course, repeating the mantra “nobody has any rights,” does not make it true. Even if you do it for 10-15 years, it still doesn’t. And I knew that all along. I also knew doing much better than repeating a mantra was going to take an awful lot of work, work I was not eager to make time for, which is probably why I contented myself with repeating the mantra for so as long as I did.

But several months back, as I began to contemplate an attempt at this work you’re now reading, I knew I would need to think better, to think more, and do a lot of homework. The first thing I re-thought was that most initial gut-level response from my afternoon so many years ago. It was possible that Christians having no rights did mean nobody had any rights, and that Christians were just among the few to recognize that sorry state of affairs. But that really was only one possibility of two or three others I could come up with in pretty short order if I worked at it. One other possibility was that all people do have God given rights by nature, but that they’re a part of the “old human nature,” that “old self” that Christians are supposed to be “dying to” in the process of putting on or growing their new children-of-God selves (New Testament language being borrowed here). That was at least one other possibility, and there were a couple of others not interesting enough to recount. I came up with them over the course of a week or so. I have to admit, this latter possibility disclosed here seems to fit more with my own personal experience. The problem there is that my own personal experiences have been so thoroughly Americanized, that I can’t really say for sure whether I think “human rights thinking” is a HUMAN thing, or merely an American Human thing. I am both Human and American. All this rights confusion may largely stem from my Americanism, and not so much from my humanism. I suspect that many humans at many times and places have never seriously contemplated anything like a right, though they may have reacted presumptively, without thinking about it, as though they did have rights of some sort. So, with this sharing of the impetus for my research on the topic of rights in the history of Western thinking, now I think I am ready to move along to share about some of those efforts.

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