It appears that the dreaded election season is already upon us. I’m always taken aback a little when I hear politicians playing like they are theologians — funny, I don’t have the same problem when musicians do it.
In any case, I find it odd when people like Ted Cruz claim that we have unalienable rights given by God. Certainly, Thomas Jeffersons God might have doled out things like that, but I’m not sure the one in the Bible did that stuff.
In Jewish and subsequent Christian thought, the encounter with God results in an ethical demand on us to the world. This outward focus is manifested in the history of art. Chesterton points out that the Buddhist tradition always sculpts Buddha with his eyes closed or half-closed because he is focussing inward. The heroes from the Hebrew Scriptures and the Saints are always wide-eyed and facing out to the world. It’s not that there aren’t examples of inward focussed saints and outward focussed Buddhas. It’s a generalization with all the strengths and weakness of one. The Judeo-Christian theophany always results in working to repair the world.
The idea that your neighbor has a claim on you, or rather, as Jesus puts it, you are a neighbor to everyone seems a very different concept than an unalienable right. When someone violates my “rights”, I need to defend them. When God places an ethical demand on me to love my neighbor as myself, there is no limit to what I may be called to give up in order to love him/her.
So, Hosea may have to suffer the shame of marrying a prostitute. Jeremiah may have to remain alone and without a spouse because his love for his people trumped his “right” to personal happiness. St. Ignatius may have to get chewed up by lions because his love for the eternal trumped his “right” to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
When it comes to God, we don’t have any rights. We only have a calling. When I think about “rights”, I think about how I am being wronged. When I think about my neighbor, I am thinking about what God is calling me to do to love them more.