Archive | March, 2013

The American Obsession with Rights

12 Mar

One thing that continues to interest me is America’s preoccupation with rights. This has is generally related to the rights and freedoms found in the Bill of Rights. Personally, I believe it is positive that our founding fathers have prescribed so many freedoms for the people of our nation in the supreme law of the land. These freedoms should a deep commitment to the idea that human beings have dignity solely based upon the fact that they are human. As I become more acquainted with Biblical scripture, I can’t help but grow in appreciation for the freedom we are allotted in America. While many non Christians may disagree with me, I believe that God has inspired this conception of rights that dominate our culture. He is the source of all the freedom, rights, and dignity that men may find as they continue to grow and prosper in our nation. Since God has given these rights to man we must assume that He did not mean for us to only focus on our own personal rights. Instead one can find that it is consistent with the character of God to help our neighbors learn to grow and live in greater freedom. He has intended for us to develop ourselves as individuals in complete freedom. Additionally, through our freedom His desire is for us to choose Him so that He may lead us to ever lasting life. It is only through certain freedoms and a personal relationships with people, as well as God, that we may find this complete freedom and have a life where we may be at complete peace.

Human freedom is what allows people to enter into relationships based upon our desire to enrich others, as well as being social nourished by a common friendship. This freedom is what creates a social phenomenon that results in humans thriving in relationship with one another. Interestingly enough, the word slavery can be used in multiple situations regarding interaction between people. Over the years it has become clear that slavery is not just one man having possession of another. In recent times slavery can be seen in the establishment of social classes. The members of a higher social class generally have a negative view point of those in a lower class; therefore, members of the higher class tend to work against having any relationship with members of the lower class in society. Furthermore, upper class citizens have all the power and influence within society and repress social freedoms of those in the lower class. This is one example of modern freedom being reduced by different social circumstances. It is essential to reduce the social slavery that occurs in many nations and expand upon the freedom that the founding fathers began in 1787. When examining the human condition, it becomes apparent that freedom is what allows people to thrive.

While people continue to thrive through a realization of rights, I can’t help but feel as though there’s an over exaggeration of their importance. It is not secret that there is grave importance that is attached to rights, however, is it worth it to maintain our rights if public safety is exposed to different social ills? Some American conservatives claim that government should not intervene on behalf of society when dangerous issues present themselves. For example, when the debate about gun violence is brought to our attention conservatives argue that government should not be involved in taking weapons away from ordinary citizens. Why is it that this issue is above the public safety of the American people? While it can’t be conclusively proven that a reduction in the amount of arms would reduce the amount of crime, there is a distinct possibility that this is the case. Why would we not want to follow in the footsteps of other nations that have reduced the amount of gun ownership through regulation and seen a decrease in the amount of gun violence? ┬áMy answer to this question is that Americans are obsessed with their rights much more than they are focused on the common good.

In addition to a lack of interest in public safety, Americans seem to lack interest in helping the poor. I don’t mean that Americans just disregard the poor, but that they seem to have much more of an interest in their own good than with helping the less financially affluent. When viewing American society it is clear that many of us value our freedom of speech, religion, and right to petition more highly than we value helping those that are positioned below us. In fact, for some of us our religion calls us to help those who are not financially secure, but we are more content to just assemble in our churches in order to show our religiosity. Our greatest pride in our religion comes from going to church and being involved in our religious community. This is sad for those people who call themselves Christians. These followers of Christ should be more interested in setting the socially oppressed of this world free, instead they are worried about themselves becoming oppressed. My caution to these Christians is not to worry about your American freedoms being oppressed, because if you are to follow the direct teachings of Christ there you will find true freedom.

Why is it that Americans are so focused upon their individual rights instead of being focused upon the good of society? My assessment leaves me to believe that the founders of our nation have left us with this individualistic mindset. While I do agree that rights are essential to promote human flourishing, and are needed for human relationships I do think that they are overemphasized. Our rights are not merely meant to promote our own human well-being, but rather are to help others recognize their full potential within their being. We should use our rights to protect others, not just ourselves. Furthermore, we should give up some of our rights, possibly ones that may lead to some sort of violence, in order to promote the common good. We should also use our freedom of religion to embrace the true teachings of our religion. It is not enough to merely go to a religious service once a week and forget the teachings that the religion has given us. We must use these teachings and our freedom to liberate the socially oppressed people in our society. If we do not do this then it confirms my suspicion that the American conception of rights is highly individualistic. In conclusion, if the American obsession with personal rights is continued I struggle to see how it can align with the teachings of Christ. Jesus did not mean for us to horde our rights and freedoms for our own personal gain, rather he meant for us to use our gifts and and life from Him to further the being of our brothers and sisters. This is why I see a contrast between the American conception of rights and Christianity.