Can Non-Christians Believe in Human Rights?
Are human rights real or just something we decided (for now) to believe in?
Human rights — (almost) everyone loves them. But the concept didn’t exist for most of human history, so where do they come from, and what basis do we have for believing in them? And to get more to the core of the issue: Are human rights real — in the sense the sun is real — something that exists whether we choose to believe in it or not? Or are they just something people decided to believe in — like one might believe the Star Wars prequels are underrated — and also be free just later to believe something else?
And I think the answer to that is whether you’re a Christian or not.
Whether human rights are real or just a shared fiction we all choose to believe in is an important question. We’ve based much of Western society — from free markets to racial equality — on this concept, so whether this pillar holding up civilization is real or something made up like fairies is important.
But what is the rational basis for believing in human rights? Science makes no claims that humans are particularly special and that we need to honor their rights any more than a housefly has rights that need to be acknowledged. You can certainly make a pragmatic argument that we should honor people’s rights because that’s the best system to make sure you are treated well. But a pragmatic argument is still just treating rights as a shared fiction — something we all choose to believe in because we think it will get the best result. That doesn’t preclude one from choosing to believe in something else instead if they think it will get a better result (and many have with something like Communism).