'Indeed I want to argue that America is the only country that has the misfortune of being founded on a philosophical mistake--namely, the notion of inalienable rights. We Christians do not believe that we have inalienable rights. That is the false presumption of Enlightenment individualism, and it opposes everything that Christians believe about what it means to be a creature.' From Stanley Hauerwas, 'Abortion: Theologically Considered'You can find the rest of the (somewhat dated) article here. My purpose is to draw attention to the notion of subjective or inalienable rights, which is enshrined in our beloved Constitution, but which I (also) believe is a fiction, and which I think Christians ought to find theologically promiscuous.
I wrote last week about the 'Manhattan Declaration' and its wholesale, unflinching appropriation of inalienable rights as theologically based in the imago Dei. I've never been to a Bible Study where our discussion of Genesis 1, Philippians 2, heck, all of Paul's letters, devolved to the recognition that we all should have religious liberties, rights to property, and rights to download pornography and not be held legally culpable. That's meant to be provocative, yes, but it has its purpose as well. It should show us how defunct, how handicapped, how theologically nonsensical American political theology often is. And should force all of us to rethink some of our basic principles and allegiances.
I agree with Hauerwas that this was America's founding philosophical mistake. But it was also its theological mistake, borne from the good intentions of mostly well-meaning Christians. There is a not so fine line between accepting political reality as-is and having to accept the role of prophet within and against it. America in its essence implies far more theological problems than our Americanised Christianity is able, at times, to admit. I don't think that's a scholarly point either. Christians should feel that in our bones every time our fellow Christians try to justify their inalienable rights on the basis of the Gospel that calls men everywhere, at all times, daily, to die.