Thursday, September 25, 2008

Inalienable(?) Human Rights

There are many injustices occurring in our world that need desparately to be fixed.  From poor working conditions to genocide, from torture to sexism—we, as humans, must enact change for the better.  There is no question about that.

But why do we need to act?

The concept of human rights is interesting to me.  Exactly what rights people have and where those rights come from are notoriously difficult things to nail down.  The Declaration of Independence asserts that people have the inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  That's a good starting point, but there are many more rights to add to that list (but what to add may be trickier than you think).

But even if it is possible to agree on what rights we all have, we are still left with the question of where those rights come from.  The easy, Christian answer is that they come from God.  We are created in God's image and, thus, we are endowed with dignity and worth.

But what happens if the God that gives us rights is latent?  Does an uncertain God undermine our claim to God-given dignity?  Since we can't quite put our finger on God, are human rights just out of our grasp as well?

Is there some other place where we can look for human rights?  Or is there something altogether different that we should be looking for?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Am I Blind?

In my last bit of downtime before school kicks into full gear, I've been reading a lot on the internet.  I've been following the presidential race fairly intently, and recently I've been getting quite a bit of amusement out of the attacks back and forth.  Each new TV ad or speech gives the opposing party a whole new set of ammunition.  The more one side says, the more opportunities there are for the other side to point out faults.  

It turns out that it's a really good thing that I don't have any opponents ripping apart my every sentence.  If I were to be rhetorically torn limb from limb, two things would become aparent very quickly: (1) I am probably a blabbering idiot and (2) it is likely that my glasses aren't strong enough because I seem to have some serious vision problems.  The first of those revelations may or may not be true, but there's nothing I can do about it either way so I'll just let it be.  The second one, however, is really what I want to get at.

With all my talk about God's latency* (i.e., God being hidden and uncertain), it would be a very reasonable thing to ask whether I can really see straight.  Throughout my life I have met a good number of people who know God is there and have seen God act in their lives.  I've met many people who talk about God as though God is as concrete as a desk or a car.  For them, God is not followed by a question mark but by a period.

And they would be right to question my vision.  After all, the entire concept of a latent God is centered around my inability to see.  Although this criticism does not come as a surprise to me (heck, it's basically built in), it still makes me uneasy from time to time.  

I know that God is not so clear for everyone.  I've met many people (even Christians!) who readily admit that they don't see God.  Nonetheless, I sometimes fear that the fact that I can't see means that there is something wrong with me.

Perhaps I'm blind....

*[Since it's been a while, here's a quick refresher:  To say that God is latent is to say that God exists as potential.  It's the idea that God seems about to burst into the world with unmistakable power—but that it hasn't happened yet and there is no way to prove anything one way or the other.  The latency of God is what makes people doubt and what causes people to believe (as opposed to know).  It means that we are forced to live in this strange almost-but-not-quite world where God is hidden from view.]

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Winding and Narrow

It's been a while since I last posted, and a lot has changed in that time. I just married a smart and adventurous young woman, and we moved to the Boston area to pursue our academic interests in grad school. So, new marriage, new city, new schools—there's quite a lot going on right now....

In the midst of all the craziness, I took a short break yesterday to walk a labyrinth in an open green space just outside one of the academic buildings at school. It was a cool morning with heavy gray skies and a soft breeze, and as I approached the labyrinth I took a moment to read the sign posted at the beginning. The sign pointed out something that I had never noticed before—the labyrinth has only one path to follow, so there is never any worry about getting lost. Although the path is narrow and winding, it will always take you to the center.

It seems to me that the labyrinth is a more fitting picture of my spiritual journey than the idea of the "straight and narrow road." For better or for worse, I can't manage to walk in a straight line. I can hear God calling out to me, but I keep losing my bearings. I'll be walking one direction and then suddenly God's voice will seem to be coming from way off to the left. I turn to follow, but it isn't long at all before I hear no voice at all. I begin to feel dizzy and disoriented and slowly I veer off another direction until I seem to be heading the opposite direction from before. Finally I hear God's voice again, but this time it is coming from directly in front of me. And on and on I go like that, winding around constantly losing my way.

But the wonderful thing is that I am not afraid. No matter how disoriented I may become, I know that I will never end up utterly lost. All of the twists and turns are part of the path that will one day lead me to the center.

If there is a straight and narrow road, I haven't found it yet. Perhaps it is somewhere near the end of the journey. Perhaps it doesn't exist at all. Either way, I'll continue winding along the path knowing full well that I'm always walking toward the center.