What does "God-Given Rights" mean?

Discussion in 'Politics' started by dblack, Aug 15, 2012.

  1. dblack
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    dblack Gold Member

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    We've seen five or six different threads on this topic over the last week and, in my view, they've been an unproductive mess. Mostly we're talking past each other without a very clear understanding what it is we're really talking about.

    So, just what is meant by God-given rights? In most of the debates on here, the discussion breaks down into a debate over the "source" of rights (God, government, neither?) and I think that fundamentally misses the point. When Jefferson wrote that people are ...
    ..., what did he mean?

    His purpose was to lay out a justification for government. Here he's saying that governments are instituted to secure "unalieanable rights". That term is actually very specific and narrow. It's meant to refer only to certain kinds of "rights" - those that are unalienable.

    'Unalieanable' means they can't be taken away. It doesn't mean the shouldn't be taken away. It doesn't mean they can't be violated. It means that they are innate to a person's existence, and that, even if you were left on a desert island by yourself, you'd still have them.

    So, the key thing here is that he's describing a particular kind of right. Some rights are unalieanable, some aren't. Keep in mind, this isn't by decree - it's just inherent in the nature of the right in question. If the right can't be taken away, if you'd have the freedom to exercise it regardless of whether anyone "gave" it to you or not, then it is, by definition, an unalieanable right.

    Freedom of speech, for example, is an unalienable right. It's a freedom that you can exercise without anyone's permission or cooperation. You'd have it whether government existed or not. It's a right that can be violated, to be sure. Someone can pin you down and put their hand over your mouth. But as soon as they leave, you have that right again. It's a freedom of action that doesn't require a grant from anyone, or anything, else.

    Contractual rights are not unalienable. They require the active participation of other people or institutions to exist. Many have proposed that government recognize a "right to health care". While we could create this "right" and establish it as an entitlement, it wouldn't be an unalienable right. It depends on the active cooperation of other people. Again, it's not a matter of declaring it to be unalienable, or not. It's inherent in the nature of the right being discussed.

    Jefferson wasn't making a statement about where rights come from. He was making a statement about the kinds of rights government should secure. He wanted a government that protected our innate freedoms, not one that granted privilege. Unfortunately, that point seems to get lost as people get preoccupied with debating the supremacy of God vs the supremacy of government.
     
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    Last edited: Aug 15, 2012
  2. SniperFire
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    Jefferson was most certainly making a statement about where rights come from.

    It is in plain language. It is important and critical.

    'endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.'

    If rights were granted by any constructs of man, they would always be subject to reconstruction and would thus be alienable.
     
  3. beretta304
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    Beautifully stated. :clap2:
     
  4. dblack
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    dblack Gold Member

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    You're simply wrong. Describing the rationale for creating a new government - it's purpose and intent - was what Jefferson was up to. He wasn't out to make a religious claim. The quote you're clinging to was simply a way of referring to man's natural state. It was commonly used in that way. In this debate, it's merely a distraction.

    I certainly didn't say rights were 'constructs of man'. Try reading my post again.
     
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  5. Truthmatters
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    it merely means rights as a human being by virtue of being alive.
     
    Last edited: Aug 15, 2012
  6. SniperFire
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    SniperFire Senior Member

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    Pardon me, but you are simply an idiot.
     
  7. beretta304
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    You ask a question then criticize the answer. So why don't you tell us.
     
  8. Truthmatters
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  9. beretta304
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    More like a simple idiot. He asks a question then he doesn't like the answer. Don't waste your time. Let him answer himself.
     
  10. dblack
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    dblack Gold Member

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