We magnify Thee, O Christ Bestower of life, and we honor Thy holy Cross, whereby Thou has saved us from slavery to the enemy!
-Magnification for the Exaltation of the Holy Cross
In my last article, I discussed the spiritual consequences of a worldview shaped and dominated by the concept of “rights.” Such a worldview has become so wholly characteristic of modernity that, to the vast majority of people, the denial of the idea of human rights is virtually synonymous with the denial of goodness, morality, decency, and love. It is nearly indistinguishable from the praise of intolerance, injustice, oppression, and tyranny.
But I did not attack the idea of human rights because I wanted to take something away from modern man. I did not denounce them because I care nothing for the downtrodden and the oppressed. The problem with human rights is not that they give too much to modern man, but rather that they give far too little.
This nation was founded upon the love of freedom and the hatred of tyranny. And I want to be absolutely clear: this longing for freedom, so characteristic of the American soul, is without any doubt divine and holy. This desire, implanted in the American heart by God Himself, is something precious and praiseworthy, far more valuable than all of the many riches and comforts which we as a nation have amassed.
And it is precisely for this reason that I wrote against the so-called “Rights of Man.” Such “rights” have promised freedom, but brought us only slavery. They have promised justice, but brought us only oppression. They have promised independence, but brought us into a subjection far worse than has ever existed under any tyrant in all the annals of history.
They have enslaved us to ourselves.
St. Justin the Philospher once said: “To yield and give way to our passions is the lowest slavery, even as to rule over them is the only liberty.”
The only liberty.
The modern world has achieved great success in its fight against external oppression and outward subjugation. But as Archimandrite Vasileios of Iveron once asked, “What am I supposed to do with a success that does not conquer death?”
And therein lies the fundamental difference between Christianity and Antichristianity. As Fr. Seraphim Rose once wrote, “The Antichrist is the fake Christ who promises to give outwardly and obviously what Christ brought inwardly and hidden.”
The world given birth to by the Enlightenment (that forerunner of the Antichrist, which sought to build the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, to build the Tower of Babel anew) has brought with it outward freedom, outward riches, and outward justice… but has left the inward man to starve like the prodigal son, surrounded by the riches of the far country, but himself perishing with hunger.
Because as paradoxical as it might be, here is the truth: in this life there is no freedom without obedience, there is no joy without suffering, and there is no life without death.
There is no freedom except the freedom of the Cross.
But in seeking to bring us absolute and unmitigated external freedom, our modern obsession with rights has thereby pathologized obedience. And without obedience, our freedom dies and our passions reign. Thus it has turned out to be as that other great philosopher, St. Justin Popovich, once wrote:
In truth there is only one freedom – the holy freedom of Christ, whereby He freed us from sin, from evil, from the devil. It binds us to God. All other freedoms are illusory, false, that is to say, they are all, in fact, slavery.
Before men learned to speak of rights, they used to speak of something much better: the ancients spoke of virtue. But after they learned to speak of virtue, Christ taught them to speak of something even higher: he taught them to speak of love. And more than this, He taught them to be “doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.”
He taught them to take up the Cross.
How petty, after all, are these “rights” which we hold so dear! “Give me that, don’t do this, I deserve such and such.” How pale and insignificant is such merely earthly justice, when measured against the love by which a man lays down his life for his friends!
How worthless are our rights, when set against the glory of the saints! How sad are our lives when we cling to our rights, in comparison with the lives of those who, like St. Paul, “count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.”
What kind of right can a Christian claim while hanging on the Cross?
My brothers and sisters, let us not allow ourselves to be defrauded. Let us not deceive ourselves with the empty riches and illusory freedoms which are all that this vain world can offer. Let us not settle for those things which pass so swiftly away, and which bring no lasting peace nor profit to those who choose them.
The modern world loves to boast of its rights and its freedoms. But let us say rather with St. Paul: “God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” Amen.
Very thought provoking series…this post and the last in particular communicate things that seemingly few would be able to even consider. I’m certainly pondering what you’ve said. Can you suggest any books that flesh this out even more…the idea of how we have misplaced our faith in “human rights?” Have the individuals you mentioned in the article been your primary teachers in this belief…expounding on Scripture like you’ve quoted in James and Philippians? Thanks again…looking forward to the future posts.
The principal influence on my thinking regarding modernity in general is Fr. Seraphim Rose. His biography contains many excerpts of his writings on the subject, and I highly recommend it. St. Justin Popovich is also an invaluable Patristic source on issues relating to modernity.
I’m not sure, however, if either ever addressed the issue of “rights” specifically, and I struggle to think of a book or article that tackles the issue head-on. My own thinking on the subject has flowed from the broader perspectives which were given me by many much wiser and more learned men than myself, of which the two I have mentioned are among the first.
An excellent book from a secular perspective is “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” by Sir James Stephen, which I have quoted from in several posts. Again, I am not sure that it addresses the question of “rights” specifically, but it very much addresses the underlying assumptions about goodness and morality upon which rights theory depends.
I’m sorry I cannot be of more help!
This is helpful thank you.
Father Gabriel, I was given to recall today your posts on rights recently when I read this statement from Saint Paisios the Athonite:
“As a person becomes more spiritual, so much fewer rights does he has in this life. It is obligatory to be patient, to accept injustice, to accept evil words from others. A crooked stick (perverted person) who is distant from God has many rights: to strike and shout and act unrighteously. Our rights God keeps for the other life. Out of ignorance however we often seek our rights here. Let us not damage things at all. If they say anything to us, immediately we give them the right [i.e. we fight back]. And later we think we trust in God. That is a big joke. Human justice doesn’t mean anything to a spiritual person. But it is a great concern for the perverted person.”
And then I just reread your statement, “What kind of right can a Christian claim while hanging on the Cross?”, God has blessed me deeply with His Truth. I am thanking for this treasure…thank you for your obedience in being His servant and vessel. Peace.
I am so glad you found St. Paisios’ writings! They are a treasure, and I actually had it in mind to find this comment and refer you to his teachings on the subject of rights but forgot and never did. I am glad God set my mistake aright!
May the Lord bless you.