Why Colin Kaepernick’s Protest Points to a Divine Creator. Colin Kaepernick is back in the news. After a few quite years, Mr. Kaepernick is attempting to get an NFL team to sign him . A few weeks ago, he held a private work out in hopes of attracting the interest of a team. To this point, he remains unsigned.
Of course, Colin Kaepernick gained fame for his protests during the National Anthem a few years ago. Protests that many people feel have led to his being shunned by the NFL. So what was he protesting to begin with?
How Did This All Start?
The reason he originally staged his protest was to bring attention to racial injustice and the treatment of African Americans by the police. And to be clear, I support his right to this protest. Having free speech rights means allowing speech you don’t agree with. I say and write about many things people would prefer I not talk about. If I expect to be allowed to assert my point of view, I have to extend that right to everyone else. That’s the way a free society works. Everyone gets to espouse their point of view, and the best ideas win out.
But what intrigued me about his protest was where people were getting their notions of “Rights” from. His protest seemed to be loosely leveled at the country or society in general.
But can society or the government really be a source of rights? It seems to me that there are only five sources that could possibly be responsible for granting rights to an individual or group. Those five sources are the government, the society, the individual, evolution or God. I’m going to look at each of these five explanations for rights, and explain why I think God is the best explanation that exists for rights.
Some assert that the government is where our rights come from. If it’s legal, it must be moral. But on this explanation, whatever legal rights exist at the current time are therefore moral. This would mean that people like Martin Luther King Jr., William Wilberforce, Susan B. Anthony, Cesar Chavez and Abraham Lincoln would all be acting immorally, because they were advocation for rights that were not currently allowed by the laws in place at the time. If we are attempting to change a law to extend rights to a certain group of people, we are necessarily appealing to something greater than the government. Therefore, the Government can’t be the final source of rights.
So maybe it’s not so much the government, but society itself that is responsible for granting rights. Whatever the majority agrees on, or is beneficial to the majority, is therefore moral. This explanation falls into many of the same trappings as the previous one of the government as a source for rights. For instance, do we really base our rights on what is best for the majority? There’s a popular illustration that states that democracy is “Two foxes and a chicken voting on what to have for dinner”. You see the problem. If it’s simply doing what’s best for the majority, then minorities will always be without rights. Also, this makes it impossible for one society to judge another’s actions. If the majority of people in a society agree that gassing Jewish people is moral, or throwing homosexuals from rooftops is acceptable, then other societies have no standing to protest these actions. Only if there is a law above societal conventions can we call something like the holocaust or genocide immoral. There must be something that allows us to condemn the actions of other societies that violate individual rights.
A popular notion now is that evolution is what gives us rights. This theory states that we get certain rights because it benefited us in perpetuating the species. The problem here is that many actions or rights we find as virtuous would not be of evolutionary benefit to us. Notions of self sacrifice, sharing, bravery and charity would not have helped early man survive. A common misconception about evolution is that it is concerned with groups or species surviving. This is false. Evolution rewards individuals that adapt over groups. Individuals that get their genetic material into the next generation are the winners on an evolutionary model. So evolution can tell you what will help you survive, but not necessarily what is moral or who deserves rights. If withholding rights and oppressing your fellow man helps you to survive and reproduce, then that is what you should do. I don’t know of anyone that would be advocating for this view however.
Captured beautifully by the catch phrase “don’t judge me”, some insist that rights are a matter of personal choice, and no one should tell anyone else how to live. While this sounds very tolerant, it’s actually extremely dangerous. Everyone would like to be granted the right to be able to do whatever he or she wants. The problem comes in when your neighbor gets the right to do whatever they want! When people dream of doing whatever they want, it’s always in a context of others still obeying moral laws. No one likes to think of another person who has no regard for the rights of others. As Greg Koukl points out, we have a name for such people, and they are a homicide detective’s worst nightmare. They are called psychopaths. And while we have an obligation to respect individual rights, we have no moral obligation to respect people’s selfish desires.
So what about God as a source of rights? In their excellent book “Relativism, Feet Firmly Planted In Mid Air” Greg Koukl and Francis Beckwith make four observations about morals or rights. They are that rights are not physical things, they are a kind of command, they have a force to them, and we feel discomfort when rights or morals are violated. As they note, this leaves us with three options. “Our options are limited to three. One: Morality (rights) are simply an illusion. Two: Moral rules (rights) exist but are mere accidents, the product of chance. Three: Moral rules (rights) are not accidents but are the product of intelligence. Which option makes most sense given our four observations about morality?”
Are Rights An Illusion?
Rights are obligations we owe each other. If rights are simply an illusion, and are something that does not truly exist, we have no obligation to extend them to others. If they are accidents or the product of chance, they are also non binding. The only way we can make sense of rights is if they are a product of intelligence. We have and extend rights to others because we are made in the image of God. You don’t have to believe in God to have or be extended rights, but you can’t make sense of what rights are without God. God stands as the best explanation of where rights and morality come from.
I hope this helps you think through the issue of where rights come from, and I also pray for the day when protests about racial inequality will be unnecessary. I fear however, that as fallen human beings, we will always find something to divide over until we are called home to the ultimate peace.
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