Holding the record for the most translated document in the world and heralded as the “international Magna Carta of all men everywhere” by Eleanor Roosevelt; the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is understood to be inalienable. It documents the fundamental rights a person is inherently entitled to simply because they exist. However, where does this movement draw its inspiration from? For Christians, it may be closer to home than we realise. I explore a tenable link between Christianity and the championing of Human Rights.
This begs the question, if we are all so different, why must we all be treated the same?
The human rights movement and many of its ilk, fight for all humans to be treated with dignity, irrespective of existing and anticipated differences. We fight for these rights because we believe it is fair to do so. But what underpins this fairness? On what basis is this fairness determined? The human race is truly diverse! From social status to culture to hair type (hello 4C sisters!) to skin colour to bone density to genotype; the list is inexhaustible! This begs the question, if we are all so different, why must we all be treated the same? We can’t we just break off into different sects and each (sect) care for their own? After all, the world is not ‘one size fits all’.
If survival of the fittest works for animals; why can’t we adopt this philosophy? The animal kingdom can boast of no recorded incidents of colonisation or civil wars, to name a few things plaguing humankind. It exists by adhering to the following: eat or be eaten, protect your own, fight or flight and they have been doing quite well, getting on with life as they know it – just an observation of an outsider.
…great empires, wonders of the world and medical revolutions did not come about simply because we treating each other fairly.
Where does the ideology that all humans are equal originate from? We are tangibly and intangibly different; therefore, by extension, our rights should follow suit. Is the fight for human rights not just a wasted effort? Our success rate since the signing of the declaration UDHR has been mediocre at best and abysmal at worst. If history is anything to go by, equal rights for all is not a natural occurrence – great empires, wonders of the world and medical revolutions did not come about simply because we treating each other fairly. In fact, the very opposite brought about the things we now boast about as advancements in the human condition.
As much as my arguments are logical, it does not and will not sit right with many people. This is because on a conscious or subconscious level, amidst our various and glaring differences, we recognise there is something (or someone) that ties the human race together, there is a sameness that transcends all our differences. For Christians, the theological term ‘Imago Dei‘ encapsulates this seemingly inexplicable transcendence. The term ‘Imago Dei’ means image of God; rooted in Genesis 1:27 it asserts that humans are made in the image and likeness of God and as a result of this, we as humans have a certain dignity that sets us apart from the rest of creation.
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26-27)
This is what underpins our fight for fairness – our recognition and or (unwitting) acceptance of Imago Dei! It fuels our desire to see all humans be treated fairly and with dignity.
In 1982, Said Rajaie-Khorassani, the Iranian representative to the United Nations, stated that the UDHR was “a secular understanding of the Judeo-Christian tradition” and I agree wholeheartedly. I genuinely believe Christianity encourages people to treat others in a dignified manner. The Bible commands us to treat all with dignity; from those from low social-standing,
“If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need.” (Deuteronomy 15:7-8)
“Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt” (Exodus 22:21); we are instructed to be fair in all our dealings.
“Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” (Colossians 3:11)
“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female,for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)
We recognise that we are to treat each other with honour as fellow image-bearers of God. The declaration and other documents seeking to secure basic human rights for all are bolstered on 1. the sameness of humanity, as a result of Imago Dei and 2. “[doing] to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31).
“When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”… At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there.” (John 8:7;9)
Knowing this; we, as Christians, should be championing the campaign for Human Rights – not only because it will make the world a better place but because we have been called to do so!