I once talked to my English professor about rights. She was a non-theistic, liberal feminist. She had given us an article to read about oppression which I was strongly unsatisfied with. After class, I approached her and told her that the article had not supported its claims well because it did not use the correct definition of oppression i.e. denying someone something that they have a right to. She disagreed with my definition for a while before she saw my point.
Finally, she said, “You’ve convinced me. We can’t talk about oppression until we talk about rights. That raises a problem. Who decides what rights we have?”
I hadn’t even known I was trying to convince her of something. All I knew was that there was something wrong with what she was saying. And since the teacher is always right, it created something of a painful cognitive dissonance in me that I was trying to dispel.
I shrugged at her question. I did realize that in her reality, rights would have to be assigned by somebody (like the way the constitution of the US assigns rights to its subjects) and I saw that those rights would be authoritative in the same way they would be if assigned by God.
So, I shrugged and replied, “God decides”.
Of course she disagreed, but she didn’t provide another solution to the conundrum. I still haven’t gotten an answer. That’s why I’m reblogging this post. Like John, I honestly want answers to these questions.
I assume many Atheists long for the day when a society would be universally populated by Atheists. Maybe they cherish the thought of never having to hear about God in the public square, or have to deal with those pesky religious people always thumping their religious books scornfully in their direction. Ahh… paradise.
But seriously, I’m curious as to what this society would look like, particularly when it comes to rights.
- What would be considered a right?
- How would rights be determined (i.e., by what process and line of reasoning)? By vote? By elected representatives?
- Would there be some rights that just are, and not up for debate? If so, how are those recognized? What is done about disagreement?
- By what means would the rights be protected?
- Would they be inalienable, or re-prescribed over time?
As you can see, how rights are determined, supported, and enforced would need to be…
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