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DAVID F. LLOYD in his essay “Rights vs Responsibilities” Summer 2001 Issue of Vision:

Legally, rights have never been so extensively defined. For starters, there are the rights of ethnic minorities. Then we have the rights of women. The rights of children. The rights of homosexuals. The right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy or, depending on your viewpoint, the rights of the unborn. The right to claim compensation when your rights are violated. The rights of workers. The rights of consumers. The rights of the “unwaged.” The rights of single parents. The rights of companies and organizations. Even the rights of animals and, believe it or not, plants. It’s a list seemingly without end. The situations in the United States and the United Kingdom are parallel in many respects. American society has a reputation for being the most litigious in the world. Lawyers often offer “no win, no fee” inducements, so the attraction of a quick, opportunistic buck can be alluring to those who believe their rights have been trampled. Compensation demands are also increasing in Britain. In both countries, the growing likelihood of compensation claims has had the effect of pushing up employment costs such as insurance…The prosperous nations of the Western world have never been more focused on rights. Many people would therefore say we’ve come a long way since the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But have we? Is this obsession with rights creating a better society? Surely a focus on rights should have made us all happier. But is society any better and are we any happier? WHO’S RIGHT ABOUT WHOSE RIGHTS? Certain concepts of human rights appear self-evident: the rights of people not to be tortured or abused, freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom of political association. But what happens when perceived rights conflict with one another?.. .Replacing traditional values today we find such idealized concepts as personal freedom, individual choice, self-actualization, self-esteem and “the right to know.” Note that all of these focus on the individual, the self. An inevitable and worrisome result of those values and that kind of focus, of course, is that subjects that used to be off limits, such as a nation’s security secrets, are now open to disclosure, discussion and critique. That highly prized commodity, freedom, has thus moved to the point where one can exercise one’s perceived rights even if it puts national security at risk. We seem to have moved light years from a society where personal responsibility came first, to one where personal rights are the first and sometimes only consideration… So what about that other R, responsibility? Could it be that by privileging rights over responsibilities we have lost sight of a fundamental fact? Think about it: If we do not—as a society and as individuals—put responsibilities ahead of rights, then we will paradoxically begin to lose those rights that we hold to be inalienable. As laws, proclamations and politically correct pressure groups rain supposed rights on ever more narrowly defined and exclusive groups and causes, it is a sure sign that we are forgetting how the very freedoms we take for granted were preserved through the centuries; namely, by the responsibility and self-sacrifice of our predecessors. Nobody said it better, from a national perspective, than John F. Kennedy: “Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”Apart from a few brave and increasingly lonely voices, it appears that many of our religious and governmental institutions are abandoning—indeed sometimes uprooting—the moral underpinnings of society. Self-fulfillment and political correctness have replaced that deeper, lasting set of values that overarches and simultaneously underpins individual rights. The warning voices that do sound forth are usually not those of killjoys wanting to make life miserable for the sake of it, but rather those of astute individuals who foresee—and warn about—the damaging outcomes of our self-indulgence… Other voices have also lamented the corrosive effect of this blinkered focus on rights alone. W.A. Borst, for instance, author of Liberalism: Fatal Consequences, wrote of the United States: “A nation which had set up a near-perfect and flexible government is now finding common sense more endangered than the snail darter. Lawyers have hamstrung society with nit-picking minutiae. . . . This lack of common sense has led inevitably to a rights revolution, where only selfishness and personal interest seem to reign supreme.”… RIGHTS OR BLESSINGS? Interestingly, God never promised rights. He promised blessings, and that is the critical difference. A self-sacrificing individual who serves his or her society, a people that truly looks to God, doesn’t need to be and indeed isn’t focused on rights. Such people are focused on other people and on God, and on their responsibilities to both. This is the lesson of social responsibility: “For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Romans 13:9). Our narrow and selfish preoccupation with our rights threatens to engulf and destroy us. It is not until we begin again, as individuals and as nations, to look outside ourselves to our religious, moral and social responsibilities —to other human beings and to God—that we will reverse national, social and spiritual decline.

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