The Religious Right: Rights and Rights Discourses in Religious Scripture
Posted: 7 Aug 2012 Last revised: 29 Nov 2017
Date Written: August 7, 2012
Many human rights observers have come to the conclusion that there is a fundamental tension between rights and religion. At the same time, the followers many religions, see themselves as human rights activists, promoting tolerance and freedom around the world. One way to resolve the apparent tension between rights and religion is to distinguish between religious doctrine, as revealed in holy texts like the Bible, the Bhagavad-Gita, or the Qu’rán, and the practices and perversions of that doctrine as implemented by its followers. The doctrine/practice distinction, however, is insufficient to meet the challenge posed by secular rights advocates because their critique reaches beyond practice and into the very belief systems of various religions. This article explores this tension. In so doing, it asks whether there a satisfactory response to the powerful censure of religion? Is there a way to reconcile the seemingly competing claims of human rights (which aim to maximize rights) and religious faith (which, at times, may limit them)? Or, must religion modify itself to come into compliance with and to support secular universal human rights regimes? It concludes that the resolution to the human rights versus religion quandary is the recognition that the rights regimes promulgated within religions operate under a distinct paradigm that does not conform to popular conceptions of rights. It is not that rights are inconsonant with religion but that the language of rights, as understood in modern political, legal, and moral discourse, is inapplicable (or less applicable) within a religious paradigm. Religion is as deeply committed to rights as any liberal Western human rights mechanism, but the very conception of rights in religion is different. he “religious right” is an entirely different species.
To build its ambitious claim, this article uses the religious scripture of the Bahá’í Faith as a case study, first, to outline the broad framework under which human rights are conceived in a religious paradigm (to define a religious conception of rights). This task advances existing rights discourse within religious discourse because few scholars of religion have concerned themselves with providing a definition of rights, considering it too obvious to need any definition or too complex to lend itself to definition. Having a distinct definition also advances the debate about the role of religion in the modern human rights discourses by translating “rights talk” within religion into a form comprehensible by secular rights talkers, which provides a foundation in which challenges to the critique of religion’s role in the promotion of human rights can be grounded. The article also will offers suggestions as to the nature of the challenge that is possible once the language of the religious conception of rights is understood. Its preliminary conclusion is this: the “religious right” does not reconcile the adoption of the entire catalog of liberal rights unmodified within its framework. Nevertheless, the religious conception of rights offers a solution to many difficult tensions among competing rights, providing a tenable reconciliation of the claims of the individual and the community.
Keywords: Human Rights, Civil Rights, Religion, Baha'i Faith
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