Monday 26 April 2010

Human rights and the ten commandments

In his book, The Fragile Absolute: or, Why is the Christian legacy worth fighting for?, Slavoj Žižek argues that human rights are, essentially, 'rights to violate the ten commandments.' The right to privacy is the right to commit adultery in secret, where no one can see or judge (I guess you could also argue that it's the right to all the other sins that can be committed in the comfort of your own home). The right to pursue happiness and accumulate property is the right to steal (because, pace, Marx, property is theft, and most wealth is accumulated by exploiting other people). Freedom of expression is the right to bear false witness (and is interestingly at odds with the right to privacy, as the recent hoo-haa over Max Mosley's shenanigans illustrated). The right to carry weapons is (duh) the right to commit murder. It's not, says Žižek, that human rights actually encourage people to violate the Ten Commandments, more that they open up a space for people to do so without interference from the state.

You may have noticed already, but some of those rights are quite US specific, which makes it interesting: how many of the people passionately attached to their right to bear arms are also the people who think that the US should be founded on the basis of the Ten Commandments? But it also raises interesting questions about the role of the law: how do you decide whether it's more important to stop people doing bad things than it is to allow them the freedom to make their own mistakes?

Žižek says that the tension between human rights and the ten commandments is rooted in a more fundamental tension between the ten commandments and the injunction to love our neighbour. The ten commandments are all about the rules we have to follow to be acceptable to God and to one another, but loving our neighbour means that we have to love the people around us whether they follow the rules or not, in all their bad, offensive and or disgusting strangeness and sinfulness. 'Love your neighbour' means 'love your neighbour', even if they're an adulterer or a murderer or they covet your ass.


Gabriel Smy said...

Reminds me a bit of this guy:

But seriously, the new covenant injunction to love someone who may not follow the same rules has echoes from the people of God not really getting on with other peoples in the OT.

Isn't this where the new covenant is better, because it departs from rules and the under/not under dualism of a legal system and replaces it with unconditional love? In which case what is the relationship between human rights and the new covenant, rather than the old?

Lisyê said...

Oi, não sei se você vai entender o que escrevi aqui. adorei seu blog, muito mesmo. Continue assim. beijos

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.