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Orthodoxy and rights.


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#21 Anton S.

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Posted 26 March 2012 - 01:29 PM

I am sure that in relations with God human beings have no 'rights' whatsoever. If we just think who God is and who we are, it becomes perfectly clear.

In relations between human beings the notion of rights is applicable, but only as long as those relations cannot be regulated by love alone. If, for example, a husband and wife love each other, they never think or argue about their respective 'rights'. They simply do not need them. But when love grows cold, they may need legal tools to regulate their relationship.

So, insistence on having 'rights' is indicative of a deficit of love.

#22 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 26 March 2012 - 02:21 PM

I want to clarify my points from my previous posts on this thread. I am not arguing against legal rights in total. These have been enshrined in western society since Roman/Hellenic times and were carried into all western law after the conversion to Christianity. This includes old Russia where social classes had legally defined rights. This also for western society and for Russia included legal rights for the Church. In many ways these legal rights have continued up into modern society and in many ways are for the protection and maintenance of society and the Church also. Within measure these legal rights for a Christian are important and need to be maintained and protected.

What I was addressing however was the modern idea of universal human rights. This is not identical to the older understanding (although it does dovetail with it to some extent so that the question is not clear cut) but rather entails something much more open ended based on the modern idea of human nature. In this modern idea we are not legally defined by our distinct place within society but rather by our individual aspirations. Thus according to whether we can have these aspirations recognized as legitimate by society at large, so they become legally legitimate.

In Christ
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#23 Anton S.

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Posted 27 March 2012 - 10:02 AM

I want to clarify my points from my previous posts on this thread. I am not arguing against legal rights in total. These have been enshrined in western society since Roman/Hellenic times and were carried into all western law after the conversion to Christianity. This includes old Russia where social classes had legally defined rights. This also for western society and for Russia included legal rights for the Church. In many ways these legal rights have continued up into modern society and in many ways are for the protection and maintenance of society and the Church also. Within measure these legal rights for a Christian are important and need to be maintained and protected.

What I was addressing however was the modern idea of universal human rights. This is not identical to the older understanding (although it does dovetail with it to some extent so that the question is not clear cut) but rather entails something much more open ended based on the modern idea of human nature. In this modern idea we are not legally defined by our distinct place within society but rather by our individual aspirations. Thus according to whether we can have these aspirations recognized as legitimate by society at large, so they become legally legitimate.

In Christ
-Fr Raphael


Of course, rights are an integral part of law. Law is necessary for keeping up order and regulate a society which is formed by fallen human beings who cannot regulate all their relations by love alone.

Where people live in Christian love, they need no rights. It is especially clear in family relations - as long as family members love each other, they do not need a lawyer to settle their disputes. But when love begins to dry up, they remember their rights and start arguing, and without law they can end up murdering each other over some property.

Thus, legal rights, obligations and laws are a sad necessity in a society of fallen human beings. There can be better and worse laws and legal systems. Some laws are incompatible with Chrisian spirituality, others uphold it. But all legal things, including rights are artificial human inventions, fictions that can be useful for the organisation of a particular society.

Modern concept of 'human rights' seems to me very dangerous because it tries to sell these rights as an objective reality. It declares that - through no inidividual effort or merit, just because of having been born - a human being is entitled to have all his or her desires and whims satisfied. Even if this is harmful to his or her soul or is simply unrealistic. This doctrine encourages a self-centred approach to life, an exaggerated feeling of self-importance.

#24 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 27 March 2012 - 05:16 PM

If I had more time I'd look into what civil rights or liberties consisted of in the pre modern world. It could be that there is a variation between what we find in Russia and in the medieval west. In any case what this comes down to is protection of members of society, but of course as this society defines itself, what it sees a society as consisting of.

Thus there is the dispute between Tsar Ivan the Terrible and Prince Andrei Kurbsky with the latter fleeing to Lithuania. The dispute is fascinating because the Tsar points to how all who reside within the Russian realm are legally bound to show obedience to the tsar. Whereas Prince Kurbsky replies that this obedience is legally binding only insofar as the tsar himself is obedient to divine laws & morality.

Hierarchical society wasn't as it is portrayed in the movies.

In Christ
-Fr Raphael

#25 Anton S.

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Posted 28 March 2012 - 10:12 AM

Hierarchical society wasn't as it is portrayed in the movies.

In Christ
-Fr Raphael



But how is it portrayed in the movies? (It is a serious question, it's been ages since I have watched a film about a 'hierarchical society').

As for Tzar Ivan the Terrible, it is not only Kurbsky who believed that 'obedience to the tzar was legally binding only insofar as the tsar himself was obedient to divine laws & morality'. St Philip II, Metropolitan of Moscow, also firmly held this position. And not from the safety of Lithuania, but right in the Kremlin, next to Ivan the Terrible's palace. St Philip paid with his life for his convictions (like Thomas Moor in England).

Other Orthodox Christian saints are known to denounce monarchs who trampled down divine law. For example, St John Chrysostom.

But they were fighting not for 'human rights', but for divine Truth (in Russian I would use the word 'pravda' which is a bit broader in the meaning than the English 'truth').

#26 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 28 March 2012 - 12:20 PM

But how is it portrayed in the movies? (It is a serious question, it's been ages since I have watched a film about a 'hierarchical society').


Basically anyone in authority is a brute and tyrant- while we are innocent, misunderstood, and champions of progress. The we and them scenario though is a piece of self deception since it is inevitable that each of us in our own situation has some degree of authority. In other words such movies, talk show presentations, documentaries, etc serve to convey the message to grab power for ourselves, rather than being told by others what to do.

In Christ
-Fr Raphael

#27 Marcin Mankowski

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Posted 31 March 2012 - 07:01 AM

The rights are always versus another person. If we deal with a constitutional monarch we have rights, when the king is an absolute autocrat we have privileges and duties. With our equals we can have both - rights (contractual) and privileges (when granted by another).

There is question of natural rights, how this concept developed historically and how it is related to in XVIII century concepts of state of nature or social contract.

#28 Marcin Mankowski

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Posted 31 March 2012 - 07:15 AM

not only Kurbsky who believed that 'obedience to the tzar was legally binding only insofar as the tsar himself was obedient to divine laws & morality'. St Philip II, Metropolitan of Moscow, also firmly held this position.


I am not sure if it applies to a ruler who is not Christian like Roman Emperors before Constantine. When rulers are members
of the Church they are subjects to the Church laws like the one prohibiting the fourth marriage.

#29 Mike L

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Posted 31 March 2012 - 09:36 AM

Here's a good article by British Orthodox writer, Vladimir Moss, about Orthodoxy and Human Rights:

http://www.orthodoxc...rights-marxism/

#30 Bryan J. Maloney

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Posted 01 April 2012 - 06:22 PM

Modern concept of 'human rights' seems to me very dangerous because it tries to sell these rights as an objective reality. It declares that - through no inidividual effort or merit, just because of having been born - a human being is entitled to have all his or her desires and whims satisfied.


Where did you come up with that? That is certainly not, under any stretch of the imagination, part of the Enlightenment concept of the fundamental right. A right is not and has never been an entitlement to have all desires and whims satisfied. A right is some fundamental freedom from restriction, without which one is merely the property of another. Thus, there are a right to life, a right to liberty, and a right to property. Note that the "right to life" does not mean that government can make you immortal. "Right to liberty" does not mean that government can make you walk through stone walls. "Right to property" does not mean that government must give you things. Instead, government is to ensure that it does not remove these things from you unless you perform acts that infringe upon other people's exercise of those rights. All other rights are inherent in these three fundamental rights. That governments have had to have been forced to recognize specific subsidiary rights (such as in the US Bill of Rights), only speaks to the inherent corrupt and tyrannical nature of human government.

Rights are inherent in the human condition--they are objective and not created by mere governments nor attorneys. That we choose to use attorneys to defend these rights only speaks to our civil nature--we prefer words to bullets. In a society truly ruled by love, rights would still exist--they would never be violated and, thus, never need to be defended.

#31 Bryan J. Maloney

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Posted 01 April 2012 - 06:25 PM

In the medieval world and the world of the Tsars, "rights" referred to specific privileges enjoyed by specific social classes. Thus, the nobility of Russia had the "right" to treat human beings like property be exempt from taxes.

#32 Marcin Mankowski

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Posted 02 April 2012 - 06:20 AM

In the medieval world and the world of the Tsars, "rights" referred to specific privileges enjoyed by specific social classes. Thus, the nobility of Russia had the "right" to treat human beings like property be exempt from taxes.


Serfdom was introduced in Russia later than in the West but everywhere in the world the powerful were
promoting ideas that served their interests.

The XVIII concept of rights was focused on protecting the wealth owners from the
king and the poor. Those who benefited most from the private property rights did
not have any qualms in starving Ireland, running debtor prisons, chasing away savages or trading slaves.

I recommend reading excellent article at the link in one of the previous posts:

http://www.orthodoxc...rights-marxism/

A quote:

"Thus man is born, according to Locke, with three basic Natural Rights, as he called them: life – everyone is entitled to live; liberty – everyone is entitled to do anything they want provided it doesn’t conflict with the first right; and estate – everyone is entitled to own all that they create or gain through gift or trade so long as it doesn’t conflict with the first two rights. Men form a social contract for the formation of a State which limits their own rights in the sense that they can lose life, liberty and/or estate if they transgress the State’s laws. But in exchange the State is obliged to protect these three rights of the citizens so long as they do not break the State’s laws. However, if the State does not fulfil its side of the contract, the citizens can overthrow the State, in the person of the constitutional monarch and form a new contract with a new monarch.[12]

This was more like it - now the property-owning aristocrats had a theory of the State that suited them perfectly! The State was created to protect their interests, and could be overthrown by them if it violated their interests – all in the name of natural law! The problem was: who was to say when the State had violated the natural rights of the citizens sufficiently to justify violent revolution?"

#33 Owen Jones

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Posted 02 April 2012 - 02:03 PM

I think Fr. Raphael is spot on. The modern concept of rights also stems from a contract theory of government, most notably expounded by John Locke. For a thorough going critique of the contract theory of government, see "The Conservative Affirmation" (inaptly titled in order to sell books) by Willmoore Kendall.

#34 Stephen Hayes

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Posted 06 April 2012 - 06:33 AM

I am sure that in relations with God human beings have no 'rights' whatsoever. If we just think who God is and who we are, it becomes perfectly clear.

In relations between human beings the notion of rights is applicable, but only as long as those relations cannot be regulated by love alone. If, for example, a husband and wife love each other, they never think or argue about their respective 'rights'. They simply do not need them. But when love grows cold, they may need legal tools to regulate their relationship.

So, insistence on having 'rights' is indicative of a deficit of love.


Indeed.

People commit murder because of lack of love (or sometimes, in crimes of passion, because of selfish pervertyed love). The law punishes murderers. Laws cannot make people love one another; the only thing the law can do is to mitigate the effects of hatred. If the law cannot make people love one another, it can attempt to reduce the damage caused by their lack of love by attempting to restrain them from giving expression to that lack of love in acts of physical violence.

The idea of human rights is that human beings should have certain rights protected by law, so that no other human beings, including the state, should try to take those rights away from them. Righteous and just rulers will not try to take away those rights. As the holy scriptures say, "A righteous man knows the rights of the poor; a wicked man has no such knowledge (Proverbs 29:7).

To understand the concept of human rights from a Christian point of view, read Proverbs chapters 28 and 29 (a secular point of view is different).

Blood is life, and congealed blood is not life, but a memory of life. Justice is not love; at best, one could say that it is congealed love.

#35 Bryan J. Maloney

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Posted 07 April 2012 - 02:22 PM

So, who's going to actually volunteer to move to or form a hierarchical society wherein one is born into, lives, and dies in a single status, and ones identity and legal pseudo-rights are defined by that status?

Volunteers?

Sorry, monastaries don't count--they're voluntary associations. If they were to be staffed by the sons of monks, they would have shut down long ago, for obvious reasons.

#36 Alexander Ignatiev

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Posted 10 April 2012 - 02:05 PM

I think that it is instructive to approach the issue of rights as a matter of free will. Free will is the key to an intellectually rigorous understanding of human rights, and Christianity as well. Although most of you are comparatively more knowledgeable about Orthodox dogma than I am, based upon the discussion in this thread, I am in the privileged position of teaching two classes each year to undergraduates at a private Baptist college about the United States Constitution, so I spend a great deal of time thinking about, reading about, and writing about the nature of human rights.

I would disagree with the characterization of John Locke's theories as Marcin has quoted. Locke's understanding of these three basic rights to life, liberty, and property, coming as it did from Locke's natural philosophic research through the Royal Society, and his free-will, freedom of conscience theology, was a radical and controversial understanding at its time, so much so that he published anonymously, and denied the authorship, which was only confirmed in the era of the American Revolution.

I believe that the great value of the Church in contributing to a discussion of human rights is in the topic of free will. Martyrdom in the early church is in part an assertion of free will against the lawful authority of the age, the Caesar unto whom the martyrs were to render. The martyrs were generally law abiding; the Prolog is littered with numerous examples of martyrs who were prominent figures in Roman public life, but who sacrificed that role as a consequence of their civil disobedience in accordance with their conscience, Christian beliefs, and free will. Indeed, the story of the forty martyrs of Sebaste is a prime example of this, when the 40th martyr, who was not one of the original 40, voluntarily took the place of a recusant so that the sacrifice of the faithful would not be marred by one's failing.

ORDERED liberty is the primary right, both in Locke's opinion, and in the opinion of the Church fathers. We do not sin by accident, or by operation of fate. We sin by the exercise of our free will, or rather by failing to exercise it in accordance with God's will. But without that freedom, we are shackled by the world; our sins, our repentance, and our faith are meaningless without free will.

The conflict arises out of an assertion of natural rights as an assertion of Christian liberty. Natural rights are properly understood as those rights inherent to rational beings, which of themselves arise out of ordered liberty. This liberty is not one imposed by the state, and so is independent of the state. Ordered liberty necessarily requires that people be free to act wrongly, just as free will necessarily requires that we be allowed to sin. There are things which we can do as a result of our natural rights that are not Christian acts. An example here is the right to self-defense, which is not necessarily a Christian act; we are commanded to turn the other cheek, and to lay down our life for our brother, both as acts of love. Nowhere does Christ say that we are to defend and vindicate our natural right to self-defense, and in fact he stops Peter from using force to resist Christ's arrest.

The tension is clear, in that just because we have natural rights, we are not compelled to resort to them. But by the same token, if we had not free will, then fundamentally our choices wouldn't matter.

Now, all that being said, is the UN's declaration of universal human rights a terrible document? Yes, for precisely the reason Fr. Raphael expresses: it is a rootless thing, aspirational, feckless, and lacking in the sort of moral authority necessary to truly protect man from himself.

Edited by Alexander Ignatiev, 10 April 2012 - 02:07 PM.
Typographical error


#37 Owen Jones

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Posted 10 April 2012 - 02:54 PM

The first page of the text linked above, though containing way too much jargon, starts at the right place: a philosophical anthropology. In general, I would say any political system that is based on the rights of man is fatally flawed in essence. Orthodoxy, by implication, that is -- not explicitly or didactically, calls for a political system that is grounded in virtue and based on mutual duties and obligations. Orthodoxy has yet to develop a post-monarchical vision of politics based on these classical ideals. In every attempt it appears to try to forge a consensus with modern liberal contractarian premises.

#38 Alexander Ignatiev

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Posted 10 April 2012 - 03:12 PM

All of what you say is true, Owen, but it is problematic to associate rights with any given political system. Rights, at least classically, are things that exist of themselves as a condition of being human; the Declaration of Independence expressly states "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." This is an unqualified statement not related to the existence of a given political system; rather, they relate to the nature of humanity and man's place in the world. I don't think that in this sentence is anything incompatible with Christianity as the Orthodox Church understands it.

#39 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 10 April 2012 - 04:54 PM

All of what you say is true, Owen, but it is problematic to associate rights with any given political system. Rights, at least classically, are things that exist of themselves as a condition of being human; the Declaration of Independence expressly states "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." This is an unqualified statement not related to the existence of a given political system; rather, they relate to the nature of humanity and man's place in the world. I don't think that in this sentence is anything incompatible with Christianity as the Orthodox Church understands it.


The difficulty with associating Christian ethics with any political doctrine is that the former tends to become limited by the parameters of the latter in practice. What does 'the pursuit of happiness' mean? What is meant by 'happiness' and how and to what extent may it be pursued? And at what cost and at who's expense? Revolutions such as those of the USA, France and Russia are aspects of the political aim of creating 'heaven on earth' and to that extent are in tension with the aim of our Orthodox Christian way which is salvation. 'Heaven on earth' becomes reduced to the frantic attempt to satisfy desires and appetites, to, in some degree, indulge the passions. There will never be 'Liberty, Equality and Fraternity' in this life. On the other hand, there are close parallels between the sayings of St John Chrysostom and Proudhon, and an exact parallel between a saying of St Paul and Lenin. We even have in the Gospel this: 'And he answering, said to them: He that hath two coats, let him give to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do in like manner': Luke 3:11. Orthodoxy should be no stranger to social justice.

Rights such as those mentioned in the quote from Alexander's post can only exist in the abstract unless there is a political and legal system which gives them effect, and no such system will mirror very closely the ideals of Orthodoxy. God help us, even the Orthodox Church itself, in its governance, does not always mirror its own ideals.

#40 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 10 April 2012 - 05:43 PM

Rights are not inherent to man's nature. Rather the concept comes from modern political theory especially as expressed during the two revolutions that have greatly shaped our culture- first the French revolution and then the American.

Another way to put this is that these rights may seem natural to us. But if you had spoken with people during let's say the 16c in Europe, many would have had little idea of what you are talking about. Baroque culture in Europe is the last expression of traditional society in the west.

In christ
-Fr Raphael




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