An Answer for David Washburn


This post is a response to this tweet by David Washburn (Twitter @SearchGodsHeart, web site

The question deserves a considered answer, which requires more than 140 characters.


There appears to be an assumption underlying the question: that human rights somehow flow from the existence of God. Since God does not exist in my world, this then raises the question of what is the origin of human rights, hence David’s asking of me.

Before responding to any of David’s suggestions, it is worthwhile considering how “human rights” manifests itself in global society. At one extreme, we have pro-choice groups which regard a woman’s body as hers to do with what she pleases during her pregnancies. At the opposite end of this particular spectrum, we have pro-life groups who sometimes resort to murder to achieve their aims. In another dimension, we have the debate on gay marriage which is currently polarising the USA.

On the basis of the foregoing, I suggest that whatever it is that defines human rights it is by no means universal. At the risk of appearing to duck David’s direct question, I can only respond by saying that ultimately it is the individual that defines what they consider to be their own human rights. This manifests itself in human rights protesters in both China and in front of abortion clinics, for example.

In terms of what society in general might regard as human rights, I leave to others to debate.

Thank you David for helping me to clarify my thoughts.


About notoreligion

I was a victim of religious predators as a child. I am here to oppose their ongoing evil.
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12 Responses to An Answer for David Washburn

  1. Sorry, I have not answered before this but my mother in law is sick. I can tell you really thought this out but if what you say is true then there is no absolutes and therefore the person who is stronger determines what is right or wrong. It was a crime against humanity for Germany to kill 6 million Jews and millions of others as well but if they had won the war, their view of human rights would prevail and there would be nothing wrong with it.

    • notoreligion says:

      I am sorry to hear that your mother in law is sick.

      I agree with your comment that “their view of human rights would prevail”, but I disagree with your seeming conclusion that “there would be nothing wrong with it” as this immediately begs the question “In who’s opinion?”.

      And as a stray thought, how does the matter of ritual human sacrifice relate to the issue of human rights? I think I need time to ponder that one.

      • I agree with you that it is not right but if human rights is a relative matter and we determine if something is right or not as individuals, then who ever is able to enforce their beliefs, gets to write the rules. So if your opinion is that killing people is wrong but the government says it is fine, who is right? In your opinion you are right. In the opinion of the government and possibly the majority of the population, you are wrong and killing people is not an issue.
        Human sacrifice and every other issue would fall under this same thinking.

  2. notoreligion says:

    Yes, I see human rights as a relative matter.

    Broadening the discussion slightly, that a “majority” can impose vile conditions upon a minority (e.g. Hitler’s Jews, Stalin’s gulags) I see as an abuse of power, but here I am straying into the study of power in society.

    Thanks for the conversation! 🙂

    • David says:

      I am enjoying it as well. Good mental exercise.
      I don’t think it has to be a majority. If one persons has the ability to impose his will, than he is the one who determines human rights. You say it is relative but that still means that it is fine for a murderer to have the opinion that killing people is his human right. You might disagree but that is your right. If what your saying is that there is no right and wrong and the murder is right and so are you, then human rights is relative. However, I believe in evil and good. I believe there are things that are inherently wrong. I have no right to cut off your head, or shoot my neighbor just to see someone die.
      Abuse of power is the right a dictator has. Who is to say he is wrong? You? Why?

      • notoreligion says:

        I agree that it does not need to be a majority. All it takes is one person in a position of sufficient power to impose his view of human rights on everybody else. But to then go on and say “… he is the one who determines human rights” does not follow for me, as everybody else may disagree with him: they would have their own views of what constitutes human rights. “Human rights relative?” Yes.

        Like you, I also believe in good and evil, but I differ in that I believe that it is relative. How do individuals judge acts to decide whether each act is good or evil? (Okay, that is me being dichotomous, but I think we can omit neutral acts for the purposes of this discussion.) Different people can come to different conclusions for the same act. When it comes to the dictator, and asking who is to say whether he is right or wrong, it comes down to who is answering the question (in my view).

        Your words about decapitation illustrates (for me at least) that in any society at any given time there is collection of behaviours that are regarded as good by the great majority of its members, along with a different collection of behaviours that are regarded as evil.

  3. David says:

    From your viewpoint than, just because everyone in the world says what you are doing is wrong has not bearing on what constitutes what is human rights you should hold true. So if you set off a nuclear bomb in Chicago so that they will not have to suffer from an immanent and painful plague, as far as your concerned, you did right and did what was best for the human rights of the population of Chicago. The world condemns you for it but that does not mean you were wrong to have done it. Even if they execute you for the act, it only means they disagreed and not who is right or wrong. In fact both are right because human rights is relative.

    • notoreligion says:

      I am unsure of the point that you are trying to make here, as you seem to be suggesting that I would take the decision to bomb Chicago in the manner that you indicate. I regard my own sense of what constitutes human rights to be irrelevant to the broader discussion about what they are.

      (PS. Sorry for the delay. I have had an unpleasant gut complaint, now cleared, and I wanted to respond to you with a clear mind.)

  4. David says:

    I am just saying that by your way of thinking (if I understand right) you can do anything at all and if you believe it is good and not a human rights issue, than to you it is good. What others say does not matter. You might have repercussions from your actions because of what others believe but that does not mean your view of human rights is wrong. The Chicago bomb was an example of how that could work. You believe it was good for some reason therefore it was the right thing to do according to your human rights view. Others may disagree but that does not make you wrong.
    Would this be a correct according to what you believe about relative human rights?

  5. notoreligion says:

    Your comment appears to use the word “you” as if you are addressing me. You also state “if you believe it is good and not a human rights issue” which seems to suggest that doing good is totally divorced from human rights. I am afraid that I am a total loss to understand your meaning in your first paragraph.

    My own view of what constitutes human rights is not available for discussion in this thread. However, I thought I had made it plain that I see human rights as relative as opposed to flowing from any divine source.

    • David says:

      Sorry. I meant you as in anyone. I didnt write it very well, I agree. I agree that human rights can not be divorced from what is good. If it is good then as a human rights issue it is good as well and same as if it is bad or evil. What I am trying to get to is that if something is human rights is relative, then people can see one thing as either good or bad for human rights.and disagree with others. No, one is right. Who is to judge? The strongest? The majority? its all relative so no one can judge. How can we punish human rights violations if there is no absolute right or wrong human rights.

  6. notoreligion says:

    First of all, no apologies needed. All of us are human after all.

    (Am I permitted to apologise for taking so long to reply?)

    I would like to take your final question as a starting point. It raises for me questions that appear to underlie your question. Who are the “we” who will set about administering the punishment? Whose version of human rights are being violated? What other underlying questions have I missed?

    To illustrate my second question, it may be useful to look at the tension between (on one hand) homosexuals pushing for recognition of homosexual marital rights being the same as for heterosexuals and (on the other hand) homophobes regarding it as their moral duty to teach their children that any act of homosexuality is irredeemably evil. While this may sound like a wildly improbable scenario, I am observing this drama currently being played out in a conversation on Twitter.

    This then raises the question of “Is that question [‘How can we punish …’] unanswerable?”. I suggest that it is unanswerable, because “we” are both numerous and diverse.

    Thanks for giving my grey cell something to work on. 🙂

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