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Chrysostom on Human Rights

by Cyrus Wardly

What exactly are human rights? Obviously this has become a controversial question because a popular tactic when one wants something for free is to declare it a human right to have such and such (health care is a human right, shelter is a human right). The other day I saw a phrase on the website of a community development project “We want to promote mobility as a human right.” My natural reaction was to roll my eyes at the buz wordyness of that statement but then I questioned myself, “Wait, mobility is a human right, right? Shouldn’t people have the freedom to move about where they want to?”

I have been reading John Chrysostom (a preacher from the 300s who is famous for having a way with words) as a part of my readings through church history and I came upon this excerpt that got me questioning the concepts of human rights.

Chrysostom: We do not need to buy air, water fire, sunshine, and things of this kind. God has given enough of all these blessings every to enjoy them freely. The sun shines equally on the rich and the poor, and they both breathe the same air. Why is it, then, that these necessary things, which sustaing, are created by God for common use, while money is not common?

America is founded on the concept that humanity has certain inalienable right that are given by our creator. Christians will tell you that human rights come from God because humanity is made in God’s image. So we know their source and that they are fundamental to our society but the question for me is what do they include? Air and sunshine, according to Chrysostom are human rights but isn’t food every bit as necessary as these things, yet I must either buy my food or buy the land to grow my food. What about Maslow hierarchy of needs? Should any of them count?

I don’t have an answer I’m just musing but would love to hear your thoughts.

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