This year’s Payton Lectures are being given by the Right Reverend Rowan Williams, the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury – what follows are my notes from the discussion after the first lecture.
Theology and Human Rights: Tension or Convergence
“Human Rights and Human Identity” (Response)
The Right Reverend Rowan Williams
Respondent #1: Matt Kaemingk
- Two Camps: Those who see conflict between theology and those who see convergence
- Those who see conflict now see there is a common ancestry and numerous ways that contemporary rights talk is still haunted by these origins
- Those who see convergence now see there are some deep conceptual chasms between rights rooted in the sovereign will of an individual and the sovereign will of a loving God
- Three points to press:
- At multiple points stressed the need to thicken up our concept of rights in the common good. Why not go the minimalist route? Why not salvage rights discourse by making it more limited?
- What is the relationship between the intellectual concept of rights and the spiritual longing to see those rights upheld? You can explain X has rights, and the people will intellectually agree, however, the problem is that citizens “no longer long or hope” for societies where X’s rights are upheld at all cost. What we need is not just an intellectual articulation but a longing for these rights to be made manifest.
- At a couple of points you mention smaller communities – and an individual’s needs for small communities and spaces where we can practice mutuality/sharing. Speak more to the need of associational and communal life for being able to carry out this articulation of human rights.
Respondent #2: Clifton Clarke
- The dominant question is how can we hold the language of human rights and keep our discourse about theological traditions. The concept of human rights is most prevalent articulation of a moral ideal.
- Movement from rights to goals? Are these a demonstration that powerful nations are no longer interested in rights.
- Needed to address the link between white privilege and rights being used to bolster its agenda. Similarly, between powerful nations and their failure to uphold justice simply because they are in power.
- While human rights negates colonialism (at least in thought), it simultaneously is used to justify it.
Rowan Williams’ Reponse
- One can’t address this topic w/o addressing the cultural involvements would be that would take us forward.
- The question about desire: Do we actually want our citizenship to be genuinely shared with the stranger? We have such little desire for the wellbeing of others…
- The question about the implication of rights discourse in a Eurocentric/western thought… Yes it needs to be recognized. Its already in the thought of John Locke. However, see as a counterexample: Bartolome de las Casas.
- We have been reminded of the uncomfortable gap between right’s discourse and practices of power.
- Rights discourse will only work in small particulars, i.e. communities.
Questions & Discussion
- If there isn’t something metaphysical grounding why human beings are equal, then all we have is a “liberal consensus,” and that won’t be enough.
- Freedom = ability to exercise your humanity to contribute to human flourishing. Freedom is not maximizing the individual’s consumer choice.
- The neighbor I confront is never at my disposal because they are already claimed by Christ.
- No I don’t think I have a right to be offended, what I do think is that I do have a right to exercise the gift God has given me in the community I have been placed. Some kinds of speech have the effect of negating that.
- As so often the old chap gets it right brilliantly. (Speaking of John Calvin)