August 11, 2016

THE DARK AGES BROUGHT THE LIGHT:

THE CHRISTIAN ROOTS OF HUMAN RIGHTS (Thomas S. Kidd, August 1, 2016, The Gospel Coalition)

I was fascinated to read Kyle Harper's chapter "Christianity and the Roots of Human Dignity in Late Antiquity" in Timothy Shah and Allen Hertzke's new volume, Christianity and Freedom, from Cambridge University Press. (The price of the book will make it affordable only for large institutional libraries, but you can get it through Interlibrary Loan programs or wait for a paperback edition, which I am told is forthcoming.) Harper, an expert on Christianity in late antiquity, and the provost at the University of Oklahoma, notes that we commonly associate ideas of human rights with the "Enlightenment" of the eighteenth century, on which some of the Declaration draws.

But Harper posits that human rights advocacy--especially that all people have equal dignity--had key, if not unique roots in Christianity of the fourth through the sixth centuries. Why did these roots not appear earlier, we might ask? Harper answers that the difference from the early church is that Christians in the age of Constantine were moving into positions of power. They could hope to effect social change, in accord with Christian principles, for the first time.

The philosophers of Greek and Roman antiquity "lacked the concept of human dignity," Harper explains. As Christianity became more widespread, leaders of the church developed more influence, and some rulers even became Christians. This "created the grounds for the development of human rights."

Posted by at August 11, 2016 4:16 PM

  

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