Re-Thinking Human Rights

Human rights are a very important part of our contemporary global society. However the very fact of their announcement suggests a distortion of the human spirit throughout that society. If we swam in a global society in which the aspiration of human rights were achieved, then we would hardly need to announce them, they would simply be the global society.

So, what would that society be?

At the very beginnings of the Baha’i Faith in Persia in the 1840’s, the co-founder of the Faith, titled ‘The Bab’ (pronounced: barb), wrote at least one prayer indicating that one of the aspirations of an individual’s spiritual being, as a step toward detachment from all things, save God, is independence, materially and socially. Later, Baha’u’llah wrote that one of the most important social principles we should abide, is the unfettered and independent search for truth. Other teachings of Baha’u’llah that detail the concept of independence include: universal education as a means for everyone to participate in unfettered search for truth, declaring the age of maturity as 15 years of age, after which the youth must be competent in independent spiritual and social choices; equality of men and women; and equity for all people of the world. Interestingly, in terms of rights, Baha’u’llah mentions these more in regard to governance. Democratic processes are lauded. Kings and rulers have the right to obedience. They also have responsibility to inquire and respond to the conditions of the people. People have no right to political machination, yet are encouraged to stand up for justice, equity, and the development of the community and the nation.

What I notice about the teachings of Baha’u’llah is that adults, including leaders, have less a state of rights than a state of responsibility. As adults we are responsible for our: material and social independence; search for truth; open and authentic approach to politics and community development. We are also responsible to empower others in our lives towards those same elements of independence.

Marriage and family is one of those micro-communities that exemplify a great deal of this responsibility. Baha’u’llah, while encouraging us to make the commitment, does so, not as a right, but as a responsibility to the spouse and the offspring for their spiritual development and the spiritual development of future generations. The other side of that coin is that parents of both intendeds must formally consent to the marriage, thereby being responsible for an evaluation of compatible character of their child and the intended spouse toward the aim of spiritual development; and declaring an active commitment to the larger unity between two families.

So, in the mature society envisaged by Baha’u’llah, adults have responsibility to serve the spiritual and material development of the world. In that framework, we might say that children have rights, and animals and nature has rights.

Extending this concept a little, we might ask, what does this suggest about the engagement of adults with diverse points of view, behaviours, habits. When it comes to the issue of personal or political points of view, Baha’u’llah absolutely forbids aggression or cohercion. He declares the search for truth, the engagement in enquiry, and, even, resignation to the Will of God (perhaps we could translate into, how each moment resolves itself). We might then suggest that the primary dynamic of responsibility for every adult over 15 years is that they shall not coherse another, neither personally nor politically. We shall be responsible for our choices, and our agreements with others. We shall enter into them without accepting cohercion, neither physical nor psychological, neither bribe, nor threat of being cast out. We shall especially avoid cohercion of those with rights: children, animals, nature.

Baha’u’llah offers a vision, an aspiration, for humanity that is extraordinarily transformed from the contemporary ‘Will to Power’ mode. It is, not doubt, confounding for many, how such a society will work. How will we mine our resources and build up our cities, discipline our children, have a secure life? Indeed, under the will-to-power model, we are unable to do these things. Only by a transformation of society as Baha’u’llah has envisaged, can we extract the resources appropriate for the equitable and mature development of humanity; can we raise children to be independent, responsible, and non-cohersive; can we have unity and security and well-being across the planet.


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