Archbishop of Canterbury lectures on ‘Religious Faith and Human Rights’

[Lambeth Palace] The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, delivered a May 1 lecture, titled “Religious Faith and Human Rights,” at the London School of Economics.

Williams sets out a fresh and original vision of how religious tradition — Christianity in particular — can help ground human rights thinking in ways that protect human life from violence, abuse or inequality.

Williams responded specifically to the challenge laid down by Alastair McIntyre to find a language, or ethics, for human rights which is robust enough to resist moral relativism on the one hand and political utility on the other.

If McIntyre was right to say that the problem with the strict Enlightenment framework of human rights is that it leaves us ‘bereaved,’ what might religion have to say about the ‘most secure foundations’ for a universal ethic of inalienable rights? In answering this question, Williams shows how theology can come to the aid of social, political and legal theory.

Human rights cannot be allowed to become just a list of entitlements “dropped into the cradle,” he says. “If human rights theory is to be robust enough to rank as ‘the only generally intelligible way in modern political ethics of decisively challenging the positive authority of the State to do what it pleases,’ it needs to be rooted more deeply than is possible within a purely secular rationale.”

Using the development of Christian thinking about slavery as an example, Williams explores how the notion of bodiliness could be a key to a deeper rooting of the notion of inalienable human rights and how “my rights and yours are inextricably linked: ‘my liberty not to be silenced, not to have my body reduced to someone else’s instrument, is nourished by the equal liberty of the other not to be silenced’.”

“Equal liberty is at root inseparable from the equality of being embodied,” he says. “Rights belong not to the person who can demonstrate capacity or rationality but to any organism that can be recognized as a human body, at any stage of its organic development.”

The full text of the lecture is available here.

error: Content is protected !!